Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls are extremely good. They have that soft dough with brown sugar and pecan filling and are topped with a decadent caramel pecan sauce. I love how when you bite into them your mouth just surrenders. You get all those soft and crispy textures, the caramel flavour and just a perfect bite all around.
How to make caramel pecan cinnamon rolls
If this is your first time making a Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Roll, I’ll outline here the components in it so that you know what to expect. The base for the recipe is my regular cinnamon rolls. What makes them into a Caramel Pecan Sticky Bun is mostly the caramel sauce on top and the fact that the filling has pecans added to it. These components altogether make for a delicious roll you will want to make over and over again.
- Dough: The dough is the base for the recipe and the structure that brings everything together. It’s the same dough I use for my classic cinnamon rolls and it’s an enriched yeasted dough. It’s very sticky and soft, making for a fluffy and easy-to-peel end result.
- Filling: The filling is the same as a regular cinnamon roll except we also sprinkle pecans on top.
- Caramel Sauce: The caramel sauce I think is the centre of the recipe. It brings everything together into one gooey experience. If you want to see how it’s made in more detail, check my post on how to make direct caramel and salted caramel sauce.
The dough for sticky pecan buns
Let’s zoom into the dough for a moment. This will be especially useful if it’s your first time making cinnamon rolls in general or even your first time using yeast. Here are the ingredients that you will need:
- Flour: For the dough for these Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls we use all-purpose flour. Use this rather than bread flour since bread flour has more gluten in it and thus creates a crispier outside and a less soft sweet roll.
- Sugar: Sugar is here to add flavour to the recipe and is also food for the yeast along with the flour. As the yeast digests, they generate CO2 which is the air in bread.
- Salt: Salt is also here for flavour and it also balances out the sweetness in these cinnamon rolls.
- Yeast: We’re using instant yeast or active dry yeast which comes in a granulated form. The nice thing about this type of yeast is that it doesn’t require activating or any additional steps. You just mix it in with the rest of the ingredients and it’s done.
- Milk: You can use whole milk, skimmed, lactose-free or even vegetable milk. All that matters is that it’s warm milk to have the yeast at a temperature where it’s happy and active.
- Butter: This is an enriched dough which means we add fat to it. In this case, we add melted butter to the mix for flavour, moisture and a softer crumb.
- Vanilla: We add vanilla extract for some extra flavour. You could also use vanilla essence but the extract is always preferred because it draws its flavour from natural vanilla. On the other hand, vanilla essence is just artificial flavourings and colourings in a bottle.
- Egg: This dough also has an egg and it brings some fat from the yolk and it also helps open up the crumb ever so slightly.
How to make cinnamon roll dough
This dough for Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls is really simple. The good thing is what makes it simple is what makes it a soft dough as well! You’re basically going to mix all of the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and knead only slightly until the dough looks homogenous. This should take 2-3 minutes. The dough is very sticky and this is normal so just knead away and you can wash your hands when you’re done. Once the dough is ready you’re going to let it rise or proof in a warm place for 1 hour. In this process, the yeast will begin to act and generate gas. If you’re looking for warm spot ideas, my favourite is to turn on the oven light (only the light) and keep it in there. After that time, it will be ready for shaping.
Using a stand mixer
If you have a stand mixer at home and want some help from it making the dough, here’s how to do it. Place everything in the bowl of a stand mixer, give it a quick mix and then use the dough hook to bring it together at medium speed. Once it looks homogeneous you can stop the mixer and let the dough proof. Using a stand mixer can really decrease the workload off you as you prepare these Caramel Pecan Rolls.
As I mentioned before, the filling for these Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls is the same as my classic cinnamon rolls except it also has pecans in it. To begin, you’re going to spread melted butter on the rolled-out dough. The butter will act as glue to stick the rest of the ingredients. In a small bowl, you will combine brown sugar with ground cinnamon. Then, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar onto the melted butter as evenly as you can. When I’m done sprinkling I like to then use my hand to even the filling out. Finally, chopped pecans are sprinkled on top of that and you’re ready to roll and cut the buns.
Shaping Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls
Once the dough has had its first rice, you will roll out the dough using a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface. As you roll it out, make sure that you dust more flour as needed on the work surface. Remember that this is a sticky dough so you don’t want it to stick. Once you have a large rectangle of about 30x40cm/12×16 inches, it’s time to paint on the melted butter and sprinkle the filling. Then, you will roll the dough starting from the long side of the rectangle. Use a sharp knife to cut the individual rolls, making them about 4 fingers thick. Place the sliced rolls in a baking pan with parchment paper at the base and let them proof for a second time.
The salted caramel sauce
If there’s a key component in any sticky bun recipe, it’s the caramel sauce. To make this gooey caramel sauce you’re going to begin with a direct caramel. Place a large pan over medium heat and sprinkle on the sugar in a thin layer. It will begin to melt slowly and then turn golden. If at any point you feel like you have to mix it, it’s best to do it by tilting the pan from the handle rather than using utensils. Utensils can make the caramel crystalize and there’s no coming back from that!
