Cinnamon rolls always always remind me of my grandma. They were one of her very favorite treats; she’d rather devour a cinnamon roll than a piece of cake, pie, or just about anything else that you could put in front of her. If I was out and about and ran across some especially great-looking cinnamon rolls, I would always pick some up for her and drive straight to her house. More than anything, though, she would light up when I’d tell her that I made fresh, homemade cinnamon rolls.
Ironically, I’ve been craving cinnamon rolls since about the 6th week of my pregnancy. I’ve picked up a few bakery ones along the way, but I’ve really been craving a pan of homemade rolls. Since I’ve had a lot more energy these last few weeks, I thought it was high time that I made a batch. I decided to put a cozy fall spin on the recipe, including apples and my favorite salted caramel sauce.
I’ve made two different versions of homemade cinnamon rolls previously – the Peter Reinhart version and the cream cheese dough version. Of the three, this one has emerged as my favorite. You could easily make it an all-purpose cinnamon roll by omitting the salted caramel sauce and apples and leaving everything else the same.
The dough is wonderfully soft and soaks up the filling beautifully. I like a simple drizzle of icing on top, but feel free to slather it on more heavily if you prefer. I used one chopped apple, and I think it was just enough. I didn’t want the filling totally loaded with apples, but enough to give you a taste in every bite, and using a single apple achieved that.
These are a fantastic hybrid between cinnamon rolls and apple dumplings. There’s even a little sauce that collects on the bottom of the pan, so you could forgo the icing on top and serve them upside-down, sticky bun style.
I wish that I could share these with my grandma, but since I can’t, I’ll be sure to eat an extra one for her. No arm twisting necessary!
Make the Dough: Whisk together the milk and yeast in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup (or small bowl) until the yeast dissolves, then whisk in the eggs.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix together the flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt on low speed until combined. With the mixer still on low speed, add the warm milk mixture in a steady stream and mix until the dough comes together, about 1 minute.
Increase the speed to medium and add the butter, one piece at a time, until totally incorporated. Continue to mix until the dough is smooth and comes away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes. If after mixing for 10 minutes the dough is still wet and sticky, add up to another 4 tablespoons of flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. (Be patient with this, as mine took nearly the entire 10 minutes to clear the sides of the bowl and I did not need additional flour.)
Turn the dough onto a clean surface and knead briefly to form a round, smooth ball. Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm, draft-free area and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Make the Filling: In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into an 18-inch square. Using an offset spatula, spread the softened butter over the surface of the dough, leaving a ½-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture evenly over top, then sprinkle the chopped apple and drizzle with the caramel sauce.
Beginning with the edge nearest you, roll the dough into a tight cylinder and pinch the seams closed. Using a sharp knife or bench scraper, cut the roll into 12 even pieces. Place the pieces cut-side-up in a greased 9x13-inch baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, about 1 hour. (MAKE AHEAD: After placing the rolls in the pan and covering with plastic wrap, you can place the pan in the refrigerator overnight, or up to 24 hours. When ready to bake, remove from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour before proceeding with the next step.)
Bake the Cinnamon Rolls: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the plastic wrap and bake until the cinnamon rolls are a deep golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while you prepare the icing.
Make the Salted Caramel Icing: In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, heavy cream and salted caramel sauce until smooth. Using a small whisk or spoon, drizzle the icing over the cinnamon rolls. Serve warm or at room temperature. Leftovers should be stored tightly wrapped with plastic wrap or in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.