last week when i was telling you how i stick to canned pumpkin because raw pumpkins are difficult to cut, i alluded to the fact that getting into cans was beginning to rival getting into a raw pumpkin. as is wont to happen, the manual can opener that i, uh, “borrowed” from my parents years ago (that i’m pretty sure is older than i am) isn’t super excited about opening cans anymore.
it had been on a slow decline then one day recently made kind of a popping noise and basically turned into a tease. it would puncture the can intermittently around the rim as i turned the crank over and over and the silly thing just sat there, not moving and certainly not opening the can.
after a few rounds of this nonsense and a few near misses on getting at our dinner ingredients, i decided it was time to break down and replace it (with a new one from a store this time, just for fun). not wanting to end up with an(other) inadequate can opener that didn’t live up to its name, i decided to do a bit of online research before heading off to the store to grab whatever the cheapest oxo one was (which is what i bought, and it’s great).
well, it turns out that my buying decision wasn’t really influenced by what i read but i did learn that i am a totally and utterly, completely insufficient can opener cleaner. a bunch of people on amazon basically said, “this can opener is great except that i can’t put it in the dishwasher to sterilize it. it just doesn’t get clean enough from washing it with soap and hot water in the sink.”
i’m going to go out on a limb and venture a guess that these fine review writers who are so disturbed by their inability to sterilize their can opener would not find my quick-wipe-on-a-mostly-cleanish-towel up to their standards…
the only upside to all of this is that my husband is *not* one of these review writers and he and i both agree that unless we have some sort of truly magnificent can opening fail that sprays tuna juice all over the ceiling, we’re just not that concerned about our inability to sterilize our can opener. after all, as he pointed out, the contents of the can are, by necessity, sterile.
so, good news, we’re in agreement that we don’t need to buy an autoclave to clean the can opener. bad news, well, we’re not going to talk about what’s on top of the can that i wipe off with that same cleanish dishtowel before i open the can. no, instead, let’s talk about chai-spiced apple cinnamon rolls for a hot minute before you all click over to cnn to hold your breath and wring your hands, shall we?
um, these chai-spiced apple cinnamon rolls are delicious. and they don’t require a can opener! the end.
just kidding. well, not about them being delicious, that part is true. i took my favorite basic (no yeast, no waiting for them to rise!) cinnamon roll recipe and piled a bunch more spices in there along with a hefty dose of apples. the result is basically the best cinnamon roll i’ve ever had.
i know i just said this about ginger (and pumpkin), but cardamom is really one of the best spices out there. naturally, there’s a good size pile of it in these cinnamon rolls to give them that chai-goodness flavor. ginger (of course), black pepper, and cloves round out the spice mixture that gets tucked in with the apples and brown sugar (swoon).
aaaand i really need to get better about writing up these descriptions while i still have some of the yummy food i’m describing left so that i can just go have a little nibble, rather than being tempted to go make a whole other batch. perhaps instead of me making another batch of these chai-spiced apple cinnamon rolls, *you* could make them and then comment or tag me on instagram and i will enjoy yours vicariously. deal? after all, i’ve got holiday recipes to go test!
- 149 g. (2/3 cup packed / 5 ¼ oz.) dark brown sugar
- 50 g. (1/4 cup / 1 ¾ oz.) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- scant ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
- 1 apple, see notes
- 354 g. (3 cups / 12 ½ oz.) all purpose flour, see notes
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- pinch of ground cloves
- 280 g. (1 ¼ cups / 9 7/8 oz.) buttermilk, see notes
- 42 g. (3 tablespoons / 1 ½ oz.) unsalted butter, melted and divided
- 113 g. (1 cup / 4 oz.) powdered sugar
- 1 ½ tablespoons milk, plus extra as needed
- scant ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- put an oven rack in the upper middle position and preheat the oven to 425° F. get out a 9” (23 cm) nonstick circular cake pan. if your pan is pretty good about not sticking, you can skip the next step. if your pan tends to stick, grease the bottom and sides with a bit of butter. out of the way of your workspace, set a wire cooling rack over a piece of wax paper (for cooling and icing the gooey buns later).
