Rise and Shine - Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls

It's the holiday season, and for most that means you're breaking out the rolling pins, bundt pans, and pie shells. Well, I decided to take a less traditional route with this dessert. Homemade cinnamon rolls can be a bit intimidating for most. Even the most skilled home bakers steer clear of baking with yeast. Well allow me to calm your fears; yeast is very similar to baking powder in that it's sole purpose is to leaven whatever it's added to, but it's super simple as long as you follow a few simple rules:

1. Avoid direct contact with salt, as salt is a yeast inhibitor.

2. Yeast is a living organism. Exposing it to temperatures above 120° will kill it, so luke warm water is best. If the water burns your skin, it will kill the yeast.

3. Knead dough for the suggested time; no more, no less.

4. Always allow your dough to double in size before manipulating it.

5. Two rises for best results.

If you are naturally resistant to authority, you may read these rules and want to break them, but if you do, your rolls will have the last laugh, and the joke will be on you :(. I know following rules can be hard, but you'll live, AND you'll have award winning caramel apple thingies, so fix your face and let's create this masterpiece.

Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients

DOUGH

1 (1/4-oz.) envelope active dry yeast

1 cup warm water (105° to 115°)

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1.5 tsp Ener-G Egg Replacer

2 tbsp warm water

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup butter, melted

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 to 2 cups bread flour

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

FILLING

9 tablespoons vegan butter, softened and divided

3 cups peeled and diced McIntosh or Braeburn apples (about 3 large)

1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans

GLAZE

1/3 cup butter

1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

2 tbsp almond or coconut milk

Preparation

1. Prepare Dough: Combine yeast, warm water, and sugar in a large mixing bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Combine egg replacer with warm water and set aside while yeast activates, add in "egg" mixturem sugar, melted butter, salt, and 1 1/2 cups bread flour. Use wooden spoon to combine; approximately 1 minute, or until smooth. Gradually stir in whole wheat flour to make a soft dough.

2. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic (6 to 8 minutes), sprinkling surface with bread flour as needed. Dough should be soft, smooth, and slightly tacky without sticking to hands. It is of extreme importance that you knead the dough properly. Please see kneading tips below. Place dough in a lightly greased large bowl, turning to grease top. Cover with plastic wrap or a wet towel, and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, 45 to 55 minutes or until doubled in size.

3. Meanwhile, prepare Filling: Melt 1 Tbsp. soy free Earth Balance in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples and sauté 4 to 5 minutes or until apples are crisp-tender. Cool completely (about 30 minutes, or place in fridge to reduce time).

4. After dough has doubled in size, punch dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface, then knead two to three times. Roll into a 20- x 12-inch rectangle. Spread remaining 8 Tbsp. softened Earth Balance over dough. Stir together 3/4 cup granulated sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over butter, and top with pecans and apple mixture.

5. Cut dough into 5 (12- x 4-inch) strips; stack dough strips. Replace any apples and pecans that fall out. Cut stack into 6 (4- x 2-inch) rectangles; cut each rectangle in half crosswise to form 12 (2-inch) squares. Place stacked squares, cut sides up, into cups of a lightly greased 12-cup muffin pan or ramekins. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let rise in a warm place (85º), free from drafts, 45 minutes to 1 hour or until rolls rise about 3/4 inch above rim of pan.

6. Preheat oven to 375º. Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until deep golden brown. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 7 minutes. Remove rolls from pan to a wire rack. If you are using ramekins as I did, leave rolls in ramekins and serve one drizzled with caramel sauce. *note - place pan or ramekins on cookie sheet with parchment paper in case spillage occurs*

7. Prepare Glaze: Bring 1/3 cup Earth Balance and 1/3 cup brown sugar to a boil in a 1-qt. heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly; boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, stir in nut milk, then drizzle over top of warm rolls.

How to Properly Knead Bread

1. Place dough on a floured surface.

2. Fold dough in half towards you.

3. With the heel of your hand, push the dough down and away from you, firmly but lightly, in a rolling motion. If dough is sticking to your hands add bread flour 1 tbsp at a time until dough is tacky but not sticky.

4. Repeat process until the dough is smooth on the outside, springs back when pressed on with your fingers and is no longer sticky.

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