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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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″)
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.
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″
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
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’
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!
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.
Serve these warm with your favorite hot beverage, with or without cream cheese frosting