Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls

Soft, fluffy cinnamon rolls stuffed with brown sugar & apples, and generously glazed with homemade caramel.

Soft, fluffy cinnamon rolls stuffed with brown sugar & apples, and generously glazed with homemade caramel!

Today I’m bringing you round 2 of my caramel apple cinnamon rolls. You see, round 1 was a complete disaster. Yep, I experience disasters in the kitchen too. It isn’t pretty, so I’ll spare you the photos.

I’ll share with you how to make these rolls perfectly and what I did wrong the first time. I’m not shy to say that the final version are the best cinnamon rolls I’ve ever had. 🙂

Soft, fluffy cinnamon rolls stuffed with brown sugar & apples, and generously glazed with homemade caramel!

I made these cinnamon rolls last Friday night. And again on Saturday morning.  Sometimes recipe disasters make me feel like a failure, but other times it just motivates me to keep trying until I get that perfect result. It took me 11 months and about 15 different tries to get my Cake Batter Chocolate Chip Cookies right. Soft, thick, tasting homemade, but bursting with cake batter flavor. And trust me, they were worth the wait.

And so were these apple cinnamon rolls. The dough is soft, moist, and sweet. The rolls bake up to be puffy and very fluffy. The center is filled with sliced apples and a mix of cinnamon, brown sugar, and butter.The brown sugar and butter caramelize making these rolls extra sticky. I topped the pretty coiled rolls with a homemade (and easy!) caramel sauce. I love apples and caramel together. These would be a perfect breakfast in the fall. Or, well… any time of year. 🙂

There is quite possibly no better aroma than a pan of these big, puffy rolls baking in the oven, fragrant with cinnamon, brown sugar, and sweet apples. I hope you’re ready for these!

Soft, fluffy cinnamon rolls stuffed with brown sugar & apples, and generously glazed with homemade caramel!

I used to be so fearful of yeast. Growing up, my mom made us gooey cinnamon rolls every Christmas morning. I swore I’d never be able to recreate the masterpiece rolls on my own because yeast is so intimidating.

What is so scary about yeast though? It’s just another leavening agent. It does all the work for you as you let the dough sit and rise. Baking homemade rolls at home actually require less work than a lot of my cupcake recipes. All you do is wait around for the yeast to do its job.

Baking with Yeast Guide

Reference this Baking with Yeast Guide whenever you work with baker’s yeast. I include practical answers to all of your common yeast questions.

Soft, fluffy cinnamon rolls stuffed with brown sugar & apples, and generously glazed with homemade caramel!

** If you plan to make these rolls at home, be sure to read the whys and the why nots of this recipe:

Start with a packet of dry instant yeast and 1/2 cup of warm water in a large mixing bowl.  I like to use Red Star Platinum yeast. I did not take the water’s temperature – just lukewarm water will do here.  To be precise, it will be 105F-115F.  Let the yeast dissolve in the warm water for a minute. Give it a quick stir, then add most of the remaining dough ingredients. For the liquid in this dough recipe, I used apple juice. It (obviously) enhanced the apple flavor in the rolls.  You could also use apple cider instead. The rest of the ingredients you’ll add in this step are: sugar, salt, 1 large egg, 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract, 2 tablespoons butter, and HALF of the flour called for in the recipe: 1.5 cups.

 Beat the mixture on low, scraping down the sides as needed. I used a hand-held mixer (rather than stand mixer) because I had much more control over the beating process.  A mixer is required to make these homemade cinnamon rolls in order to beat everything into the proper consistency.

Add the rest of the flour to the dough and stir with a wooden spoon. (Do NOT use the mixer in this step unless you want dough bits flying all over your counter and face. Been there, done that.) Mix it up and add more flour (little by little) until the dough is easy to handle by hand.  The consistency of the dough should be soft and springy – not sticky. Poke it with your finger – if the dough bounced back, it is ready to knead.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for about 5-6 minutes.  The dough should be very smooth and elastic – bouncing back as you pull on it.   Shape the dough into a ball and place into a clean bowl. I spray the bowl with cooking spray to alleviate any dough sticking to the sides. Works like a charm. Cover the dough with a clean dish towel or aluminum foil and place in a warm spot.  I made these rolls on a very cold day, so I preheated the oven to 200F degrees and turned it off. I placed the bowl inside as the oven was still warm.  It took about 1.5 hours for the yeast ball to double in size.

