You guys love these brown butter buttermilk (milk bread!) cinnamon rolls so much and I’d had it on my to do list for over a year to turn them into pecan sticky buns, but I often write stuff down and then get distracted by other ideas (which is what happened last Christmas!). This year though, I had a reader who makes SO many of my recipes ask specifically for a milk bread pecan bun recipe so I moved it right up to the top of the list.
And I’m SO glad I did because these are revolutionary! I didn’t realize I was going to love pecans + caramel + cinnamon rolls this much tbh. And yet, after baking these and on my way to pick up my daughters from school, I found myself itching to get home so I could eat another (two).
The bread for the rolls is expectedly super super soft thanks to the tangzhong (a chinese method used in japanese milk bread), in between the soft bread layers is brown butter, brown sugar and lots of cinnamon. So far we’re working from my brown butter cinnamon roll recipe but these skip the heavy cream bath and the glaze and instead get baked on top of an ooey gooey caramel (which is more butterscotch if you ask me) flavored with sea salt and vanilla, and a layer of crispy pecans.
To sum up, it’s christmas morning in a bun =)
Flour: I use bread flour for the rolls but you can also use a high protein all purpose flour (like KAF which is 11.7%). Lower protein flours will not be able to develop enough gluten to give a good roll.
Yeast: Rapid rise yeast in the US usually comes in packets of 7g. Just one packet for the recipe.
Powdered buttermilk or milk: This ‘enriches’ the bread and makes it tender, either powder will do. If you’d like to avoid it altogether you can use milk in place of the water (both parts, for the roux and with the yeast) but the dough will be just a bit less moist.
Oil: Anything flavorless like canola, avocado or grapeseed. You can also use melted butter (browned butter too – but measure AFTER browning).
Eggs: Two eggs. This dough can’t be made egg-less but you can check out this sour cream based dough for an alternative.
Salt & vanilla: fine sea salt and pure vanilla extract or a vanilla paste.
Sugar: We’ll need sugar for three parts of the recipe: in the bread dough, layered into the cinnamon rolls and in the caramel. I use brown sugar for all three. Light or dark is fine.
Butter: I like to brown the butter for the filling (a la these brown butter buttermilk cinnamon rolls) because it adds so much flavor. You need about 6 tablespoons butter total, if you’re browning it, brown 8 tablespoons to compensate for the loss of moisture. For the caramel, use cold butter.
Cinnamon: Ground cinnamon, sprinkled over the filling but you can also add some to the caramel if you like.
Pecans: I buy raw pecans and toast them myself so they are extra crispy and fresh flavored. Even if you are using toasted pecans, freshen them up in the oven with a 5 minute bake at 350 F spread on a baking sheet.
Heavy cream: or heavy whipping cream. No substitutes.
First make the roux: set the water and a portion of the flour in a pot and cook over medium low heat until thickened. The texture will resemble a wet paste. Once thick, remove from heat and set aside.
Pour the yeast into the bottom of a stand mixer bowl and the warm water on top. I like adding a pinch of the sugar to this because it helps activate the yeast. Once you see it’s gotten a bit foamy, or has started to bubble, you know it’s good to use.
On top of the yeast mixture, add the flour and then the rest of the dough ingredients. I keep the eggs and tangzhong separate so that the heat of the tangzhong doesn’t start ‘cooking’ the eggs.
Then turn the mixer on and knead for about 7-10 minutes, until the dough comes around the dough hook and is almost clearing the bowl. It will still be sticky, that’s fine.
Put the dough in an oiled bowl and rub the dough against the bowl so that it too gets covered in oil. Cover the bowl to seal and then leave it to rise until its’ about 1.5 times its original size.
This is a very simple and straightforward process: everything but the vanilla goes into a pot and set it over medium heat.
Once the butter is melted and the sugar has dissolved, stir and then let it boil for a few minutes. Then take it off the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Pour the caramel into the bottom of a lightly greased pan and tilt it so that the caramel moves into an even layer.
Sprinkle and spread the pecans in an even layer over the caramel. I do this one by one but that’s mostly because I have to prepare the rolls to be photo-pretty 😉
When the dough is ready, flour the countertop and a rolling pin and roll out the dough to a large rectangle (about the inner size of a cookie sheet) and then spread the super soft butter over it. (Sorry about my window lines in the pic!)
In the video you’ll see I sprinkle the sugar, then the cinnamon and then the salt but that’s because I can eyeball these things pretty well. To ensure you’re getting the right amount, stir together the sugar and flavorings then spread it over the filling.
Roll up the dough into a log then slice it into about 1.75 inches and arrange the rolls over the nuts.
I usually arrange my rolls so I have 2 then 1 then 2 then 1… and so on. Leaving enough space for them to rise and bake.
Cover gently with a tea towel and let the rolls have a second rise. You don’t need to wait for the dough to leave a perfect indentation but a slight one is just fine.
Preheat the oven and bake the rolls until golden all over. Let cool before inverting the pan.
You can invert directly onto a large plate or chopping board or place a sheet of parchment paper in between to help with the sticky (but delicious!) mess.
It isn’t ideal, because rising times will be off, but it does make sense if you want to serve these for breakfast. Two toptions:
For the first rise, I’d let it rise for an hour at room temperature then stick it in the fridge overnight. See where the dough is at in the am; if it’s almost doubled in size then it’s ready to be shaped. If not, give it an hour at room temperature before shaping.
For the second rise, once you’ve shaped the rolls you can leave them for 20 minutes at room temperature then set in the fridge. In the morning, bring the rolls to room temperature and then test them by gently pressing on the side of one of the rolls: if it leaves a small indentation it’s ready to be baked. If it immediately springs back, it might need a bit more time to rise before baking.
The surest way to confirm they are done baking is to insert an instant read thermometer into the bread part of the middle roll and confirm it is at 190 F. If you don’t have a thermometer check that the middle roll is properly risen and golden.
If you find that some of the rolls are still underdone but some are over-browning, tent the pan with foil and continue baking.
Serve them warm! The buns are best the day of baking. If you have leftovers, store them overnight in an airtight container at cool room temperature. Warm them up in the microwave before eating.
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