Once the sugar has melted completely and it’s a lovely golden colour, you will add hot heavy cream / whipping cream and mix it in really fast with a whisk. Finish by adding butter, and salt and then sprinkle pecans into it as well. As soon as you’re done, pour this onto the sweet rolls. This will make it easy to spread on top. As it cools, it will become really sticky and a lot thicker. If you will be storing this sauce for more than 2 days, you might want to add a tablespoon of glucose or corn syrup to prevent the sauce from going grainy. However, if you’re eating them straight away, that’s not needed. If you need a video on how to make this sauce, check my article on How to Make Direct Caramel and Salted Caramel Sauce.
Overnight Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls
I think we can all agree that Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls are worthy of special occasions. If you want to make them overnight (say, for Christmas morning for example), this is how to do it. After shaping the pecan caramel rolls, you will place them in the baking pan and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate them overnight to make the yeast act slower. On the next day, they go straight into the oven (without the plastic wrap, clearly!) from the fridge. Check out the notes in the recipe card to see how to decrease the amount of yeast for this method to work.
Tips for the best soft cinnamon rolls
I wouldn’t consider cinnamon rolls to be particularly difficult, but there are a few hot spots you want to be aware of. Here are some of them so that you keep these tips in mind as you make your Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls:
- Avoid over-kneading: We want a gooey cinnamon roll, so to get the best results stop mixing and kneading the dough as soon as it has come completely together. If you knead it more than that you will have a tougher dough, especially on the outer layer.
- Don’t overbake them: Overbaking is really detrimental to the moisture in the dough. For the best results, remove the rolls from the oven as soon as they’re lightly golden brown.
- Don’t burn the caramel: Caramel can burn in an instant and it impregnates the whole preparation If it does. Keep an eye on your caramel and if it starts to smoke, reduce the heat or even remove the pan from the heat for a while until you’re back in control.
- Don’t burn yourself: This is not really a tip but rather a public service announcement. Caramel is really hot. Even if it doesn’t look like it, if some sticks to your finger it will really burn. Just be careful as you make the caramel and keep kids away from it.
- Adjust the caramel texture: You might remove the caramel from the pan and notice that it’s too thick. This could be because you kept it for too long in the heat. Before you add it to the cinnamon rolls, add a tiny bit of boiling water at a time to adjust the texture. Good sticky buns have a sticky sauce that melts in your mouth and isn’t chewable.
More cinnamon roll recipes
If you’re a cinnamon roll aficionado like me, then this recipe for Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls won’t be enough, we need more! Here are a few of my cinnamon roll variations I think you would appreciate:
Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls
For the dough
- 500 g all-purpose flour
- 1½ tsp salt
- 2¼ tsp instant dry yeast
- 120 g sugar
- 240 ml lukewarm milk
- 60 g unsalted melted butter cooled to room temperature
- 1 egg at room temperature
- ½ tsp vanilla extract or essence
For the filling
- 60 g unsalted butter melted and cooled down to room temperature
- 2 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 220 g brown sugar
- 80 g chopped pecans
For the salted caramel sauce
- 150 g granulated sugar
- 110 g heavy cream/whipping cream hot, you can heat it up in the microwave
- 50 g unsalted butter cold and cut into cubes
- ¼ tsp salt
- 80 g whole pecans
- *Please be careful when making caramel. It doesn't look like it's too hot but it really is. Keep kids away and don't try the caramel sauce until it has cooled down a bit.*
For the dough
- Mix the lukewarm milk, eggs, vanilla extract and melted butter.
- Mix all the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and make a hole in the centre and add all the wet ingredients in the center.
- Mix everything until you have a uniform dough. It’s really sticky so don’t worry, that’s just the way this dough is! That makes them gooey at the end instead of bread-y and hard.
- Let the dough rest to proof for 1 hour covered in cling film or until it doubles in size. If it’s too cold, place it in the oven with the light on and no temperature setting.
- Dust flour on a clean tabletop and roll the dough. Every couple of rolls make sure it’s not sticking and dust more flour underneath and on top. Roll it out to a large rectangle (30x40cm or 12x17in). Try to keep it as rectangular as you can. At the very end make sure it’s not stuck and dust more flour if necessary so you can roll it with ease.
For the filling
- Paint the melted butter on top of the dough evenly and reach every edge.
- Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon and spread it out as evenly as possible. Sprinkle it first and then spread out any mountains of sugar by gently brushing them with your hand. Then sprinkle the chopped pecans as well.
- Start rolling: first do it carefully so it’s nice and tight and once you have the first 2 complete rolls, you can just push it (still very tightly) so it rolls to the end.
- Cut the rolls (I did mine 3 fingers thick) and place them in a baking pan lined with baking paper at the bottom (this will help later so the sugar doesn’t stick, you’ll thank me!) and arrange them nicely. Keep a decent amount of space between them so that they can rise during proofing and after in the oven without becoming square.
- Let them proof for 30min*** (again, it helps if they’re in a warm environment) and then they go in the oven at 180°C/350°F for 20-30min or until they’re lightly golden on top.
For the salted caramel sauce
- Make a thin layer of sugar on a large pan and place it over medium heat.
- Let it become a nice pale gold colour and don't use any utensil to mix at this point, only move around the sugar by tilting the pan.
- Once golden, add the cream and salt and stir vigorously. Be really careful because it's really hot and it will bubble up.
- Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter and stir. Add the pecans.
- Pour the salted caramel on top of the cinnamon rolls and let them cool down for a few minutes before removing them from the pan.