There is nothing better in the cold months than warm cinnamon rolls straight from the oven. These caramel sticky rolls top that experience, with toasty pecans and thick, maple-bourbon flavored caramel. Though they have a lot more embelishment than your basic cinnamon roll, and may seem a little daunting, they are quite easy to make if you break them down into a series of steps.
Notes on Ingredients
Butter – There is butter in all three parts of this recipe. It needs to be softened for the bread and the filling. While it doesn’t strictly need to be softened for the caramel, softening will help it melt faster.
Yeast – I used active dry yeast. If you are using active yeast, it is important to dissolve the yeast in liquid before adding it to the dough, as I did in this recipe. Instant yeast, on the other hand, can be added in with the dry ingredients.
Bread Flour – I like to use bread flour when making bread and sweet rolls, because its higher protein helps the bread rise more and gives it a texture like bread bought from a bakery. But all-purpose flour also makes good bread!
Maple syrup – I used maple syrup to give the caramel a maple flavor. You can substitute corn syrup.
Bourbon – Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of bourbon to the caramel, depending on how strong you would like the flavor. If you don’t want to use bourbon, substitute 2 tsp vanilla extract and 2 tbsp heavy cream.
Making the Bread Dough
- I always like to start the yeast by stirring it into warm water or milk, and feed it a little sugar to get it active. The ideal temperature is somewhere between 105 and 112 F (between 40 and 45 C.) Even if you are using milk, it helps to add the sugar, because yeast cannot ferment lactose as easily as it can sucrose. Let it sit for anywhere between 5 to 15 minutes.
- Because salt may kill some of the yeast, some bakers add it at the very last. I usually add it just before kneading the dough. If you knead well, it will get mixed in thoroughly.
- Knead the dough for about 2-3 minutes. I don’t like to knead sweet breads for as long as I would for savory breads, because I don’t like for them to be quite so chewy. The windowpane test is a good way to tell whether you have kneaded long enough. Your dough passes the test if you are able to stretch it thin enough to see light through it, and it does not break. I usually knead sweet bread dough only until I can stretch it thinly for a couple of inches before it breaks.
- Rising time can vary greatly depending on temperature. This dough should take about 1 hour to double in size if it is sitting in a warm place, or 1 ½ to 2 hours if it is sitting somewhere cold. To make sure it’s warm, I often place my dough next to a window so that the sun falls on it, or I heat my oven to about 250 F and sit the dough above it.
Making the Caramel
- For the caramel, make sure to cut the butter into cubes so that it will melt faster. It also helps for it to be a little soft. This way you will not end up with burnt sugar while the butter is still melting.
- Make sure that no sugar crystals stick to the bottom or edges of the pan. They might cause the caramel to crystalize.
- Take the caramel off the heat before stirring in the cream and bourbon. Pour the cream in slowly, whisking constantly. It is normal for it to bubble up a lot.
- Make the caramel immediately after setting the bread dough aside to rise. Once you have made it, pour it immediately into the prepared pan so that it has time to firm up. The rolls will need to sit on top of the caramel for their second rise, and if the caramel is too wet, they may absorb a lot of liquid and take longer to bake.
Baking the Rolls
- Bake when the rolls are almost, or just barely, touching. They will continue to rise a lot during baking, and if they are overcrowded the steam will push up through the centers of the rolls and partially unravel the swirls.
- Cover the pan with aluminum foil for the first 25 minutes of baking. Because the rolls are sitting in the caramel, the bottoms of the rolls (which will be the tops, after you flip them) will take much longer to bake than the tops. Covering will prevent the tops from burning.
- Uncover the pan for the last 8-10 minutes of baking. The only way to really judge the doneness of the rolls is by the color on top. Bake them until they are well browned.
Maple Bourbon Pecan Caramel Rolls
For the Bread Dough:
- 2 1/4 tsp yeast (1 packet)
- 1 cup whole milk (237 ml) 105-112°F
- 1 tsp sugar
- 6 tbsp butter (85 g) softened
- 1/4 cup sugar (50 g)
- 2 large eggs room temp
- 4 1/4 cups bread flour (530 g)
- 1 tsp salt
For the Caramel:
- 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans (160 g)
- 1/2 cup cubed butter (113 g)
- 3/4 cup sugar (150 g)
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup maple syrup (60 ml)
- 1/4 cup cream (60 ml)
- 2-3 tbsp bourbon
For the Cinnamon Filling:
- 1/2 cup butter (113 g) softened
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1 pinch salt
- 3/4 cup brown sugar (150 g)
Make the Bread Dough:
- Heat the milk until it reaches somewhere between 150 and 112° F (40-45° C.) Stir in one teaspoon of sugar until it dissovles, then stir in the yeast. Let this sit for about 10 minutes, until the yeast begins to rise and bubble on top.
- In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, cream the butter and the 1/4 cup sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until they are well combined. Add the milk and yeast mixture, mixing until it is fully combined, and then begin adding the flour about 1 cup at a time. You may need to mix the last of the flour in by hand.
- Add the salt last, and turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface to knead. Knead for about 2-3 minutes. Cover the dough loosely with oiled plastic wrap or paper, and let it rise for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until it is doubled in size.
Make the Caramel:
- Make the caramel immediately after making the bread dough, so that it has time to set up. First, line a 9x13-inch (~23x33-cm) baking pan with parchment paper. Chop the pecans and layer them evenly on the bottom of the pan.
- In a 2-qt saucepan, add the cubed butter, sugar, salt, and maple syrup. Cook on medium-low heat, whisking occasionally to make sure there is no undisolved sugar stuck to the bottom edges of the pan. Once the sugar dissovles and the butter is completely melted, stop whisking and allow the caramel to boil for about 2 minutes.
- Remove the caramel from the heat and slowly stir in the cream, whisking constanly. Add the bourbon 1 tbsp at a time, continuing to whisk. Pour the caramel into the prepared pan, making sure that it coats the bottom of the pan evenly, and rearranging the pecans as necessary. Allow the caramel to continue cooling at room temperature while the bread is rising.
Make the Cinnamon Filling:
- Mix the softened butter and brown sugar until they are well combined, then mix in the cinnamon and pinch of salt. Stir until all the ingredients are fully incorporated, then keep at room temperature until you are ready to assemble the rolls.
Assemble and Bake the Rolls:
- Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead a little to work out any bubbles. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a 12x18-inch (30x46-cm) rectangle. Spread the cinnamon filling over the dough, leaving 1 inch of bare dough on the long edges.
- Roll the dough into a log, starting on the long edge so that the log measures 18 inches (46-cm) long. Slice the log into 12 slices, each measuring 1 1/2-inch (about 3.8 cm.) Place these in the pan, on top of the caramel, and cover with a dish towel. Let the rolls rise again for about 30-45 minutes, until they are almost touching each other.
- Preheat the oven to 375° F (190°C.) When the rolls are done rising, cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for about 25 minutes. Then remove the foil and cook for 8-10 minutes more, or until the tops of the rolls are well browned.
- Remove the rolls from the oven. Allow them to cool for 5-10 minutes before turning them over and unmolding them from the pan. Store for 2-3 days at room temperature, or for longer in the refrigerator.