The Improv Cooking Challenge: Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls

. Take a seat and stay awhile.  You'll want to read about this little treat.  But let me first fill you in on why I [thankfully] even decided to attempt these heavenly rolls.

As a loyal follower of Sheryl's blog, Lady Behind the Curtain, I was invited to join her first ever Improv Cooking Challenge (ICC).  YESTHANK YOU!  I absolutely love things like this, if you can't tell.  But here's how it works...

Every month, Sheryl decides on two ingredients that the members must use in any type of recipe they like, baking or cooking.  I guess there are really no other rules except that, ha!  And then, on the assigned day [chosen by Sheryl], the members post their creations.  The purpose of the entire 'challenge' is to create your own recipe or find other recipes utilizing the specified ingredients.  Also, you get to meet tons of fellow bloggers and that's always a plus!  All in all, it's a fun and exciting challenge and I'm SO very honored to be a part of it.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the entire weekend all to myself [Robbie was out of town], and I wanted to take this opportunity to make something extra special for this challenge.  Something that I wouldn't normally have the time for during the week or when our weekends are busy spent doing who knows what.  Right away, bread was on my mind.  I LOVE making yeast breads but because of the time it takes to rise, etc., I don't do them very often.  Well, not as often as I'd like.  Anywho, I'd had the recipe for Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls from Annie's Eats for quite some time and just knew this was it.  Her pictures alone of gooey, flakey cinnamon rolls were all of the convincing it took [which obviously wasn't very hard!].  How I decided to make it my own, however, comes from my recipe for Soft Caramel Sauce from Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters, which I've used in other various recipes [not yet posted...].  Man, I'm going to give Annie and the Brass Sisters a pat on the back for this one.

These rolls are a real treat, to say the least.  The dough was flakey and soft, flavored with cinnamon and a hint of nutmeg.  The filling consists of a mixture of cinnamon sugar and caramelized apples [YUM!] and the whole treat is generously doused with the homemade Soft Caramel Sauce [addicting!].  After slathering putting the caramel sauce on the rolls, I started to think that the sauce may be a bit sweet for this concoction.  But, I was dreadfully wrong and it paired perfectly with the tender dough and tart apples.  I especially loved how the smooth sauce seeped into the crevices of the rolls and melded with the apple flavors. MmmMmM!  Seriously, near [if not] perfection.  I'm just sayin'...

My only warning is that these do take a little time [i.e., two rising sessions] but otherwise they are quite simple.  And don't fret about the rises, it leaves you time to do whatever you want [of which, I was cleaning the house!].  And the result is well worth the extra effort, belieeeeeeeve me.

Gotta say, this month's ICC ingredients were divine and I had a great time!  Thanks, Sheryl! .

My Notes:
  • I still haven't quite figured out how to make that perfect dough roll [or log, whatever you want to call it].  I always end up with end pieces that don't have much filling [it's always packed in the middle] and they're always WAY smaller than the rest.  If anyone has suggestions, I'd love to hear them!
  • The one snafoo I ran into happened when I was cooking the apples.  I think I stirred them a little too much and ended up with a few apple slices but mostly more of an applesauce mixture [see pictures below].  Honestly, I liked it this way because I'm not a huge apple chunk fan but I wanted to note this since my apples didn't turn out the way they are supposed to.
  • The only time I recommend not straying away from the kitchen is while you're making the soft caramel sauce.  This is an element that needs to be watched closely because the caramelization happens quickly.  So pay attention!
  • Make the soft caramel sauce after you're done making the dough and it's rising for 2 hours.  The sauce thickens as it sits, therefore, when you're ready to use it, the sauce won't drip off the rolls quite as much [it will still happen, but it won't be AS much].  I was more than a little impatient and 1) didn't let the sauce sit long enough and 2) applied the warm sauce to warm rolls and so there was a little more sauce-drippage than I would have liked.  Whoops.

6-1/2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg
5-1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp. lemon zest
3-1/2 c. bread flour
2 tsp. rapid rise yeast
1 c. plus 2 to 4 tbsp. whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature

Apple Filling:
1-1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Soft Caramel Sauce:
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 c. heavy whipping cream
1/8 tsp. salt

1.  In bowl of electric mixer, cream together sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter on medium speed until smooth.

2.  Mix in egg and lemon zest until incorporated.

3.  Mix in flour, yeast and milk until dough forms.  Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed until dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky (about 8 minutes).  You may need to add in additional flour or milk to achieve the desired texture.  Lightly oil large bowl and place dough in bowl, turning once to cover with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size (about 2 hours).

4.  For caramel sauce, combine sugar, water and light corn syrup in heavy saucepan over high heat.  Bring to boil, stirring with wooden spoon.  

5.  Reduce heat to medium high.  Do not stir.  Continue boiling until mixture turns golden brown (not dark brown, about 6 minutes).  Remove pan from heat.  Swirl sauce gently in pan twice.

6.  Add butter and stir slowly until melted.  Add in heavy whipping cream and stir again (if caramel seizes, place pan on medium heat and stir with wooden spoon until smooth, about 1 minute).  Add salt.  Pour caramel sauce into bowl and cool to room temperature.  Set aside until ready for use.