Look at that puff ball! ↓

Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls by sallysbakingaddiction.com

While the dough was rising in this step, I prepared some of the filling.

Here is where I went wrong the first time I made these cinnamon rolls.  Don’t do this: in a small saucepan, I cooked apples, butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon for about 20 minutes.  The juices from the apples, the melted butter, and brown sugar all created a heavy liquid – and a lot of it.  I let it cool for a few minutes, then poured this  liquid mixture over the rolled out dough and tried to roll it up. Ha!  The dough was too fragile to hold all of this liquid and was impossible to roll.  Duh Sally. It was a soupy mess!  I tried rolling, cutting, reshaping, and baking the rolls anyway and came out with alien-looking rolls. Wow. Lesson learned.

Disheartened, I tried the rolls again the next morning with a completely different way to fill the rolls using the same exact ingredients. Do this: As the ball of dough is rising, peel, core, and thinly slice 2 apples. I went with 1 Granny Smith apple and 1 Gala apple. Cook the apples with 2 Tablespoons of butter over low heat in a small saucepan for about 20 minutes. The apples melt down and become super soft, tender, and juicy.  Drain most of the juices from the saucepan and stick the apples into the refrigerator to cool off.

As the apples cool, mix 1 cup of dark brown sugar with 2 hefty Tablespoons of cinnamon.  Cinnamon rules the world and there’s quite enough of it in this roll filling! Along with the cinnamon/brown sugar mixture, grab 2 Tablespoons of softened butter, your rolling pin, and a ruler.  I am very precise when rolling out breakfast roll recipes. You need to make sure that the rolls are even in size, thick enough, and that you have enough of them to fill the baking pan.  For these reasons, it’s important to measure the dough with a ruler as you are rolling it.

Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls. Fluffy cinnamon rolls stuffed with brown sugar apples and generously glazed with caramel. Recipe by sallysbakingaddiction.com

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 15×9″ rectangle.  It takes some time to get a perfectly sized rectangle.  Spread with 2 Tablespoons of softened butter.  Sprinkle the buttered rectangle dough with half of your cinnamon/brown sugar.  Grab your apples, which have cooled off in the refrigerator, and layer them on top of the cinnamon/brown sugar.  Sprinkle them with the rest of the cinnamon/brown sugar.

Tightly (very tightly!) roll the dough up. Using your sharpest knife (or even flavorless dental floss), cut into 15 slices – about 1 inch wide in thickness. Stuff the rolls into a large baking pan lined with parchment paper, 5 lengthwise and 3 across. Leave some space between them (if you can), so they have room to expand.  Cover your baking pan and store in a warm place once again for about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

After the uncooked rolls have risen and expanded in the baking pan, you may bake them.  Prepare to be graced with the most amazing cinnamon roll fragrance.  Picture yourself passing Cinnabon in the mall and baking a homemade apple pie at once.  I mean, can I bottle that scent please?!

The rolls only take about 25-30 minutes in the oven at 375F degrees. Be sure to cover your rolls with aluminum foil (yes, you may use foil here!) as they bake to prevent the tops from getting too brown.

Soft, fluffy cinnamon rolls stuffed with brown sugar & apples, and generously glazed with homemade caramel!

As the rolls bake, prepare the caramel sauce. AKA: the best topping for cinnamon rolls in the world.

The caramel sauce you make is the same caramel sauce I use to make my beloved Salted Caramel Frosting.  But I do not add salt.  However, feel free to add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to this caramel sauce as it cooks in the saucepan to create a salted caramel topping for your apple cinnamon rolls.

How do you make the sauce? Easy peasy.  Over low heat, melt 1/4 cup of salted butter (or unsalted butter).  Once melted add 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar and 2.5 Tablespoons of heavy cream.  Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.  Allow to bubble for about 1 minute. Remove from heat, allow to (very slightly) cool and drizzle all over the cinnamon rolls.

This sauce is heaven.  ↓

Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls by sallysbakingaddiction.com

Drippy, thick, sticky, sweet caramel sauce. You’ll want to pour the caramel sauce onto the cinnamon rolls immediately before serving. The sauce will become quite solid if you let it cool too long or store it in the refrigerator, so be sure to warm the sauce up a bit if it is too thick.

