Caramel Apple Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

Nothing says October like crisp fall evenings, leaves crunching under your feet and these caramel apple sourdough cinnamon rolls. A natural yeast dough filled with sweet, tender apples, baked and drizzled with a homemade caramel sauce and a dollop of cream cheese icing. These will become a new fall favorite for your friends and family. For me it’s all about the tender apples and sweet caramel sauce. Give me that on repeat with a cozy evening and a good book. You’ll be eating them for dinner instead of breakfast!

Important Components in Caramel Apple Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

Sourdough Starter: Use a ripe & active sourdough starter to make a stiff sweet levain. This is what will leaven your caramel apple sourdough cinnamon rolls.

Apples:  I love honeycrisp apples in this recipe. Granny Smith would also work great, or any of your favorite baking apples.

Cinnamon Roll Dough: This caramel apple cinnamon roll dough is based on my favorite sourdough cinnamon rolls. Use bread flour, whole milk, eggs, sugar and a stiff sweet levain.

Caramel Sauce: I can eat this stuff with a spoon. It’s so good and worth the ten minutes to whip it together. Heavy cream, brown sugar, butter, vanilla extract and a little salt turn into a magical caramel sauce.

Cream Cheese Icing: Cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, heavy cream, vanilla and a little salt are whipped together to creamy perfection. Make it a drizzle or a dollop on top of each caramel apple sourdough cinnamon roll.

Sample Baking Schedule

A sample baking schedule helps me when baking with sourdough. Sourdough takes much longer to rise than traditional bread. This schedule helps me plan my bake.

A few notes: This schedule assumes the dough temperature is 78-80 degrees F throughout the process. If you’d like to make caramel apple sourdough cinnamon rolls all on the same day, skip the cold bulk fermentation and go straight to shaping the cinnamon rolls (you will still need to make the levain the night before and let it rise overnight).

Day 1Stiff Sweet Levain, 10-12 hour rise/overnight
8:00 PM – 8:00 AMMake Stiff Sweet Levain. Let rise overnight.
Day 2Mixing/Bulk Fermentation
8:00 AMMix Dough
8:15 AMBegin Bulk Fermentation
12:15 PMEnd Bulk Fermentation
Option 1: Refrigerate the dough for 12-24 hours and shape rolls the next morning
Option 2: Shape Rolls and continue with the recipe
12:15 PM – 7:00 AMCold Bulk Fermentation
Day 3Shaping/Baking
7:00 AM – 7:15 AMFill and Shape Caramel Apple Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls
7:15 AM – 10:15 AMRise in a warm (80 degree F) place for 3-4 hours until puffed up and touching. Do not bake unless dough has puffed up and risen.
8:00 AMMake caramel sauce and let cool.
10:15 AM – 10:40 AMBake, drizzle with caramel and frost. Serve warm.

Stiff Sweet Levain

One of the reasons I advocate for making a levain instead of using straight sourdough starter is in cases like these caramel apple sourdough cinnamon rolls. Maintaining a sourdough starter at 100% hydration makes it easy for me to create a stiff sweet levain when I need it for an enriched dough. I also use a stiff sweet levain for enriched breads like this cinnamon sugar babka. A stiff levain is a levain that mixes up to a firm consistency and is anywhere from 50%-65% hydration. It adds elasticity to dough and helps temper the acid in the sourdough, which gives all the benefit of sourdough fermentation without the tang. The sugar in the levain helps counteract the acidity and creates a more mild flavor. My sometimes picky kids are especially grateful for this! To make a stiff sweet levain:

  • Use 100% hydration sourdough starter at its peak
  • Add 20 grams of ripe sourdough starter to 100 grams of all-purpose flour, 50 grams of water and 20 grams of sugar. Mix together.
  • A stiff starter will be a little more difficult to mix together, because it forms a dough ball instead of a batter. Knead the ball of dough a few times until smooth.
  • Place the stiff sweet levain in a liquid measuring cup and set in a warm (76-78 degree F) spot for 12 hours.
  • Stiff sweet levain is ready to use when it has doubled in size and has a rounded top. Using it right when it reaches its peak will help decrease the acidity in the dough.

Mixing the Dough

I use a Bosch or KitchenAid stand mixer to mix this dough. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can use your hands, though it will take longer. Add all the dough ingredients to the mixer and fit it with a dough hook. Reserve a little bit of the flour to add toward the end of mixing the dough as needed. Weight measurements are always more accurate than volume, but I always like to reserve a bit of flour (about a half cup) so I don’t over-flour my dough. Varieties of flour and weight of eggs can impact the amount of flour added to dough, so I play it safe. It’s easier to add more flour than to fix over-floured dough. Mix the dough on low speed for about 3-5 minutes. Add the reserved flour as needed. The dough should be tacky, not overly sticky. Continue kneading about 5 more minutes until smooth and elastic. Place in a container or bowl for bulk fermentation.

