Apple Cinnamon Rolls with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

by Jillian
The softest and fluffiest cinnamon rolls swirled with fresh apple filling and slathered in the most exquisite maple cream cheese frosting!

The softest and fluffiest cinnamon rolls swirled with fresh apple filling and slathered in the most exquisite maple cream cheese frosting!

This year, I’ve been on a bit of a cinnamon roll kick. Actually, EVERY year I’ve been on a cinnamon roll kick. I just can’t get enough cinnamon rolls in my life! It also doesn’t help that I have a boyfriend who’s just as addicted to these deliciously doughy rolls of brown sugary cinnamon goodness as I am.

A couple of months ago, I made the most amazing Peach Crisp Cinnamon Rolls. And a few months before that, I made these marvelous Blueberry Cinnamon Rolls. I’ve pretty much made it my mission to incorporate every single fruit possible into a cinnamon roll. Except for bananas, of course. Ew!

So this week, it was apple’s turn…

These Apple Cinnamon Rolls are an autumn lover’s dream come true. The dough itself is light, fluffy, and impossibly pillowy. Each roll also contains the most mesmerizing swirl of brown sugary apple filling along with a GENEROUS slather of maple cream cheese frosting.

This recipe contains pretty much your standard cinnamon roll ingredients. HOWEVER, I do have some vital tips when it comes to achieving the fluffiest cinnamon rolls on the planet.

DON’T add too much flour.

Adding too much flour to the dough can make cinnamon rolls dry and tough. This recipe calls for 3 cups – 3 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour. I usually start with 3 cups, and mix in my stand mixer until the dough just cleans the sides of the bowl. It should still stick to the bottom of the bowl. If it’s still really sticking to the sides of the bowl, add a tablespoon or flour at a time until you reach the right amount.

DON’T over-knead the dough.

After the dough rises, punch it down, plop it onto a floured surface, and get to rolling. You might be tempted to knead the dough a little since the dough is rather sticky, but try your best not to. Just sprinkle flour all over the ball of dough and rub a good amount onto the rolling pin. The less you work the dough, the softer the rolls will turn out.

DON’T over-bake the cinnamon rolls. 

Baking the cinnamon rolls for too long can dry them out. I baked these cinnamon rolls in a 350ºF oven for exactly 27 minutes. It can be a little trickier to know exactly when the cinnamon rolls are completely baked through, but if the tops are golden brown and the centers look set, it’s a tell-tale sign that they’re done.

Secret ingredient–PUDDING MIX.

Ok, so I lied…this dough does contain one ingredient that you don’t normally see in cinnamon roll recipes. It’s pudding mix! I’m a huge advocate of pudding mix due to the fact that it adds both sweetness and softness to most any baked good, whether it’s cakes, cookies, or in this case, cinnamon rolls. The pudding mix makes the dough nice and pliable, and ensures that the rolls bake up EXTRA pillowy.  

Now let’s talk about the yummy apple filling…

I know I’ve mentioned this about a million baJillian times in previous blog posts, but I can’t stand hard apples in my baked goods. So to prevent this from happening, I like to pre-cook the apples. For this recipe, I made up my own apple pie filling. Although it might be more convenient to use the store-bought apple pie filling in the can, I highly advise against it. For one thing, those canned pie fillings contain hard apples. And another thing, they contain more sauce than actual apple. Besides, making your own apple pie filling is a cinch! Honestly!!

All you have to do is peel and slice a few apples. Throw them into a saucepan with a little butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and spices. Cook everything together until the apples are soft and fork-tender. Then stir in a simple slurry of cornstarch and water until you’ve got a thick apple pie filling. 

The apple filling needs to cool completely before it’s ready to spread on top of the dough, so I recommend making it before getting started on the dough. And just to warn you, the apple filling does make things a tad bit messy when it comes time to roll and slice the cinnamon rolls. However, using unwaxed unflavored dental floss to slice the rolls instead of a knife will make it much easier to keep the rolls nice and neat. If some of the apple filling slides out of the rolls, don’t worry! As long as you get them into the baking dish, they’ll bake up just fine.

Now, you have two options:

A) You can wait an hour for the cinnamon rolls to double in size, then bake them in the oven.

B) OR, immediately after you’ve sliced the rolls and placed them into the dish, you can cover them and store them in the refrigerator overnight (up to 16 hours). They’ll continue to rise slowly in the refrigerator, so the next morning they’ll be ready to bake in the oven. However, I would recommend letting them sit out at room temperature for about 30 minutes before baking, just to take the chill off.