Caramel, cinnamon, and apple flavors unite in each sticky sweet roll. Not only do you have the caramel sauce poured on top, but the brown sugar and butter caramelize inside and underneath the rolls as they bake.  You’re getting a double dose of caramel in each soft doughy bite.

The buttery taste, the swirly dough layers, the cinnamon apples, the fluffy texture, the scent, the drippy sauce… oh my goodness. I can’t think of a better breakfast to wake up to in the morning.  Just wait until you taste one warm from the oven, dripping with sweet caramel sauce. A comforting breakfast indeed. Life is good with homemade apple cinnamon rolls!

Round two was a sweet swirled success. 🙂

Soft, fluffy cinnamon rolls stuffed with brown sugar & apples, and generously glazed with homemade caramel!

Trust me, even a novice baker could make these.  There are a lot of steps, but the directions are very straightforward and easy to follow.  There’s a lot of waiting time with these rolls, not so much active time.  Just follow my easy directions, wait around a bit for the dough to rise, make some caramel sauce, and dig right in.

What are you waiting for?

Follow me on Instagram and tag #sallysbakingaddiction so I can see all the SBA recipes you make! 

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Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 3 hours
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes (or overnight)
  • Yield: 15 rolls
  • Category: Breakfast
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Soft, fluffy cinnamon rolls stuffed with brown sugar & apples, and generously glazed with homemade caramel.


Ingredients

For the Dough

  • 1 package active dry yeast (I prefer Red Star Platinum)
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup apple juice or apple cider
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 33.5 cups all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)

For the Filling

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 medium sized apples, peeled, cored, & thinly sliced (about 1.5 cups)
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon

For the Caramel Sauce

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 and 1/2 Tablespoons heavy cream (no substitutions)

Instructions

  1. Make the dough: Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water for about 1 minute. No need to use a thermometer for the water’s temperature, but to be precise: about 105°F (41°C)-115°F (46°C). Stir the yeast/water around. Then add apple juice, sugar, salt, egg, vanilla extract, butter, and 1.5 cups of flour. Beat everything together on low with a handheld mixer, scraping down the sides as needed. (A mixer is definitely needed to break up all the butter and beat everything to the proper consistency.) With a wooden spoon, stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a dough easy to handle – about 1.5 – 2 more cups. You are looking for a dough that is not sticky and will spring back when poked with a finger.
  2. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead it with your hands for about 5-6 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to a lightly greased bowl. Cover the dough and let sit in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1.5 hours.
  3. Line the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish with parchment paper, leaving room on the sides. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and, using a rolling pin, roll into a 15×9 inch rectangle. I used a ruler for accuracy. Make sure the dough is smooth and evenly thick, even at the corners.
  4. For the filling: As the dough is rising, melt 2 Tablespoons butter in a saucepan. Add the thinly sliced apples and cook down for about 20 minutes until the apples are very soft. Drain the apples from the butter and juices and place into a small bowl. Stick the apples in the refrigerator to cool down. In another small bowl, mix together brown sugar and cinnamon. Spread the dough rectangle with 2 Tablespoons of softened butter and sprinkle with 1/2 of the cinnamon/brown sugar. Line the apples on top of the cinnamon/brown sugar then sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon/brown sugar. Tightly roll up the dough and cut into 15 even rolls (1 inch in width each) with a very sharp knife. Arrange them in the prepared baking pan, cut sides up. Cover the rolls and let them rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes – 1 hour.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375°F (191°C). Cover the rolls with aluminum foil and bake for about 25-30 minutes, until they are lightly golden in color. Transfer the pan to a rack to cool for about 15 minutes.
  6. Make the caramel sauce: Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Once melted, add brown sugar and heavy cream. Stir constantly over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Allow to bubble for 3-4 full minutes, no more. Remove from heat pour over cinnamon rolls before serving. Caramel sauce will thicken up at room temperature or if cold. You’ll have to warm it back up to pour over rolls. Baked rolls can be frozen up to 1 month (without sauce) and warmed up to enjoy at a later date.

Notes

  1. Overnight Instructions: The dough may be made the night before through step 4. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, remove from the refrigerator and let rise, about 1 hour.
  2. Reference my Baking with Yeast Guide for answers to common yeast FAQs.

Keywords: caramel apple cinnamon rolls

Soft, fluffy cinnamon rolls stuffed with brown sugar & apples, and generously glazed with homemade caramel!