- in a medium bowl, combine the sugars and spices and stir to combine thoroughly. add the 1 tablespoon of melted butter and mix until the mixture is combined and looks like wet sand. set aside.
- in a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices and stir to mix. in a large glass measuring cup or small bowl, add 2 tablespoons of the melted butter to the buttermilk and stir. add the liquid to the dry ingredients and stir for about 30 seconds, just until the dough just comes together (it will still look shaggy). turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead gently just until it’s smooth and uniform.
- using your hands, gently pat the dough into a 12” (30 cm) by 9” (23 cm) rectangle. brush the dough with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, leaving a ½” (1 cm) border around the edge. sprinkle the filling mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a ½” (1 cm) border from the edge of the dough. cut the apple into small dice and sprinkle evenly over the filling. press the sugar mixture and apple pieces down so they stay put.
- using a bench scraper or metal spatula, loosen the dough from the counter. starting on the long edge, roll the dough into a tight log, pressing gently as you go to keep it neat. roll the log over so the seam side is facing down and cut the log in half, then cut those two pieces in half, then cut each of those four pieces in half so that you end up with eight evenly-sized pieces. as you pick up each piece, press the open (swirly) sides lightly between your palms to make sure the filling doesn’t fall out as you transfer each piece to the pan. set the first piece in the center of the pan then arrange the other seven pieces evenly around the perimeter.
- bake the rolls for about 20 – 25 minutes, until they are golden brown on the edges. as soon as they come out of the oven, run a rubber spatula around the edge of the pan, then invert your cooling rack over the top of the pan and flip the whole thing right side up over your wax paper. the filling will be gooey and very hot so be careful. don’t wait to get the rolls out of the pan though, or the goo will turn to glue and the rolls will be stuck in the pan.
- while the rolls are in the oven (or just after they come out), sift the powdered sugar into a medium bowl (i find putting the sugar through a fine mesh strainer breaks up those little lumps that otherwise refuse to melt into the icing). whisk in the milk and vanilla extract, adding milk a few drops at a time if the consistency isn’t smooth enough to drizzle over the rolls. the icing will dry out a bit if it sits for a long time uncovered, so you may need to add a drop or two more milk if that happens.
- once the rolls have cooled for about 5 minutes, use a spoon to drizzle the icing over them. serve immediately but be super careful with the molten hot core of each roll, which is always 15 times hotter than the outside pieces.
i used a fuji apple and left the skin on. both the apple variety and the skin on/off situation are up to you and how soft vs. firm you’d like the apple to be. i’d stick to firmer, baking apples but if you want the apple to melt into the roll more, try a variety that softens when baked and let us know in the comments how it goes.
i have successfully replaced half (by weight) of the all-purpose flour with white whole wheat flour and as someone who generally likes whole wheat, i thought that the sturdier texture and stronger flavor complemented the apples and bold spices. if you are more of a whole wheat skeptic, this probably isn’t the recipe for you to try to convert yourself to team whole wheat.
if you don’t have buttermilk (and really, who ever does?), you can replace it with 210 g. (7 3/8 oz. / about 1 cup) of plain yogurt and 70 g. (2 ½ oz. / about ¼ cup) of milk.
these rolls are definitely best fresh out of the oven but if you have leftovers, you can reheat them briefly in the microwave when you are going to eat them. don’t heat them so long that the glaze on top totally melts and, again, be careful because the delicious core will once again heat up a lot more than the outer layers.
i combined and tweaked several recipes to arrive at these chai-spiced apple cinnamon rolls. the rolls themselves are adapted from ‘quick cinnamon buns with buttermilk icing’ in the cook’s illustrated cookbook. the chai spice blend was based on joy the baker’s chai-spiced cinnamon rolls. finally, i always use the icing from the other cinnamon rolls in the same cook’s illustrated cookbook, the ‘cinnamon swirl rolls’.
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