As the cinnamon rolls beautify–I mean, BAKE in the oven, you can make the maple cream cheese frosting. It’s pretty much your standard cream cheese frosting recipe, but with the addition of a little maple syrup. I also ended up adding about a 1/4 teaspoon of maple extract since I desired a richer maple flavor. This is totally optional though.

Once the cinnamon rolls are out of the oven, I immediately spread the maple cream cheese frosting on top. The heat from the cinnamon rolls softens the frosting, making it easier to spread without smashing your precious rolls. As the warmed frosting melts ever so slightly, it falls so perfectly into every single nook and cranny…Mmmmm….

Now wipe that drool off your chin, and get to making these apple cinnamon rolls!

The softest and fluffiest cinnamon rolls swirled with fresh apple filling and slathered in the most exquisite maple cream cheese frosting!

Apple Cinnamon Rolls with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

The softest and fluffiest cinnamon rolls swirled with fresh apple filling and slathered in the most exquisite maple cream cheese frosting!
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 30 minutes
Rising Time 3 hours
Total Time 5 hours 30 minutes
Course Breakfast
Cuisine American
Servings 12 Rolls

Ingredients
  

Apple Filling:

  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 cups peeled and thinly-sliced apples*
  • cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • teaspoon ground cloves
  • teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • cup water

Dough:

  • ¼ cup warm water*
  • 2 ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast (one 1/4-ounce packet)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 cup milk (warmed in microwave for 30-40 seconds)
  • cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 Tablespoon Greek yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3-3 ¼ cup all-purpose flour

Cinnamon Brown Sugar Filling:

  • 4 Tablespoons salted butter, softened
  • cup brown sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon

Cream Cheese Icing:

  • 4 Tablespoons salted butter, softened
  • 3 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 ¼ cup powdered sugar

Instructions
 

Make the Apple Filling:

  • Melt the butter in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Add the apples, and toss until evenly-coated in the butter. Stir in both sugars, spices and salt. Bring to a simmer, then cook until apples soften, about 10-15 minutes.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch and water together.
  • Pour the cornstarch liquid over the softened apples and carefully stir. Continue cooking and stirring until filling has thickened. Cool completely.

Make the Dough:

  • In a glass measuring cup, combine the water, yeast, and sugar; set aside to foam for about 5-10 minutes.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the pudding mix and milk together until combined and thickened. Add the butter, Greek yogurt, egg, and salt, beating until fully combined.
  • Switch to the dough hook, and add the yeast mixture and 3 cups of the flour. Mix the dough on low and allow it to knead for about 6-7 minutes. If dough is still too soft, add more flour, 1 Tablespoon at a time, until dough just cleans the bowl, but is very soft. It should still stick to the bottom of the bowl.
  • Coat a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray and place dough in bowl. Seal tightly with plastic wrap. Place bowl in a warm place and allow dough to rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. In the meantime, spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
  • After dough has doubled in size, punch it down. Turn dough out onto a floured Silpat or floured countertop. With a rolling pin, roll it out to an 18-by-12-inch rectangle.
  • Make the cinnamon brown sugar filling by combining the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl. Spread the filling evenly over the entire surface of the dough. Pour the apple filling on top of the brown sugar filling and spread evenly. Roll dough tightly into a log, ending with the seam side down. Pinch the ends to seal.
  • Using plain, unwaxed dental floss (or a bench scraper), slice the rolls into 12 evenly-sized rolls. Arrange the rolls cut side down in the prepared baking dish. Cover tightly with plastic wrap.

*If Baking Immediately

  • Allow the rolls to rise again in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

*Or...If You Want to Bake the Rolls the Next Day

  • Place covered rolls in the refrigerator for up to 16 hours. Before baking, let the rolls sit at room temperature until they have nearly doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Baking:

  • For either version, bake at 350ºF for 25-30 minutes, or until the brown sugar filling is bubbling and the rolls are lightly browned. While rolls bake, prepare the cream cheese icing.

Make the Icing:

  • In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese together on medium speed for about 1 minute. Add the vanilla, salt, and powdered sugar and beat for 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of the bowl, and beat for 1 more minute until light and fluffy.
  • Once rolls have baked, remove from the oven. Drizzle the cream cheese icing over the warm rolls, allowing it to melt into every single crevice. Serve immediately.
  • Rolls are best eaten fresh, but will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days. Reheat leftover rolls for 10-15 seconds in the microwave before serving.

Notes

*Different brands require different water temperatures for the yeast to react with. Make sure to use a food thermometer to get the correct temperature. You don't want the water too hot, or it will kill the yeast; too cold, and the yeast won't react. Mine had to be anywhere between 110ºF-115ºF.

 

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