Apple Cinnamon Rolls + A few Apple Picking Photos

It all started with a trip to the Christmas tree farm, November 25 2012. I was feeling sentimental that year. I was missing my grandmother, feeling as though her/our holiday traditions were slipping away. So I decided to start my own holiday traditions, one of which included making a double batch of boozy Christmas cake, and the other involved hiking through rows of pine trees, looking for the perfect Charlie brown replica to fit in our apartment, paying the man dressed as Santa to carry it back to our car while we drink apple cider from styrofoam cups. Only, the story went more like: Heather was jacked up on hormones and raging, got so mad at Brent because he was just not that into 'making traditions' and not committed enough to finding the perfect tree. I spent the next hour crying it out in the car. I mean, in the end, it worked out, we got a tree, and we drank cider. We can now sit back and laugh about how crazy I was that Nov 25th afternoon. Speaking of traditions, I've now started a new autumn tradition where I like to begin the season with a trip to an apple farm. I find it helps me get mentally prepared for autumn/fall/decorative gourd season, and besides, it's a very Seattle thing to do. 

The best part of fall is the beginning months. When the weather has turned only slightly crisp, and you still have many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, drink beer by the fire, enjoy an occasional afternoon patio, and are not yet ready to throw-up at the site of anything pumpkin/spice/cinnamon related.

Last weekend I went apple picking thinking that the air was going to be nice and crisp, the leaves would be falling off the trees, we'd all frolick in the leaves wearing our Hunter rain boots, and it would be magical. I wore what I thought was a seasonal (apple picking) outfit, a plaid flannel shirt, cords, and these cute short boots. And then the sun shone so brightly, and the weather was mid-summer hot. The leaves have barely started to fall off the trees, 2 hours north of Seattle. I should have been wearing shorts, a sun hat, and sunscreen, but instead, I spent the afternoon dripping in sweat. 

Last weekend, we decided to stop at two apple farms, trying to maximize our apple picking options. The first farm had hundreds of jacked-up Honey Crisp apples. They weren't the type of honey crisp you would see in the store. Giant honey crisps on steroids. We didn't pick any because we were holding out for these exotic sounding heirloom varieties that we heard the second farm offered.

We showed up to the second farm later in the afternoon and they had rows and rows of rotting apples. I guess we were two weeks too late this year? I did manage to find a tree that was covered with these tiny beautiful little Liberty apples, and I was so excited because the have they most delicate skin, fragrant flavor, and juicy flesh. I picked a bag, stems intact because it reminds me of how hardcore I was to traipse through the spider laden trees to get a bag of apples that I could have bought in the store 5 minutes from my house for half the price.

I've already made two apple crisps this season and a pie, so I was pretty keen on turning these apples into something other than pie/crisp/crumble. Cinnamon rolls. You really can't go wrong with making cinnamon rolls. I made these rolls for a get-together with friends. People seemed to love them. Brent was sad that he couldn't eat 5, for dinner. I mean, sometimes I wish I had his metabolism.  I've made this cinnamon roll recipe many times before. I shared it on my blog a few years back. This time I changed it up a bit and added cooked apples and it was a game changer. Cooking the apples beforehand gave them a nice soft texture similar to the apples in pie. They melted into the dough and became pockets of pure deliciousness. I am actually kinda sad that I didn't get to eat 5. They were pretty dang good.

photo credit:

Genevieve Houdet-Cote

APPLE CINNAMON ROLLS

makes 15 rolls

1 package (2 1/4 tsp) dry active yeast

1/2 tsp granulated sugar

1/4 cup warm water 110-115 ºF

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup bread flour

2 tbsp granulated sugar

1 tsp salt

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1 large egg

1 tbsp vanilla

3/4 cup water

2 1/2 cups peeled apples, sliced

1 lemon, squeezed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

3 tbsp all purpose flour

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed

8 oz cream cheese, room temp

1 cup powdered sugar

2 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla

2 tbsp (2% or whole) milk

Proof the yeast with 1/2 tsp sugar and 1/4 cup warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer. 

In a separate bowl, combine the all purpose flour, bread flour, 2 tbsp sugar, and salt.

In a separate bowl beat the egg, vanilla, and melted butter. Add to the yeast mixture, along with 3/4 cup of water. With the paddle attachment, mix on slow speed. 

Slowly add the flour mixture. Once all of the ingredients are combined, increase the speed to medium and continue to mix until the dough sticks to the sides of the bowl, approximately 3 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl and set onto a well floured surface. Cover your hands in flour and gently shape the dough into a ball. Place into a large well oiled bowl. Cover and set in a warm draft free area for 2 hours. Punch down the dough and then let it rise for 20 additional minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Move the oven shelfs, one to the middle and the other to the bottom. Fill a baking dish with water, half way, and place it on the bottom shelf.

Place the sliced apples into a medium saucepan with the juice from one lemon and 1/4 sugar. Heat on medium until the apples become soft. Drain and place in the fridge to cool.

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup white sugar, cinnamon, and flour. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the mixture is crumbly. This effect can also be achieved with a food processor. 

Place the dough onto a well-floured surface. With a generous amount of flour to prevent sticking, roll out the dough into a large rectangle. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture onto the dough, leaving a half inch gap along the top horizontal side of the dough.  Spread the apples over the cinnamon mixtures. Roll the dough into a tube shape, ending with the side with the 1/2 inch gap. With a very sharp knife, cut the dough into 15 slices. Place the flat sides down, into a 8 x 13" baking dish, or something similar. Let them rest, covered, for 10 minutes. 

Bake the cinnamon rolls on the middle shelf for 25 minutes. Begin to check the rolls at around 20 minutes. You do not want them to become too dark and hard. They should develop a nice light brown color, and the cinnamon sugar should start to bubble out of the tops. They should be soft to touch. Remove from the oven and let cool. 

While the buns are cooling, place the cream cheese, powdered sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, and milk into the bowl of a stand mixer. With the whisk attachment, whisk until light and fluffy.

The cinnamon buns can be stored in the fridge covered for a couple of days. The buns are best eaten the day of.