Bulk Fermentation

Bulk fermentation is the name for when the dough ferments in one big mass. Put the dough in a container and cover it (I like using these shower caps as covers). The entire bulk fermentation should take about 4-5 hours at 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Take the temperature of the dough, it should be between 78-80 degrees Fahrenheit. If your dough is significantly colder, bulk fermentation will take longer. If it’s warmer, the bulk fermentation will be a bit shorter, however wild yeast perform best in the 78 degree F range, so do your best to keep the dough in that range. I use a dough proofer or the inside of my oven with the light turned on (don’t turn the oven on!) to keep my dough warm. Let the dough sit for 4 hours in that warm place. By the end of 4-5 hours the dough should have puffed up and risen a bit.

Cold Bulk Fermentation

After the initial 4-5 hour bulk fermentation is finished, my favorite way to make these rolls is to put the covered container in the refrigerator overnight. This allows me to shape the rolls the following morning and we can enjoy some of the best caramel apple cinnamon rolls to start the day. I also think this step improves the flavor of the caramel apple sourdough cinnamon rolls. If you want to make them all in the same day, that works too. Just skip the cold bulk fermentation and proceed with the rest of the recipe (you will still need to make the levain the night before and let it rise overnight). The cinnamon roll dough can stay in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours before using. When you’re ready to shape the caramel apple sourdough cinnamon rolls, pull the dough out of the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for a few minutes while you prepare the filling and the baking sheet.

Prepare the Caramel Apple Sourdough Rolls Filling & Caramel Sauce

Apples: Peel, core and chop the apples. I love using this apple peeler/corer to save my hands and sanity! Place a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the chopped apples, cinnamon and butter to the pan and cook until the apples are softened, about 5-7 minutes. Remove the apples from the pan and let cool.

Cinnamon Sugar Mixture: Mix together soft/melty butter in a bowl with brown sugar, cinnamon, flour and a pinch of salt until you have a soft and spreadable mixture. Set aside.

Prepare the Caramel Sauce: This caramel sauce is incredible. Can you use store-bought? Yes, but trust me, this homemade caramel sauce is easy and worth the extra time. To a heavy-bottomed pot, add the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream and salt. Turn stove to medium-low and let the ingredients melt together. Stir gently until ingredients are just combined. Once ingredients are combined, turn the heat to medium and don’t stir! Let the caramel bubble for about 8-10 minutes until it reaches 225 degrees F. Then remove from the heat and add vanilla extract. Set aside.

Shaping Caramel Apple Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

This recipe makes 16 large cinnamon rolls. Cut the dough in half, about 950 grams per half. Roll the first half of the dough out on a lightly floured pastry mat about 16 inches by 10 inches. Spread on the filling and top with the cooked apples. Roll up, pinching the seam together. To cut the cinnamon rolls, you can use a sharp knife, bench cutter or even dental floss. Cut the log in half and then cut four equal-sized rolls from each half. Place the rolls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. If you have any wispy cinnamon roll ends, go ahead and tuck them under the roll so they don’t come loose during the bake. Repeat with the second portion of dough.

Proofing Caramel Apple Rolls

Sourdough caramel apple cinnamon rolls need more time to rise than traditional cinnamon rolls, thanks to the sourdough. They also require a warm environment to rise – right around 78-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure that you put your pan of shaped rolls in a warm spot. I often use the oven with the light turned on. Let the rolls rise and get puffed up. Lightly touch the rolls and they will feel soft and airy. If they feel dense – do not bake them yet! Let them rise. This final rise is a very important step in the process. Take a finger and gently press into the side of the roll. If it springs back right away, you need to let the dough rise longer. If it stays indented with just a little bit of spring, they are ready to bake.

Prepare the Cream Cheese Icing

The frosting on these rolls is amazing. There’s no other way to describe it. I’m not a huge fan of overly “cream cheesy”-tasting frosting, and the ratios on this icing are just perfection. More butter than cream cheese, when all whipped together the frosting takes these rolls to an ethereal level. If you like the flavor of maple with your caramel apples, try adding a drop of maple flavoring for a unique and delicious flavor combination. Whip the frosting until it is thick and creamy. Set aside until you’re ready to add a dollop on top of each caramel apple roll.

