Sourdough Discard Apple Cinnamon Rolls are a delicious Fall or Winter treat, packed with apples, cinnamon, brown sugar, and nutmeg. They are great for brunch or a sweet treat, and freeze well if you want to store some to enjoy later! You can also make these the day before and let them rise in the fridge overnight if you want to bake them first thing in the morning.
Why you'll love this recipe
- Sourdough Discard Apple Cinnamon Rolls are packed with Fall flavor: apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
- These cinnamon rolls freeze well, so you can enjoy some now and save some to eat later!
- You can adapt this recipe to make these overnight cinnamon rolls so they're ready to bake first thing in the morning. See the variations section below!
- This recipe is a great way to use up some of your sourdough discard, but you can also adapt it to use active sourdough starter if you prefer.
You'll need a few key ingredients to bring these Sourdough Discard Apple Cinnamon Rolls together.
- Unflavored, non-dairy milk: I like to use almond milk for this recipe, but you could do this with any kind of unflavored non-dairy milk. And if dairy is not an issue for you, you can make this recipe with regular dairy milk as well!
- Active dry yeast: Even though we are using sourdough discard, we do need to use a leavening agent (in this case, yeast) to make the dough rise predictably.
- Sourdough discard: The sourdough discard should be unfed and at room temperature for this recipe. This recipe is designed for a sourdough starter that uses a 1:1:1 ratio (when you feed your starter, it's with 1 part starter, 1 part flour, 1 part water). If your starter uses a different ratio, you may need to adjust some of the ingredients in this recipe slightly.
- All-purpose flour: Using all-purpose flour will produce light and fluffy cinnamon rolls. You could use bread flour for a crustier roll.
- Brown sugar: You can use light brown or dark brown sugar for this recipe.
- Apples: 2 cups of apples is approximately 2 medium-sized apples. A small dice works best so the apples are more evenly distributed in the swirls of the rolls. I like to use Gala apples, but other apple types that work well are Jonagold, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, Fuji, Granny Smith, and Pink Lady apples.
- Confectioner's sugar: This is the base of the frosting. You do not need to sift the confectioner's sugar before mixing it with the other frosting ingredients.
- Butter: There is butter in each element of this recipe (the dough, the filling, and the frosting). For the softened butter in the filling and frosting, it is important that this is truly softened at room temperature. Butter that is too hard (too cold) or too melted (too warm) will not work well.
See full recipe below for detailed directions.
Substitutions & Variations
This is a very adaptable recipe and below are a few easy substitutions and variations you can try.
- Use active sourdough starter - If you'd rather make this recipe with active sourdough starter instead of sourdough discard, you can. To do so, omit the yeast and replace the sourdough discard with active starter (in a 1:1 substitute). You may also need to adjust the rise times.
- Make overnight cinnamon rolls - You can make the rolls and let them rise overnight so they are ready to bake in the morning. After cutting the rolls and placing them in the baking pan, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, remove from the refrigerator and let the rolls come to room temperature. Then bake as directed.
- Add nuts - Add ¼ cup of chopped nuts (such as pecans, walnuts or almonds) with the apples as you're assembling the rolls. Continue to bake as directed.
- Use pears - This recipe would also work well with pears instead of apples!
- Use regular dairy milk - This recipe is written to be made with non-dairy milk, but if dairy is not an issue for you, you can make this with regular dairy milk.
- Egg substitutes - If you're not baking with eggs, you can make this recipe using a liquid egg substitute (such as Just Egg).
I have not tested this recipe with other variations, but if you do, let us know how it turns out in the comments! I always love to hear how you're adapting these recipes and use those as ideas for future recipes as well!
How to make Sourdough Discard Apple Cinnamon Rolls
As long as you're patient with the rises, there are only a few key steps to making these cinnamon rolls.
Combine the warmed milk and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle with yeast and let bloom for 5 minutes until foamy.
Add remaining dough ingredients and mix until a shaggy dough forms.
Knead 3-4 minutes until you have a smooth, soft dough. Place in a large, greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 60-90 minutes.
While the dough rises, dice the apples (a small dice is best). No need to peel the apples.
Mix the apples with the lemon juice, cinnamon sugar, and nutmeg. Set aside.
After the rise, the dough will be doubled in size. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.
Roll the dough into an 18x14-inch rectangle.
Spread with the softened butter, then sprinkle with the brown sugar.
Evenly spread with the apple mixture.
From the long side of the rectangle, roll the dough into a log. Press and close the end seam to help the rolls hold their shape.
Use a sharp knife or dental floss to evenly cut the rolls.
Place the rolls in a greased 9x13-inch baking pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 30-45 minutes.
Bake until golden brown, then let cool. While the rolls cool, make the frosting.
Spread the rolls with the frosting, then serve!
Expert Baking Tips
- Make sure to knead the dough long enough. The dough should be soft, smooth, and slightly tacky (but not sticky) before the first rise.
- Be patient with the rise times. Dough will rise slower in a cooler room and faster in a warmer room.
