Cinnamon Rolls are our favorite way to secretly eat dessert for breakfast. In this seasonal spin on the classic, we layer the pillowy rolls with store-bought (or homemade!) apple butter, toasted pecans and cinnamon sugar. Apple butter, if you’re not familiar, tastes like a concentrated apple sauce—no actual butter is involved! It adds a delicious tart-sweet element to the pillowy rolls.
You’ll notice in this recipe that we specifically call for rapid rise yeast. These handy packets can be dumped right in with your dry ingredients—no proofing required. If you only have active dry yeast on hand, then let the yeast “bloom” with the warm milk before combining with the remaining ingredients. Lastly, we like to use a metal baking pan for these rolls. The aluminum conducts heat faster and more evenly, so all of your cinnamon rolls cook at the same time. With thicker materials like glass or ceramic, by the time the rolls in the center are done cooking, the ones on the outside will be overcooked.
n the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine 3½ cups of the flour with the yeast, brown sugar and salt. Using a whisk, stir to combine. To the flour mixture, add the warm milk, eggs, vanilla and the softened butter. Beat on low speed until just combined, about 5 minutes. If your dough is very sticky, gradually add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time until you reach your desired consistency. A slightly stickier dough is better than a dry one. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the filling
In a small bowl, combine the chopped pecans with the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt.
Grease a 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan and line it with parchment paper. Lightly flour your work surface. Turn out the dough and punch it down. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a 10-by-16-inch rectangle. Spread the apple butter in a thin, even layer over the dough, then sprinkle the pecan-brown sugar mixture evenly over the top. Using your hands, gently press the filling into the dough.
Starting with the long edge facing you, roll up the dough into a tight log. Pinch along the edge to seal. Using a sharp knife or dental floss (see Note), cut into 12 cinnamon rolls. Arrange the rolls cut side up in the prepared baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Uncover the cinnamon rolls and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, make the icing
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese, milk and vanilla until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth.
Spread the icing on the cinnamon rolls while still warm and garnish with chopped pecans, if using. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Slicing cinnamon rolls with dental floss gives you the best round shape. When slicing with a knife, the motion of cutting through the log of dough can squish them and give you misshapen rolls. Be sure to use unflavored dental floss for this and learn more about how to do it with this helpful video here.
MAKE AHEAD The cinnamon rolls can be prepared through step 4 and refrigerated overnight. Do not let the cinnamon rolls rise before refrigerating. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour before baking. The icing can be refrigerated overnight. Let come to room temperature before using.