Baking Caramel Apple Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (make sure you take the risen cinnamon rolls out if you are using your oven as a proofing box). Bake the rolls for about 20-25 minutes. Ovens all bake differently. Some ovens bake hotter in the back and cooler in the front. If you want an even bake on your rolls, rotate your pan 180 degrees after the first ten minutes of baking. This will keep half of your rolls from getting too dark or the other half being too light. Check the center of one of the cinnamon rolls after baking to make sure that the middle isn’t raw. Sometimes you need to let them go a minute or two longer to make sure they are completely baked through.

Topping Caramel Apple Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

The topping of these cinnamon rolls is what really sets this recipe apart. Drizzle a large scoop of caramel sauce over the top of each roll. Then add a scoop of cinnamon roll icing on top of the warm rolls. The caramel sauce and icing will melt together, making each bite heavenly!

Have I convinced you yet? You need these caramel apple sourdough cinnamon rolls in your life this fall and your friends & family do too! I love the sourdough version so much that I don’t even feel guilty about feeding this decadent treat to my family because: sourdough!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I store leftover caramel apple cinnamon rolls?

Stick them in an airtight container in the freezer and re-heat individually as needed. They can be frozen for up to a couple months.

Can I freeze sourdough cinnamon roll dough?

Yes! This is possible, but it may not last quite as long as freezing a cinnamon roll with instant yeast. I recommend freezing shaped cinnamon rolls immediately after rolling. Pull out and let thaw and rise again in the next week or two after freezing. Read this post to learn all about freezing cinnamon rolls.

Can I use store-bought caramel sauce instead of making my own?

You can. However, this caramel sauce is the star of the show. It’s so silky, smooth and easy to make. I highly, highly recommend you give it a try!

What pan should I use to bake these rolls?

I’ve experimented with a couple different options. I found that when the rolls are touching, they need a little bit longer to bake through completely. These are some examples of pans I’ve used for cinnamon rolls:

  • Pie Pan (7-8 inch): You will need 3 pans, 4 rolls to a pan and bake for about 30-35 minutes.
  • Pie Pan (10 inch): One dish will fit 6-8 rolls snuggly. If you like the look of rolls all baked together, use a large circular pie pan. Bake 45-50 minutes.
  • Metal Baking Dish (9 by 13): This dish will fit about 8 rolls. Bake for about 30 minutes
  • Half Sheet Pan: Rolls can all fit on the pan will be touching a little. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Caramel Apple Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

Amy
Sweet sourdough dough filled with tender apples, baked and drizzled with a homemade caramel sauce and a dollop of cream cheese icing. These caramel apple sourdough cinnamon rolls are made with 100% natural yeast. Enjoy!
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Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Fermentation Time 1 day 14 hours
Total Time 1 day 15 hours
Course Breakfast
Cuisine American
Servings 16 rolls

Ingredients
  

Stiff Sweet Levain (10-12 hours/overnight at 78 degrees F)

  • 20 grams sourdough starter ripe/bubbly/active
  • 20 grams granulated sugar
  • 100 grams all-purpose flour
  • 50 grams water

Sourdough Cinnamon Roll Dough

  • 180 grams ripe levain all of it
  • 440 grams warm whole milk about 1 3/4 cup, see recipe notes
  • 113 grams unsalted butter, melted about 1/2 cup
  • 115 grams granulated sugar about 1/2 cup
  • 2 large eggs about 100 grams total
  • 12 grams salt about 1 1/2 teaspoons
  • 950 grams bread flour about 6-7 cups

Cinnamon Roll Filling

  • 5-6 large apples see recipe notes
  • 6 grams cinnamon about 2 teaspoons
  • 14 grams unsalted butter about 1 Tablespoon
  • pinch of salt
  • 113 grams unsalted butter, softened or melted 1/2 cup
  • 200 grams packed brown sugar about 1 cup
  • 8 grams ground cinnamon about 1 Tablespoon
  • 10 grams all-purpose flour about 1 Tablespoon
  • 2 grams salt about 1/4 teaspoon

Caramel Sauce

  • 113 grams unsalted butter 1/2 cup
  • 300 grams brown sugar about 1 1/2 cups
  • 240 grams heavy cream about 1 cup
  • 4 grams salt about 1/2 teaspoon
  • 4 grams vanilla extract, reserved about 1 teaspoon

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 113 grams unsalted butter, softened` about 1/2 cup
  • 55 grams cream cheese, softened about 1/4 cup
  • 250 grams powdered sugar about 2 cups
  • 30 grams heavy cream about 2 Tablespoons
  • 6 grams vanilla extract about 1 teaspoon
  • pinch of salt to taste

Instructions
 

Levain (10-12 hours, overnight)

  • Mix together ripe sourdough starter, all-purpose flour, granulated sugar and water. Knead the levain until it forms a cohesive ball. Set in a liquid measuring cup and cover for 10-12 hours until the levain has doubled in size and the top is rounded.

