Holidays often mean an onslaught of heavy, sugary eats. I could spend hours in the kitchen trying to develop dairy-free replicates, but why? I’d much rather celebrate by getting creative with recipes that leave me feeling energized. That said, I crave carbs in the morning, and wanted something nutritious but seasonal to enjoy. These healthy apple cinnamon rolls hit the mark. They’re naturally sweetened, whole grain, breakfast-worthy, soft, tender and delicious. They’re not as sugary or fluffy as store-bought, but they are full-flavored and satisfying!
This healthy apple cinnamon rolls post is sponsored by Silk, but the opinions, tips, photos, and recipe are all mine. Do you like coupons as much as I do? Sign up for their newsletter. Silk often emails about printable coupons for their products. Also, discover more great recipes & lifestyle tips on social media with the hashtag #DoPlants.
Baking Tips for the Best Healthy Apple Cinnamon Rolls
Cinnamon rolls are yeast-based breads, which can perform beautifully if you know what you’re working with. I’ve got some notes to help trouble-shoot and maximize your delicious results.
On the Rise
On almost every yeast-based recipe, you’ll see a review stating “mine didn’t rise!” This is rarely a problem with the recipe, but rather an issue with dead yeast. The second step in this recipe is “proofing” the yeast. It should foam a bit if active. If it doesn’t, you may be dealing with inactive yeast, and may need to get some new stuff. Also, you want your dairy-free milk beverage to be quite warm, to activate the yeast, but not hot, which can kill the yeast. This is how boisterous my healthy apple cinnamon rolls are on the second rising with active yeast.
Make Ahead Option
If you love smelling freshly baked rolls in the oven, you can prepare these rolls the night before. When you hit step 13, cover the rolls and refrigerate them overnight. They will very slowly rise in the refrigerator. Remove the rolls from the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature while you preheat your oven. Bake as directed.
Whole wheat flour is more dense than all-purpose, but you can combat this by adding gluten, also known as vital wheat gluten. This extra dose of gluten helps to make the dough more elastic, improving the rise and tenderness of the dough. The kneading process also helps to “develop” the gluten. You might notice as your kneading that the dough becomes more workable. If you can’t locate gluten, then you will want to use part all-purpose or bread flour for the best results. I haven’t yet tried this recipe with gluten-free flours. Let us know in the comments if you do give it a go!
Just yesterday, a friend was in shock that I don’t use small appliances when baking bread. I find it easier to make it by hand than to wash all of that equipment! Plus, it’s fun and relatively easy. If you prefer, you can use a stand mixer (with the paddle attachment) or a bread machine to aid in the kneading.
Topping your Healthy Apple Cinnamon Rolls
Though I sometimes eat them as is, my favorite way to enjoy these healthy apple cinnamon rolls is with a slathering of warm nut or seed butter. It’s a not-too-sweet breakfast that satisfies my morning carb cravings. But you can also thin nut or seed butter with a little maple syrup and milk beverage and drizzle it on like I’ve done in these pictures. If you’re in the mood for a sweeter treat, go with my sweet maple glaze.
Special Diet Notes: Healthy Apple Cinnamon Rolls
By ingredients, this recipe is dairy-free / non-dairy, egg-free, peanut-free, soy-free, vegan, plant-based, and vegetarian.
For nut-free apple cinnamon rolls, use a tree nut-free milk beverage like coconut milk beverage or soymilk.
- ½ cup unsweetened almond milk beverage (I used Silk), warmed
- 2 + 6 medium to large pitted soft dates*, divided
- 2¼ teaspoons (1 .25-ounce packet) active dry yeast
- 3 cups white-wheat flour**, plus more as needed
- 1½ tablespoons vital wheat gluten**
- 1 teaspoon + ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup applesauce
- ¼ cup rice bran, grapeseed or other neutral oil
- ¾ cup warm water
- 2 tablespoons dairy-free buttery spread***
- 3 to 3¼ cups finely diced apple
- Place the warm milk beverage and 2 of the pitted dates in your blender and blend until the dates are mostly pureed.
- Add the milk beverage mixture and the yeast to a large bowl. Let proof for 5 to 10 minutes.
- In a small bowl, whisk 1 cup of the flour with the gluten, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon, and salt. Add this flour mixture to the large bowl with the yeast mixture, along with the applesauce and oil. Stir to thoroughly combine.
- Gradually add the remaining 2 cups of flour, bringing it together with your hands as it gets doughy. Continue to knead the dough for about 7 to 8 minutes, sprinkling on more flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough should be a little tacky, but shouldn't stick to your hands.
- Cover, place in your cold oven with the light turned on, and let the dough rise for about 45 minutes, or until roughly doubled in size.
- While the dough rises, place the water in your blender with the remaining 6 dates (about ⅓ cup packed). Blend until smooth.
- Melt the buttery spread in a skillet over medium-low to medium heat. Add the apples and the remaining ¾ teaspoon cinnamon, and saute for 1 minute.
- Add the date mixture (get it all in there!) and cook, stirring often, until the apples are tender and the date sauce is quite sticky. You don't want any watery pools remaining. This takes about 5 minutes.
- Punch the dough down and let it rest for 5 minutes while you dust a work space with flour and grease a 9x13-inch or larger baking pan.
- Roll the dough out to a large rectangle, roughly 11x14 inches. Spread the apple mixture all over in a single layer, leaving a 1 inh margin on one of the long sides.
- Starting from the long side that is fully coated in the apple mixture, carefully roll the dough up. Because it is a chunky mixture, you aren't trying to roll it really tight. Roll it relatively close while lifting slightly as you roll to ensure it all gets in there. Seal the dough, and give it a roll to make sure it's good.
