- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

On a cold winter morning, nothing beats waking up to the smell of cinnamon, caramel and roasted nuts. Many people still believe that a hearty breakfast of eggs and bacon is the perfect thing to start your day. But for me, nothing does the trick better than a wonderful sweet roll and a cup of cappuccino or hot chocolate.

One of the big trends right now in food is the rise of great boutique bakeries that sell outstanding breads, including fresh yeast-leavened sweet rolls and Danish pastries. Often, however, the intense pleasures of those baked goods is dampened by the high prices you have to pay, which cover not just the ingredients and the skill and expertise of the bakers but also today’s astronomical rents for retail real estate.

So why not bake your own breakfast breads at home? You’ll be surprised by how easy it can be.

Don’t think otherwise when you look at the length of my recipe for Caramel-Pecan Cinnamon Rolls. All the steps are simple, especially if you have one of the stand mixers that are so popular in home kitchens today, which will speed the mixing of the rich butter-and-egg yeast dough.

And you don’t have to wake up early to get the dough rising, either. Instead of leaving it to rise at warm room temperature as the recipe instructs, you can let it rise more slowly in a covered bowl overnight in the refrigerator, filling and topping them the next morning. The rolls will only taste better for it. You can even bake them in advance, let them cool, wrap them securely in freezer-proof plastic, and freeze them; then, just thaw the rolls in the refrigerator or a microwave oven, as you would a frozen muffin, and transfer them to a baking sheet and put them in a 250 degree (120 C) oven until they’re good and warm, about 15 minutes.

Whatever time-saving strategy you use, there’s one important rule to remember that is critical to serving the best cinnamon rolls you can possibly make. That is, don’t undercook them. Too many home bakers make the mistake of removing rolls and other baked goods from the oven when they’re barely yellow or light golden in color. The result is a floury, bland flavor. But if you leave them in the oven long enough to turn a deep, rich mahogany brown, the rolls themselves will have a rich, caramelized, nutty taste that complements the pecans, sugar and cinnamon.

Add a big steaming mug filled with your favorite morning drink and you have a breakfast worth waking up for. And when you realize how economical that breakfast was to make, it will open your eyes even more!


Make 12 rolls


1 cup (250 ml) milk, heated to lukewarm (80-90 F/27-32 C)

2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1/3 cup (80 ml) sugar

4 cups (1 l) bread flour

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature


6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup (125 ml) light brown sugar

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out and reserved

1 1/2 cups (375 ml) shelled pecan halves


4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup (125 ml) sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 cup (250 ml) coarsely chopped pecans

2 tablespoons milk, at room temperature

First, make the dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a mixing bowl, stir together the milk and yeast. Stir in the sugar. Add 2 cups (500 ml) of flour and mix using the mixer’s paddle attachment at medium speed, or stirring with a wooden spoon, until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 1 hour.

One at a time, using the mixer’s paddle or a sturdy wooden spoon, beat in the eggs. Add the remaining flour and salt. Knead with the dough hook at low speed for 1 minute, then at medium until the dough comes away from the side of the bowl, about 5 minutes; or knead by hand on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic.

With the mixer at medium speed, or by hand, knead in the room-temperature butter 2 tablespoons at a time until fully incorporated. Shape the dough into a ball. Rinse and dry the bowl and oil it. Return the dough to the bowl and turn it to coat it evenly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave the dough at warm room temperature to rise until doubled, 1 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile, make the topping. In a 12-inch (30-cm) round baking pan, combine the butter, brown sugar, honey and vanilla seeds. Stir over medium heat until the butter and sugar melt. Stir in the pecan halves. Spread evenly over the bottom of the pan and set aside.

To shape the rolls, lightly flour a work surface. With a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to a 9-by-18-inch (23-by-48-cm) rectangle. For the filling, brush the dough with the melted butter, sprinkle evenly with sugar, cinnamon and chopped pecans, and roll up snugly, starting at a long edge. With a serrated knife, cut crosswise into 12 equal slices. Arrange them on top of the mixture in the pan. Spray plastic wrap with nonstick spray, cover the pan with it, and leave at warm room temperature to rise for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees (200 C).

Uncover the pan. Brush the rolls with milk and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees (190 C) and continue baking until deep golden brown, about 20 minutes more.

To unmold, invert a large heatproof plate over the pan. Using oven gloves or pads, hold the pan and plate securely together and invert onto a work surface. Leave for about 30 seconds. Lift off the pan and use a spatula to dislodge any stuck, transferring it to the rolls.

(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays on the Food Network. Also, his latest cookbook, “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy,” is now available in bookstores.)

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