Caramel Apple Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

  • Warm the milk in the microwave (about 1 1/2 minutes full power) or on the stove. It should be around 90-100 degrees F, no warmer than that. To the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook, add the ripe levain, warmed milk and melted butter.
  • Add the sugar, eggs, salt and most of the bread flour. Turn on the dough hook and knead for a few minutes. Add the remainder of the bread flour as needed. The dough should be tacky, not overly sticky and should all cling to one side of the bowl (or away from the edges depending on your mixer). Knead for a total of 8-10 minutes until the dough is smooth.
  • Bulk Fermentation: Put the dough in a container and cover. Set the dough in a warm, 78-80 degree F place for 4 hours. Take the temperature of the dough as needed to make sure the dough temperature stays right around 78-80 degrees F. This temperature is the optimal fermentation.
  • At the end of about 4 hours, the dough should be puffed up and feel very elastic. If it doesn't feel this way, let it bulk ferment for another half hour and check again. It will not double in size.
  • Overnight Option: At this point, after the bulk fermentation has finished, you can cover the dough and put it in the refrigerator. Proceed with the recipe the next day, shaping and proofing the rolls before baking. This allows you to time the cinnamon rolls for breakfast or brunch if desired.
  • Prepare the Apples: Peel and core the apples. Cut into small chunks and add them to a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add in the butter, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Let the apples cook down for about 5-8 minutes until softened. Remove from the heat and let cool.
  • Mix Up Filling: To a small bowl, add the softened butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, flour and salt. Mix together until it forms a thick paste. Set aside.
  • Shaping: Cut the dough in half, making two portions around 950 grams each. Roll the dough into an 8 by 16 rectangle. Spread half of the cinnamon filling over the dough with your fingers, making sure to cover up to the edges of the apple roll. Spread half of the cooled, softened apples on top of the cinnamon filling. Starting with the dough closest to you, roll up the apple roll and pinch together the seam. Flip the roll over, seam side down. Cut the long log of dough into 8 equal pieces. Place the apple rolls on a parchment lined baking sheet or in a couple 9 by 13 pans. You could also snuggle them together in a couple of pie pans. Repeat with the second piece of dough. You will have 16 cinnamon rolls total.
  • Proofing: Cover the pan and let rise in a 78 degree F place until puffed up and risen, about 3 hours. Do not bake these rolls if they have not risen.
  • Caramel Sauce: While the rolls proof, make the caramel sauce. To a heavy-bottomed pot, add the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream and salt. Turn stove onto medium-low and let the ingredients melt together. Stir gently until ingredients are just combined. Once ingredients are combined, turn the heat to medium and don't stir! Let the caramel bubble for about 8-10 minutes until it reaches 225 degrees F. Then remove from the heat and add vanilla extract. Set aside.
  • Baking: Once the rolls have puffed up and risen, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake rolls for about 22-25 minutes until baked all the way through.
  • Cream Cheese Frosting: Using a hand mixer, whip together softened butter and cream cheese. Add the powdered sugar, heavy whipping cream, vanilla extract, maple extract and salt. Whip together for 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. The frosting should be light and fluffy. If you prefer more of a drizzle on top of the rolls, add a little extra milk or cream until you get the desired consistency.
  • Assemble and Enjoy: Pour caramel sauce over the top of each apple roll. Put a dollop of cream cheese icing on top or drizzle it over the top of the rolls. Enjoy warm!

Notes

Whole Milk: 2% milk can be substituted
Bread Flour: I always think it’s wise to use the best possible flour for a great product. Bread flour creates dough with more elasticity thanks to the higher protein content, and I prefer the texture of cinnamon rolls made with bread flour. If you don’t have bread flour, you can use all purpose flour and substitute some vital wheat gluten to increase the protein content of the flour.
Apples: I love Honeycrisp apples in this recipe. Granny Smith would also work great or any of your favorite baking apples.
Keyword apple cinnamon rolls, apple pie cinnamon rolls, caramel apple, caramel apple cinnamon rolls, caramel apple sourdough cinnamon rolls, natural yeast cinnamon rolls, sourdough caramel apple rolls, sourdough cinnamon rolls, wild yeast cinnamon rolls
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