7.  For filling, melt butter in skillet over medium-high heat.  Add apple slices, 1/4 cup sugar, cornstarch, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  Mix until apples are evenly coated.  

8.  Cook about 18 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and add vanilla extract.  Set aside to cool.  

9.  Once dough has risen, spray work surface with cooking oil.  Roll dough into 12x14-inch rectangle (or 9x18-inch rectangle for smaller rolls).

10.  Sprinkle dough with cinnamon sugar mixture.  Evenly distribute caramelized apples over dough.

11.  Starting with wide edge, roll dough into log.  Slice the log into the desired number of rolls.  Transfer rolls to parchment-lined baking sheet, about 1/2 to 1-inch apart.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until rolls grow into each other (about 75 to 90 minutes).  

12.  Heat oven to 350°F.  Bake 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.  Let cool on pan 10 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.  Place parchment paper from baking sheet under wire rack to catch excess caramel sauce when glazing rolls.

13.  Using a large spoon, glaze rolls with soft caramel sauce.  There will be caramel drippings from the rolls, but spoon the excess from the parchment paper and replace on rolls.

Yield: 1 dozen rolls

Check out all of the other ICC participants through the blog hop below, happy clicking!


  1. Wow these look good! I'm going to have to add this to my to do list. I am your newest follower and Improv Challenge participant.


  2. Your rolls looks delicious! I need to try these. Mine are the Caramel Apple Scones http://patitudes.blogspot.com/2011/10/caramel-apple-scones-improv-cooking.html

  3. What a GREAT recipe!!! Thanks so much for participating in THE IMPROV COOKING CHALLENGE! I can't wait to see what you make next month using Pumpkin and Cream Cheese.

  4. Awesome job on these, they look delish! I am hopping over from the Improv (I am #30)

  5. These look so delicious! I have a major weakness for yeast rolls/breads and will be trying these very soon! Thanks for sharing :) - Cares

  6. Gorgeous and amazing, wish I was enjoying one.
    If you haven't already, I'd love for you to check out my Improv Cooking Challenge recipe: Caramel Stuffed Apple Cider Cookies.

    Cook Lisa Cook

  7. These look sinful! It was fun being part of the first ICC with you.
    Amy @ A Little Nosh

  8. Drooling over here... this combo sounds fantastic.

  9. That caramel sauce looks to die for. What a fabulous improv!

  10. These look seriously awesome! I'm drooling right now all over my keyboard. TFS.

    Tracy Screaming Sardine

  11. Cinnamon Scrolls are huge here in Australia in winter time. I'm definitely going to be adding caramel and apple to mine next year! Just beautiful. (Where do I go to follow you?)

    Anne xx

  12. These really look amazing!!! Cinnamon rolls are so good by themselves but add apples and caramel and OMG!!!! YUM! New follower, great blog. Come on by and visit us and follow too if you like :)



  13. These look truly wonderful and anything that looks that good simply has to be delicious. This is my first visit to your blog but I'll be back. You've created a great spot for your readers to visit and I really enjoyed the time I spent here. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  14. Yum, I love cinnamon rolls and these sound like an amazing variation!

  15. These look absolutely delicious. They combine two of my favorites - cinnamon rolls and apples. Yummy! Thanks for sharing on Sweet Indulgences Sunday.

  16. These incredibly yummy looking rolls!! I just LOVE your blog. It's so well organized and looks really good...um not to mention the incredible recipes!

    I'm hopping over from Something Swanky's pinterest blog hop and am your newest follower on here and on pinterest! I'd love if you followed me back at purplestpecalin.blogspot.com.

  17. These look amazing! Wish I had one right now!

  18. What a great recipe you cook. Thanks so much for participating in the improve cooking challenge. I can't wait to see what you make next month using Pumpkin and Cream Cheese.

  19. I wanted to jump into my computer screen and grab one of the beautiful rolls...can hardly wait to surprise my family with this recipe! Thank you!

  20. These look DELICIOUS! I honestly cannot wait to try them!


  21. Delicious!! I love cinnamon rolls and these look AMAZING! What a perfect post for this month's challenge!

  22. These incredibly delicious looking rolls. I just stumbled your blog from cook challenge. It's so well organized and looks really good, Testy dish in my blog tour.

  23. I think I just licked my computer screen!

    Thanks for sharing on my site.

    I am sharing a link to this recipe over on Facebook. :)

  24. Those look like amazing cinnamon rolls. Delicious! Come visit us. We have a really wonderful sweet potato stuffed french toast to share.

  25. Oh.my.word! This look unbelievably delicious! Thanks for sharing them at our Seasonal Inspiration party!

  26. Those look unbelievable! WOW :)

    Stopping by from Tues Talent Show

  27. Just for the record, this recipe is NOT working for us at all. The dough was too sticky and adding flour didn't work. The caramel sauce didn't brown. Something's not right with this recipe!

  28. Could not find the recipe for 14. Caramel Apple Dip which really looks yummy...if you could send it to me at mamabearmd@yahoo.com and I would greatly appreciate it...I have never seen so many delicious looking recipes on one website...Thank you kindly, Mama


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