Holidays were made for caramel cinnamon rolls.

Since Santa arrives in less than 2 weeks I thought it appropriate to repost my favorite holiday breakfast recipe: Caramel Cinnamon Rolls.  Although I’ll make these for any gathering where breakfast is served to a crowd, there is nothing I enjoy more to nibble on while gathered ’round the tree on Christmas morning than one of these beauties, drizzled with warm caramel. They also make a good hostess gift as they freeze well too. Just remember to include  some of the caramel sauce, as that sauce truly makes this recipe shine. Happy 14 days ’til Christmas!

Honestly I can’t remember when I began making these cinnamon rolls. It’s been a long time, though. I fooled around with different recipes for years before perfecting this recipe. Well, I think it’s perfect, although some may have suggestions for improvement. Being a southerner, I love pecans so there’s plenty of those nestled throughout the cinnamon swirl, but feel free to leave them out or switch to walnuts or hazelnuts or what have you.

The true ‘secret’ of these cinnamon rolls is the caramel sauce. This sauce lifts the cinnamon bun above the ordinary breakfast roll… in my opinion it leaves the ones that are crowned with white icing in the proverbial dust. I like gooey and I like caramel and that combination soaked into every morsel of buttery cinnamon-laced sweet bread… this is my idea of heaven on a plate.

I’ve saved this recipe all summer waiting for fall to arrive. And while it’s still somewhat balmy here in the Lowcountry, we have been able to shut off the air conditioning and open the windows for the most part. With the scent of cinnamon and bread baking I deem it officially fall.

Ingredients include good quality cinnamon, a couple of eggs and my favorite, King Arthur Flour.

After dissolving the yeast, add a little sugar and then the eggs.

After whisking in the eggs, add the milk and softened butter.

Begin adding in the flour first with the whisk and then…

a wooden spoon. Continue adding in the flour to create a soft dough.

Here’s the dough ready to knead. Turn onto a clean, lightly floured surface and knead 6-8 minutes. Then place in a bowl, loosely cover and allow to rise in a warm place (NOT hot ) until doubled in bulk.

Meanwhile you can make the caramel sauce. In a heavy saucepan heat the water and sugar.

Allow the mixture to come to a boil but do not stir once it gets going. You can use a brush with a little water around the outside edges of the saucepan to brush down (melt) any crystalized sugar that forms.

Watch the caramelizing sugar carefully – don’t walk away. It can burn very quickly. In this image the caramel is almost ready, not quite, but almost…

Hey, it’s ready. Turn off the heat and time to add the butter…

The mixture will foam after adding the butter – keep whisking and…

Add the cream and the vanilla extract. Whisk some more and allow to cool before pouring into a covered container.

Now back to that dough…punch it down and…

Roll out the dough into a large rectangle. Brush with melted butter.

This part goes quick…sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar.

Then add the pecans (if you like) and begin rolling up – along the long dimension.

When rolled you can use a touch of water to help “seal” the dough.

Slice the roll into relatively equal pieces. I find the easiest way to accomplish this is to slice in the center first, and then slice each piece in the center after that, until you have the size and number of slices you like. This recipe will make 12 nice sized buns.

After rising in a warm spot for about an hour, bake the rolls in a preheated 325 degree oven.

Remove the rolls from the oven and pour about half the carmel sauce over the top. Reserve the rest of the sauce for individual portions , or to top a bowl of ice cream! If only serving a few of the cinnamon rolls, I remove the rolls from the pan individually and then top each one with the sauce. But it’s a personal preference!

Caramel Cinnamon Rolls

  • 1 pkg. plus 1 tsp dry yeast
  • ½ cup scalded and cooled milk (no less than 2%!)
  • ½ cup barely warm water (NOT hot)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 ½ cups (plus extra for kneading) bread flour (or regular unbleached, all-purpose will work)
  • 1 cup unbleached white whole wheat flour
  • 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided and softened
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

In a large mixing bowl pour the water over the yeast, swirl to mix and let stand 5 minutes. Whisk in the sugar and then add each egg, whisking after each. Pour in the milk and then 5 Tbl. of the softened butter. Whisk together – it will not be completely smooth. Mix the salt with the flour and add 1 cup of this flour mixture to the yeast mixture. Whisk to dissipate the lumps of butter. Keep adding the flour about a cup at the time and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula.

When almost all of the flour is incorporated turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 6-8 minutes adding small amounts of flour (1-2 teaspoons) as needed. I use about 1/3 cup of additional flour. The dough should not be sticky but smooth and elastic.

Place the dough in a lightly buttered bowl and allow to sit in a warm place (NOT hot) for about 1 hour or until doubled in size. If you like, you can store in the refrigerator at this point (prior to rising) overnight. Just be sure the dough is in an airtight container with room for expansion as it will rise some overnight, even in a refrigerator.

Once the dough has risen, roll out into a large rectangle on a flat, lightly floured surface. Approximately 18” x 13”. Brush 3 Tbl. of melted butter on the dough. Mix the brown sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle over the buttered dough. Then sprinkle on the chopped pecans. Brush one of the long edges of the dough lightly with cool water. Starting along the opposite long edge roll up the dough. Crimp the edge that has been brushed with water to seal as best you can.

With a sharp knife, cut 1” slices of the roll and place in a lightly oiled or buttered baking pan. Leave some space between the individual rolls. At this point you can cover the pan tightly with foil and freeze for up to 1 week. Or continue with preparing now. Place the bowl in a warm spot and allow to rise for 45 minutes to an hour. They should double in size.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake the rolls for about 25-30 minutes until browned. Cool slightly and serve with warmed caramel poured over the entire pan of rolls OR pour over each individually after you remove them from the baking pan. Makes 12  cinnamon rolls.

Note: For frozen cinnamon rolls, allow to defrost over night in the refrigerator. Then allow the pans of rolls to rise in a warm place and follow the instructions above.

Vanilla Caramel Sauce

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 4 Tbl. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extra

Have all measured ingredients assembled close by your stove. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the sugar with the water over high heat. Watch continuously – do not walk away. When the mixture boils do not stir but swirl carefully. You can also use a pastry brush dipped in water to wash the sugar crystals from the sides of the pan if necessary.

The sugar water will begin to turn brown. When to your liking turn off the heat (remove from the heat) and add the butter. Stir and whisk in the cream. It will bubble a lot. Allow to cool and stir in the vanilla. This can be poured immediately over the baked caramel rolls or into a container, covered and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use. Makes 1 cup. Can be kept in the refrigerator in an airtight container up to 5 days


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