Sourdough Apple Spice Cinnamon Rolls

cinnamon rolls
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With apple spice, apple cider caramel and caramel cream cheese

There was a lot of requests for a naturally leavened cinnamon rolls recipe. As much as I love to eat this devilishly good, extremely indulgent treat, I can not look pass all the calories in it. Even though I am a hobby baker, I stick to bread mostly and a few indulging bakes here and there. This is the reason it took me this long to test a recipe for these utterly delicious rolls.

As soon as I found a gap in between my weekly bakes, I decided to give these a try and tested out a slightly different spice blend and a much richer dough consistency. Unlike the traditional, dough my dough is on the softer side. You will feel the difference when you roll it out. This is what makes it soft on the inside. And the tangy caramel that goes on top makes these sticky without being too sweet and you don’t even need cream cheese.

cinnamon rolls
With apple cider caramel glaze

The filling/paste
The paste contains dark brown sugar, butter and the spices of course. Apart from cinnamon, this paste also contains apple pie spice (nutmeg, star anise, clove, cardamom etc.). Now there are several apple spice blends and you can use whichever you like here. You can either add spices individually or use store bought, ready-made apple pie spice blend.

For a traditional cinnamon roll, skip the apple pie spice from the filling/paste.

The dough
The dough itself is not spiced and not too sweet and hence this balances out the sticky sweetness of the filling. But it is a slightly richer dough (with milk, butter and eggs)

As soon as the rolls come out, I brush these with a thin layer of apple cider caramel. As the rolls cool down, the caramel layer sets nicely, keeping the rolls moist. This step is optional but this is what makes these ‘sticky’.

Some cinnamon rolls can be “sickeningly sweet” mainly due to the thick sugar glaze that goes on top. This is why I like mine with cream cheese. In this recipe if you use the caramel, cream cheese is optional.

cinnamon rolls
with caramel cream cheese frosting

Cream cheese is already tangy and in this recipe I mix mine with homemade apple cider caramel, to give it sweetness and loosen it up a bit at the same time. The resulting frosting is spreadable, not too sweet and got a nice apple cider kick to it! Add icing sugar for a sweeter version.

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Let’s get started.

stiff starter

Refresh your starter and let it ripe and use some of that mature starter to make this sweet stiff levain (starter).

This stiff starter/levain has only 40% water and has got some sugar in it. Due to low hydration it will take slightly longer to mature (slow enzyme activity) about 8 hours. The sugar in the starter gives a kick start to the yeast (natural yeast) by providing instant food rather than waiting for the carbohydrates to break down and become sugar!

mature starter

This is what it will look like after 8-10 hours. very sponge like and sticky. This is very strong and will not add lot of sour flavor to you sweet product


Have all the ingredients ready.

Make sure butter is soft not melted.
Leaving it out for 15 minutes will do.

I have mentioned eggs in weight (85g) so if your eggs are larger, well then you know exactly how much to use.

If you want to use two large eggs, it will be about 110g so you can reduce some water or use 1 large egg (55g ) and add some extra milk. Or beat the eggs and measure exactly 85 grams. Any of this is fine.

mix the dough

Mixing this dough is easy. Add flour sugar and salt and mix. Whisk the eggs, milk together and add it to the flour mix followed by the levain (or the stiff starter). Get mixer going on low speed and start adding water gradually. When everything is hydrated, add the butter and continue to mix. Scrape the sides to encourage mixing. Use extra flour to stop the dough sticking to sides

Increase the speed to medium and knead for another 2-3 minutes until dough starts to look silky and feel elastic. Transfer the dough on to a smooth surface.

knead the dough

Let this dough rest for 5-10 minutes, this will make it easier to handle.

Use butter or water to lubricate your hands and give several slap and folds until the dough looks smooth like shown in the picture.

place the dough in bowl

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl (plastic or glass), cover (not air tight) and leave in a warm place to bulk. This bulking is important to get a good rise in the final proofing and also in the oven. The dough will also be stronger!

Bulk for about 4 hours at 27°C or until it is almost doubled in size. In colder temperatures, this may take longer.

bulked dough

This picture here shows what we are looking for after the bulk. Now this dough is ready for the longer slow fermentation (which helps develop flavors and nutrients and a healthy doze of good microbes)

Punch the dough down and mold in to a smooth dough again! Like in the picture below.

punched dough

Place this in an air-tight container and refrigerate for several hours (18 – 20 hours)

If you don’t want to ferment the dough, you can cut down the refrigeration to about 3-4 hours, just enough time for the dough to harden and gluten to relax so that it will be easier to roll out!


Before you start out rolling the dough, make your cinnamon sugar paste. I like to mix my sugar, soft butter and spices into a past and apply that on my dough! Do not over mix, we don’t water sugar melting into butter.

If you want, to you can apply soft butter first and sprinkle the sugar and spice blend on top (a very common method used in bakeries) This is a good method if your dough start to get soft/sticky. Much easier than spreading the paste.

ready to roll

After the cold retardation (or refrigeration) the dough is now ready to be rolled. I highly recommend, rolling it while still cold. It will be a lot easier and way less sticky.

Use flour to dust the bench and the dough

roll out

Roll out the dough to a rectangular shape. I go about 40cm * 30cm this will give 12 rolls with 4 layers.