187 Comments

  1. Oh Sally, these are perfect! I’ve been thinking about adding some cooked apples to those quick cinnamon rolls I made awhile back (my husband LOVES anything with apples), but never thought about trying a caramel drizzle along with them. Eeek! I’m going to have to try this version-it looks fabulous!!

  2. Holy cow. This post must have taken you ages! So informative. And the pictures! About how long do you spend on each photoshoot?

    You have SO many cinnamon rolls recipes! I want to try them all. Especially the orange one, and the raspberry one and then this one. Yup. I have a lot of work ahead of me.

    1. This photoshoot took me forever!! Terrible lighting that day Erin! This post took me awhile too. What can I say? I adore cinnamon rolls!!

  3. Hello again Sally! I just have one more question before I bake the orange sweet rolls tomorrow. I’m completing steps 1 through 4 then letting them rise overnight. I was just wondering if I were to make them earlier in the day and let them rise overnight would that be too long? Or should I wait until the evening? Thanks! Sorry for the bother! 🙂

  4. Hi Sally

    I am drooling as I read your recipes and want to try the Cinamon and Apple Rolls. Just 2 questions. If I want to leave out the apples should I also leave out the apple juice or is it better to leave this in? When you say brown sugar – would muscovado sugar or demarera sugar work?
    Thanks in advance

    1. Hi Joanne! Substitute the apple juice for milk if you’d like to leave out the apples. Yes, muscovado sugar or demarera sugar will work just fine!

  5. Oh My gosh Sally! The orange sweet rolls turned out amazing! They were pretty much the best sweet rolls I’ve ever had. I ate like three!!! Lol! My oven was a bit warm so the bottoms were a bit crispy but they were kind of good that way. 😉 My family fell in love with them too! Thank you so much for the amazing recipe Sally!

  6. I’ve just started hunting for a cinnamon roll recipe, so this likes like a very tasty place to start! Out of curiosity, is there any reason you didn’t use the cooked apple liquid for the apple juice in the dough? I’d hate to waste all the yummy apple liquid, and the only cider in my house is the alcoholic kind 😀

    1. Hi Chris – I made the dough before the filling, so that’s why. You could use the apple liquid, just make sure it’s not piping hot.

    1. Hi Kristen! You may make them the night before, but leave them out (covered) at room temperature and not in the refrigerator over night.

  7. What about reducing the butter-spreading to 1 tablespoon, filling with the caramel sauce, and topping with an apple-cider glaze?

    1. I suggest making the recipe as written. You won’t be able to roll the dough with the liquid sauce in the center. Enjoy!

  8. I made cinnamon apple rolls before but I never cooked the apples just chopped into small pieces as they are cooking in the oven the apples will soften but have a bite to them.

  9. Hi Sally,

    Thanks for this great recipe! I do a lot of baking and selling at local farmer’s markets and I think these would be a GREAT addition to my table in the fall!

    My question has to do with storage. You mention freezing without caramel for up to a month, but what about the leftovers when you want to eat them in the next 24-48 hours? Does the caramel sauce get too solid ? I don’t think we will eat all of them in one setting and am wondering if I should toss the rolls after they have the caramel on top get “hard.”

    1. Hi Angie, do you plan on selling my recipe for these rolls (or any of my recipes) for monetary compensation?

      You can leave the rolls at room temperature (covered) for a few days after they are made.

      1. Thanks! Can’t wait to have these for brunch this fall when apples are in season!

        I don’t plan to sell, distribute or publish the recipe, but I was thinking I would bake the rolls and sell those, if we like them well enough. I didn’t even consider that it might be a problem for you! If it is, I can always just make them for my family ~ they’ll enjoy them plenty!

  10. Hello! I love the way you explain your recipes, I am new around here and I just really like how nothing is left aside in your explanations. But I was wondering if I could replace the brown sugar for all white sugar? In my country it is very hard to find brown sugar (hard as in impossible) and I really want to bake these but I don’t know if not having brown sugar might change something :/ anyways, thank you very much!

  11. I made these yesterday to go with my homemade chili (everything is homemade in my home Lol) ..Absolutely delicious!!! Thank you for the recipe, I will be making them often with the approaching cool weather with hot apple cider, Yum! My kiddos love them! I am now addicted to the site. Best caramel I have ever had, so many attempts with unhappy results!

