“Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one’s very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”
― George Eliot (Letter to Miss Eliot, Oct. 1, 1841]”
The harmonious symphony of crisp juicy seasonal apples, warm sultry cinnamon and a perfectly baked caramel candied dough, is a cozy hug on fall day. This Big Apple Caramel Cinnamon Roll bake is my culinary interpretation of my enduring love affair with all that is autumn. And even on this chilly, rainy Nashville morning, looking down at my feet, clad in my obligatory Music City boots, I smile at the kaleidoscope of colors and marvel yet again, as I always do, at nature’s handiwork.
¼ cup (59 milliliters) warm water + pinch of sugar
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) instant dry yeast
1/2 cup (118 milliliters) whole milk
3 tablespoons (43 grams) unsalted butter
1 large egg at room temperature, preferably organic
2 ½ cups (313 grams) all-purpose flour + ¼ cup (31 grams) flour for kneading
¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
4 tablespoons (57 grams) butter, at room temperature
Cinnamon Apple Filing
4 tablespoons (57 grams) butter
3 Honey Crisp apples, peeled, cored and finely diced
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (110 grams) packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce
4 tablespoons (57 grams) butter
1 cup (220 grams) packed brown sugar
¼ cup (59 milliliters) whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (may substitute 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
How to use them:
Proof the yeast by sprinkling it on top of the ¼ cup warm water and topping with the pinch of sugar. Gently stir once to combine and then set aside for 10 minutes to allow it to proof. Why do I always proof? Though the advent of instant active dry yeast allows you to mix the yeast right into to your dough, I always proof it first and here’s why. Yeast can go bad and the last thing I want is to invest ingredients and time into a dough only to find out that my yeast had gone bad and my dough is ruined. AND perhaps it’s also because this is how I watched my mother do it my entire life and she her bread is always perfection.
Note: making dough is an exercise in patience and delayed gratification. Be cautious of “rapid-rise” yeasts promising a quick, single rise. First, the “rapid-rise” moniker means there are additives included that you don’t want in your dough. Secondly, it’s the proofing that gives the dough it’s distinct and incomparable flavor and varied crumb. The additives and single rising of a “rapid-rise” yeast compromise this flavor that’s the hallmark of a true home baked bread.
In a measuring cup or medium bowl, heat the milk and butter in the microwave until just melted, about 1 minute. Allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes and then whisk in the egg.
Whisk the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in the milk mixture.Next, add the proofed yeast in the well. You see those beautiful air bubbles, that’s exactly how you know your yeast is good.Using a spatula, mix the ingredient until just incorporated, about 1 minute. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to rest and autolyse for 20 minutes prior to kneading. This is a technique used by French bakers that I have incorporated into my bread making.
This is the perfect time to grab your apples and begin peeling and dicing!After a 20 minute rest, turn dough over onto a flat surface.Begin to knead.After you have kneaded for 5-7 minutes and the dough feels pliable, then do the window pane test. Once the dough has been kneaded sufficiently, shape into a round.Rub the dough with a teaspoon vegetable oil, cover loosely with plastic wrap, drape a towel over it and place in a warm, draft free space. Allow the dough to rise until at least doubled in size, approximately 1 hour. While the bread is rising we can make the cinnamon apple filling and caramel sauce. Place the diced apples, butter, sugar and cinnamon and a medium pot. Cook the apple mixture for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender and all of the liquid release during the cooking process has evaporated.Transfer the cooked apples to a bowl, set aside and allow to cool. While the apple are cooling and the dough is rising, let’s make the heavenly vanilla bean caramel!
Prepare a 10 inch round pan by buttering it or spraying it with cooking spray. In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and stir continuously for 2 minutes, just until the sugar is dissolved. Add in the cream and keep stirring for another 2 minutes until caramel is thickened. Pour the caramel into the baking pan.Once you have made the filling and caramel, your dough should be ready to now roll.
Check to make certain it has proofed properly, it should have doubled in size.Turn your dough unto a lightly floured surface and gently flatten into a rectangle shape. Begin rolling out your dough, beginning from the middle and rolling our towards then edge, and then from the middle and out towards the edge oppsite of you. Always make certain to loosen and lift the dough after each roll to ensure it’s not sticking to your surface. If it begins to stick, lightly dust the surface with flour.Roll the dough out into a 16 inch x 12 inch rectangle.Spread the room temperature butter on the dough.Next spread the cooled apple mixture over the butter, over the entire dough.Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the 12 inch side of the dough into 6, 2 inch strips.This part can be a bit tricky and messy. Don’t worry if the apples drip off in the process of lifting and rolling the dough, you can simply add it to the top of the roll once you’re done! You are now ready to begin assembling your giant roll. Begin by loosely rolling the first strip up.Now gently lift the roll and place it in the center of the pan you’ve poured the caramel in. Then lift each of the remaining 5 strips and one by one, begin to coil the strips around the center.You want to lift and coil the strips quickly to avoid stretching the dough excessively.Keep adding the strips around the roll, starting each additional strip where the last one ended in the roll.When you have added all of the caramel apple laden dough strips, then gently press down on the roll to even out the distribution of the dough.The giant roll is now ready to proof once more.Just looking at the bits of caramelized apples, warm cinnamon and delectable dough, you know this is going to be a phenomenal bake. Cover the roll loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1 hour.
Fifteen minutes prior to baking, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. After the giant roll has proofed for an hour, bake for 40-45 minutes until browned. Note, I always set my cake on a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet to allow the roll to bake evenly and catch any stray caramel drippings. If the roll begins to brown before it is fully baked, simply loosely lay a piece of foil over the top.
After the roll is fully baked, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for 30 minutes prior to turning the cake over. DO NOT TURN OVER NOW! Trust me on this. I did that the first time I tested this recipe and it crumbled into a heap of a delicious apple cinnamon goodness. After the roll has cooled for half an hour, place a cake stand or plate on top of it.Now invert the pan and cake stand right side up. Tap on the cake pan a few times to loosen any stubborn spots and lift the cake pan up.This is my absolute favorite part of this bake. Watching the deep amber caramel anointed with specks of vanilla drip, drip, drip down the sides of the roll.The best time to devour this bake is now! Right in this moment. Using a serrated knife slice and serve warm.Even after you’re done with your third slice, you have these bits of pure candied caramel apples that allow you to continue to savor a few more bites of fall.