- Chop the apples in a small dice. If the apple pieces are too big, it will be hard to spread them evenly (and get them to cook evenly) in the swirls of the rolls. Also, no need to peel the apples if you don't want to!
- Let the rolls cool before frosting. If you spread the frosting on the rolls while they're still warm, it will melt. It'll still be delicious, but the frosting sticks much better once the rolls have cooled!
What is sourdough discard?
Sourdough discard is what is left over after you feed your sourdough starter. You can either literally discard this (throw it away, or compost it), or use it in sourdough discard recipes like this one.
Every sourdough starter, and therefore every discard, is different. If your dough seems too wet or too dry while kneading, add more non-dairy milk or flour (1 Tablespoon at a time) to reach your desired dough consistency.
Do I need to use a stand mixer for this recipe?
No. I like to make the dough in a stand mixer, but that is optional. You can also mix the dough in a large bowl with a wooden spoon, then knead the dough by hand, and you'll get the same results.
How to cut cinnamon rolls
I like to cut my cinnamon rolls using unflavored dental floss. To do so, slide the dental floss under the dough log, wrap the floss around the log, cross the two ends, and "pinch cut" the dough. A few keys to success:
- Do not kitchen twine to try to do this. It is too thick and will tear the dough in a very messy way.
- Make sure the dental floss is unflavored! If it is mint flavored, you will taste that in the final rolls.
Another option for cutting the rolls is to use a sharp knife and simply cut the rolls to size. This also works well but does tend to flatten the rolls a bit more.
Room Temperature Storage: Store the rolls covered or in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. You can reheat the rolls for 15-30 seconds in the microwave to make them warm and soft again.
Freezer Storage: Sourdough Discard Apple Cinnamon Rolls freeze very well. Once the cinnamon rolls are fully cooled and frosted, transfer to an airtight container or bag (I like to split them into individual rolls and store each in a plastic bag, which makes it easier to heat up just one roll at a time). Freeze for up to 3 months. To reheat, warm the cinnamon rolls in the microwave for 30-60 seconds until soft and warm again.
Yes. To do so, omit the yeast and use active starter instead of sourdough discard (in a 1:1 substitute). You may also need to adjust the rise times.
Yes! After cutting the rolls and placing them in the baking pan, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, remove from the refrigerator and let the rolls come to room temperature. Then bake as directed.
Yes! You can easily substitute pears for the apples in this recipe.
Yes! Once the rolls are fully cooled and frosted, transfer to a freezer-safe bag or container (I like to split them into individual rolls and store each in a plastic bag, which makes it easier to heat up just one roll at a time). Freeze for up to 3 months. To reheat, warm the cinnamon rolls in the microwave for 30-60 seconds until soft and warm again.
Sourdough Discard Apple Cinnamon Rolls
For the Rolls
- 1 cup unflavored non-dairy milk warmed
- 1 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg lightly beaten, at room temperature
- 200 grams (about ¾ cup) sourdough discard unfed, at room temperature
- 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter melted and cooled
For the Filling
- 2 cups apples small diced (about 2 medium apples)
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ cup unsalted butter softened
- ⅔ cup brown sugar light or dark, packed
For the Frosting
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 2 cups confectioner's sugar
- 1-2 Tablespoons unflavored non-dairy milk
- Warm the milk (should not be boiling) and add to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook or a large mixing bowl. Add the granulated sugar and sprinkle with yeast. Let sit for 5 minutes or until foamy. If the yeast does not foam, it is dead and you'll need to start over with fresh yeast.
- Add beaten egg, sourdough discard, flour, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour in the melted butter. Increase speed to medium until a shaggy dough forms, then knead by hand for 3-4 minutes until you have a smooth dough ball. The dough should be soft, smooth and slightly tacky (not sticky). If needed, add more flour or milk (1 Tablespoon at a time) to reach your desired consistency.
- Transfer the dough to a large, greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 60-90 minutes, or until doubled in size.
- While the dough rises, combine diced apples, lemon juice, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Stir until combined and set aside.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into an 18x14-inch rectangle. Spread the dough with ¼ cup softened butter, and evenly sprinkle with ⅔ cup brown sugar. Then evenly spread the apples across the dough.
- From the long side of the rectangle, roll the dough into a log, pressing the seam at the end of the dough to close. Use unflavored dental floss or a sharp knife to cut the log into 12 equal-sized pieces. If using dental floss, wrap the floss around the log, then cross the ends over each other and pinch to cut.
- Transfer the cut rolls to a greased 9x13-inch baking pan, cut side up. There should be some room for the rolls to expand. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 30-45 minutes until puffy and the rolls have filled the pan.
- While the rolls rise, preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the rolls uncovered for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
- While the rolls cool, make the frosting. In a medium bowl, whip the softened butter until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the confectioner's sugar and 1 Tablespoon non-dairy milk. Mix until smooth. Add additional milk to reach your desired consistency, if needed. Smooth the frosting on the rolls and serve immediately.