The thinner the dough, the less fluffier the bun, it will be like lost of layers of this bread. I like mine slightly thicker so the bun actually has a body.

cinnamon rolls cross section
Showing 5 layers of thick dough
spread the mixture

Spread the mixture evenly.

Tip: If you want, to you can apply soft butter first and sprinkle the sugar and spice blend on top (a very common method used in bakeries) This is a good method if your dough start to get soft/sticky. Much easier than spreading the past.

start rolling

Start rolling.

If you roll length-wise you will get 12 medium rolls with about 4-5 swirls(layers) that fit in to a 9″ by 13″ pan

If you roll width-wise you will get about 6 big rolls with about 8 layers (very fat ones) that might fit a smaller pan of 9″ by 9″ (or 8″ by 8″)

cut rolls

Once rolled out, cut into roughly equal pieces using a sharp knife or a piece of string(a fine thread).

If your dough is too soft place the whole thing on a tray and refrigerate for about 15 minutes or until it’s hardened so you can cut decent pieces without a mess.

place dough in the tray

Arrange the pieces on a lightly greased tray(you can use parchment paper if you like)

Leave ample space between the rolls as they will rise(proof) quite a bit and also would expand in the oven.

Cover loosely and let these proof for bout 3-4 hours at 25°C or until they are puffed up.

This pan is 9″ by 13″

proofed rolls
proofed dough

Take care not to place them in a too warm place as this might cause the butter and sugar to melt

This is how they will look once proofed. You can do the ‘poke test‘ to make sure.

When they are closer to being proofed, preheat the oven to 375 °F

baked rolls

Bake the rolls in the preheated oven for 30 – 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

You can now glaze these with sugar glaze or cream cheese if you want to and skip the next caramel step. But this caramel is what makes these rolls ‘sticky’

brush with caramel

For the sticky rolls, brush the rolls with pre made apple cider caramel as soon as they comes out of the oven and then leave to cool. As these cool, the caramel will set too.

You will have a hard time resisting eating one right out of the pan!

cream cheese

These rolls really don’t need anything else, but this luscious caramel flavored cream cheese will take them to the next level. So why not try that too!

Traditional cream cheese + icing sugar + cinnamon frosting works very well too.

add the cream cheese

Serve these warm with your favorite hot beverage, with or without cream cheese frosting

apple spiced sourdough cinnamon rolls

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  1. This looks delicious! I am going to make this tomorrow. This spice mix in the filling seems to be missing some spices. You mentioned star anise in the write up but it doesn’t appear in the recipe. Can you confirm the spice mix and proportions? Thanks.

    1. Hi Joanna,
      Yes, I did not add star anise in the spice mix, but I have seen that in some apple pie spice blends. That’s why I mentioned it, if some one used a blend instead of their own mix. Spice blend and proportions are totally up to you. I like these three in my apple pie so I went with that. Hope this clears out the confusion.

    1. Hi Beatriz,
      Yes they can be made without eggs. Eggs help make the rolls fluffy(airy) and rich. Use any of the following 3 options to replace the 2 eggs;
      – 4 tablespoons of chickpea water/aquafaba (water from a chickpea can)
      – 1/4 cup extra full fat milk
      – 1/4 cup milk + 1/2 tablespoon butter

      Hope this helps. Really hope you’d love these 🙂


  2. My rolls didn’t look as pretty as yours do Vindi but my brothers said it was the best rolls they’ve had so thank you very much for the recipe!! I used TJ’s spiced apple cider but next time I would do a regular flavour and I added a touch of bourbon. I put a simple powdered sugar drizzle on top and the sweetness was just right!

        1. Did you mean Oil instead of butter? You can replace butter with oil, but the texture will be different. My vegan pumpkin, vegan coconut & matcha brioche both use oil.
          Butter is not necessarily considered a liquid but taken in to account when adjusting hydration. Also it is the soft butter that’s used here not melted. Soft butter will lubricate the gluten without getting absorbed.
          Melted butter gives a totally different texture and is usually added much earlier in the mixing with other liquids.

  3. I tried these last week. I didn’t do the caramel, and I didn’t ice them. I did heaping teaspoons and tablespoons of everything spice wise and added even even more spices. Regardless, absolutely delicious. The rise, texture and crumb, loved them. I’ve been going through a cinnamon bun sojourn, and so far these are at the top. Thank you so much.

    1. Thank you for the lovely feedback!
      I do exactly that when I want to make just plain cinni buns 😀

  4. Hi Vindi, have a nice day. I made this recipe and the flavor obtained is very pleasant. Unfortunately, not having a suitable pan, I put the rolls to rise and then cook by themselves and so obviously they lost their shape and widened. How can I avoid this? Do I have to buy the right pan? Thank you very much

    1. Thank you for trying this out! You can use a muffin pan. Another trick is to take individual roll, just after you cut them, and tuck the end piece underneath so that the roll would not lose its shape upon proofing and baking. Check my sourdough sticky pecan buns recipe, I have a picture of how to do this.
      If your pan is too large, you can also use a foil wall to make it smaller (a trick used by many) Good luck!

  5. Hi ! I’m from Brazil and I love your blog! He inspires me! I’m going to make this recipe and would like to know, in grams, how much butter is in the dough? Thanks

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