- Using a serrated knife, gently cut the roll into 12 slices. Carefully transfer the rolls, cut sides down, into your prepared baking pan. You can reshape them once there and press in any apple escapees, if needed.
- Cover and let rise in your oven with the light on for 45 minutes or until close to double in size.
- Remove the rolls from the oven, and preheat the oven to 375ºF. Once fully preheated, uncover the rolls and bake for about 25 minutes, or until lightly browned.
- Serve as is or use one of the topping ideas in the post above. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator (the flavors actually deepen overnight!) or individually wrap and freeze.
**Wheat Note + Gluten Alternative: White-wheat flour is actually 100% whole wheat flour, it's just a lighter grain than traditional "red" wheat flour. If you don't have access to gluten, swap all-purpose or bread flour for half of the wheat flour.
***Buttery Spread Alternative: If preferred, you can swap 2 tablespoons coconut oil for the buttery spread, but add a generous pinch of salt to the apples, too.
They look awesome! I would love one for breakfast right now!
Just had one for breakfast, mmm. They are SO good Mel, I promise, even from the freezer!
I love cinnamon rolls, but they’re always too sugary, so I’m so happy to have a recipe that’s not loaded down with sugar. Thank you!
I aim to please! Truly breakfast-worthy 🙂
I’ll take all the cinnamon rolls I can get! I LOVE them!! Such a doughy cinnamon goodness. I’m drooling!
You’d love these Sophia! No added sugars, but so indulgent and they freeze well. I keep baking and individually wrapping them for a breakfast treat with tea that doesn’t leave me flat 🙂
Oh my gosh, those look amazing! Especially with the sweet maple glaze, yum!
These look so good! I’d love to have them for brunch.
They’re a must to try any day! I’ve been eating them for breakfast with just nut butter on top – no added sugar but they hit that carb craving!
Those look so yummy. I have been craving cinnamon rolls lately.
I’m always craving cinnamon rolls!
These look incredible, and hand kneading dough is so therapeutic and relaxing in my mind! Gorgeous.
I knew you could appreciate that Karen! I absolutely love kneading by hand, too.
I totally agree with you Alisa. I always make bread or yeast based goodies by hand. This looks like such a perfect Christmas brunch recipe and a bonus that it’S healthy.
Yay, another “by hand” girl! We should start an old-school baking club 🙂
Every year while opening Christmas presents my parents would bake cinnamon rolls! I would love to carry on this tradition with me new little family and this healthy recipe 🙂
Aw, I love that tradition!
I’m drooling over the apple/date mixture. I bet it tastes amazing on those cinnamon rolls! Thanks for the recipe. 🙂
You know, it tastes even better than I originally anticipated. Those flavors meld so beautifully.
We love to make cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning – thanks for a dairy free version!
I made cinnamon rolls for Christmas every year, I think I’ll have to try apple cinnamon rolls this year!
You should, so yummy! They’re a little messier, and you may want to eat with a fork, but they can be eaten by hand!
These look so good Alisa! My husband is the bread maker and makes the cinnamon and caramel rolls. They take him hours and they are always so good. Although lately he has been trying different recipes at my request. My oldest requested red velvet cinnamon rolls again for her birthday sleepover this weekend but since she (and all her friends) also requested homemade pizza I think she will go with her second option of a waffle bar.
I’m saving this recipe and might try to make them myself next weekend before the hubby flies back so we can enjoy them while getting or decorating our Christmas tree. Otherwise new years morning!
I love that you have such a baking household Sarah, and that your husband does it! Like him, bread baking has always been my favorite thing to do in the kitchen, and the holidays give me more of an excuse to enjoy it! I hope you do get the chance to enjoy this healthy version – they’re great for any morning (I’m having them for breakfast today!).
Alisa, these look incredible! We always have homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast These would be a great version to try
Wow, I wish I grew up in your household Kristen! Thanks, and I hope you do get the chance to trial!
These look so amazing! All of those delicious apples in there make these absolutely gorgeous!
Thank you Jessica!
These look amazing!! I love the apple cinnamon combo here. And that sauce looks amazing. These would make the most perfect holiday breakfast 🙂
I think so! Thanks so much Rebecca!
Oh my gosh. Dyingggg over here! I’ve never made my own cinnamon rolls at home because I always found them to be too labor intensive, but these look and sound too amazing to pass up! These apple cinnamon rolls would be delicious on Christmas morning 🙂
Hey Kat, in some ways they seem like a lot of work, but in some ways they’re really easy and rewarding. It’s more patience than anything else – I usually use the rising times to clean on the weekends!
GOSH to say these look amazing in an understatement!!! WOWEE. These would make a crowd-pleasing breakfast on Christmas morning for sure!
Thanks Chrissa! I don’t think we’ll have any left by Christmas (despite the number of test batches I made and froze!) so I may have to make more … maybe with blueberries to mix things up 🙂
Can I use eggs instead of apple sauce?
That would probably work, but the dough won’t have as much of an apple flavor. I would start with 3 eggs, and add a little more liquid (milk beverage) if the dough is too dry.
These looks absolutely fabulous! I think I would enjoy these with a big cup of coffee and a nice magazine- the perfect R&R for the holidays!
That is the perfect way Elizabeth! I’ve been enjoying them with a big mug of tea … just cause that’s how I roll 🙂
cinnamon rolls are probably my mom’s favorite food and here you are eliminating all my excuses for not making them!! 🙂
I do my best 🙂 I like sweets that I can eat whenever I want!