    1. Crystal – that is great to hear! I just adore this caramel sauce too. And the rolls! Out of this world. I, too, can’t wait to make them as the weather gets cooler. Thank you so much for reporting back!

  12. Oh my goodness, these look delicious!!! (Just found you from Pinterest- love the blog.) Would I be able to use instant yeast in these? I have quite a bit of that left in my freezer, but I seldom have regular yeast on hand.

    And Crystal’s idea of having them with chili is stupendous! So doing that for football when it turns cooler.

    1. Hi Suzanne! Yep, you may use instant yeast. And enjoying with chili does sound delicious when the weather gets cooler! Enjoy.

      PS: glad you found my blog! what would we do without Pinterest?

  13. I found this post via Pinterest, and while I usually just print the recipe and move on, I am obsessed with all of these amazing recipes! Will be coming back for sure!

    1. Hi Jenelle! Thank you for sticking around and finding more recipes you enjoy. Let me know if you make any! What would we do without Pinterest? I get lost on it for hours!

  14. Argh! Just made these and realized I forgot to put the rest of the cinnamon sugar on the apples. 🙁 Just had to sprinkle on top of the rolls which won’t be near as good. So sad….I will just drown my sorrows in caramel sauce. 🙂

    1. I love to share all of my goodies with loved ones. That’s my favorite part about baking! My kitchen is always open to baking helpers and taste testers. 😉

  15. I just made these (I have been eyeing them for a couple of months). I decided to celebrate the first day of fall with these scrumptious looking cinny buns. This was the first time I have ever made cinnamon rolls. Not only were the directions clear the outcome was a success! Family loved them and I am sure the co-workers will too!

    1. Rachel, so happy you loved these rolls! And I’m very glad to hear that my instructions were helpful. I know I typed a lot, but it’s important to follow all the directions to get such amazing results. I love these and need to make them again soon! Thanks so much for reporting back.

  16. I made these today and omg they’re better than store bought. I’ve never used yeast but some quick research of your site made it easy and foolproof. I did make my caramel sauce differently but that was only as homage to my grandma. Fantastic recipe and directions. Thanks a bunch for the recipe

  17. Hi Sally!!
    I’m thinking about making these! They look so good. Quick question though : do you think I could use coconut milk instead of heavy cream for the caramel sauce? Just because I already have coconut milk at home… 🙂

    1. Hi Sonia! You know, I’ve never tried that before. I do think that it would work because coconut milk is high fat like heavy cream. Let me know if you try it!

  18. Hi will this recipe work for gluten free, if I change to a gluten free flour combination. I am so wnting these but I need gluten free as I am Celiac. Think I will give these a go once I am settled into my new house

    1. Hi Shelly! To be honest, I am not 100% sure. I have never baked yeast rolls with gluten free flour before. I suggest you search for a gluten free dough recipe to make cinnamon rolls and then you may use my caramel apple sauce and apple filling with that dough.

  19. hi there! i was wondering if i could use something else instead of the apple juice. is it necessary? could i use more water?

  20. These look so yummy! I want to make them for breakfast next weekend. Can I do any of the dough work the night before so that I don’t have to get up in the middle of the night ?

  21. Hi, I just put them in the oven. They smell great, have really puffed up during the night and I covered the pan with plastic foil but this morning it all stuck to the plastic and I forgot to butter the pan so it will stick a lot at the sides i think but I’m gonna try again next week or so with moderations. I just put them back in the oven for ten minutes longer cause I pulled of the alumium foil and it stuck so it isn’t done yet. I also need more apple next time but I’m definately gonna try again. I Like your recipes a lot and next week I’ll receive your book from Amazon.de!! I;m so happy!!

  22. I just had a few and they are great! Especially with the caramel sauce! I couls have breakfast with only these. Although they were one giant loaf instead of buns, they were still delicious. The dough turned out great, soft, and light and lovely. Not enough filling as I stated but that’s something for next time.. But will definately make them again and again and …….

  23. I dont usually comment on food/recipe blogs I stumble upon but I have to say your recipes are YUMMMMMmy! Ive tried your cookie recipes and they are always a hit. Everyone can’t seem to get enough of them. Thank you for sharing. You inspire people like me to bake. You’re amazing! 🙂

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