I'm not sure how it started. My mom remembers, I'm sure. About five or six years ago, our household was struck with cinnamon roll frenzy. My best guess is I decided to make them, and then made them again and again until I created the perfect recipe. At the same time, Mom was working on her version of the best buns. I think we both gained about ten pounds.
Although our recipes have diverged significantly, they are both extremely delicious. Mine is enveloped in a heady bourbon caramel sauce, with diced pecans and cinnamon butter filling. This is a serious commitment to make, but if you choose to make this recipe, you will be the host(ess) with the most(est). It should take about four hours, all told; you can also put the rolls in the fridge overnight (ready to bake) and pop them in the oven in the morning, for your undeserving house guests. friends, and neighbors.
We used to sell these at the restaurant, and it was rare that we could keep two dozen past 9:00 am. Of all the requests I ever received, 'moar sticky buns!!!?!?!?!!!' was definitely the most common refrain.
Once you master this dough, you can fill it with whatever you like. I certainly do.
This post is designed for someone who is not comfortable with yeast, so if that's not you, just scroll right through all my how-to pics and get the goods at the bottom.
Here's how it's done: (stay with me. focus. you can hang through this photo essay.)
First, you need to start making the dough. It all begins with a sponge, which is just a small mixture to give your yeast a head start. Heat the water until it's the temperature of a warm bath- anywhere between 80-110 degrees. It should be warm, but not steaming. Use a thermometer if you aren't sure. Add the sponge ingredients, stir just to mix it a bit, and set aside. You'll want to use a container that will allow your sponge to at least double in size.
The sponge will take 10-15 minutes to double in size. While it's working, start putting all the rest of the dough ingredients in a non-reactive (not metal) container or bowl. I use a large Cambro for a few reasons- 1. it's non reactive plastic 2. it's the perfect size 3. having the side measurements is very handy when determining how much the dough has risen. Why does it matter if you use a metal bowl? Sometimes the metal can react with the ingredients in the dough and change the pH just enough to upset the yeast, which will then not be happy to work for you. Let's not give the yeast any excuses to not do its job. Avoid using metal utensils, too, unless you have to.
Once your sponge has doubled in size, add it to the rest of your dough ingredients and gently combine.
Once you've added the sponge and given it a good stir, add 4.5 cups of the flour and stir as well as you can in the bowl. You won't be able to fully mix it, but the more cohesive it is before you turn it out, the easier it will be to knead.
Turn it out onto a surface floured with the last 1/2 c of flour. Knead the mass by 1. pushing away from you 2. lifting the end 3. folding it over onto itself 4. pushing away from you. It's easiest to knead with two hands.
At this point, you want your dough to have a happy place to rest and mature. Grease a large container liberally with vegetable oil (don't miss any spots!) and set the dough inside, loosely covered. Set it in a warm place to rest for about an hour- until it is large and puffy.
Now, while the dough is rising, you can make the bourbon caramel sauce and the cinnamon butter filling for the rolls. Get two metal 13x9 and have them ready to go on the counter. Mix together all of your caramel ingredients except the butter and bourbon in a large pot (the mixture will bubble profusely, so you need lots of room). Start cooking it over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
Once the mixture starts to get hot, add the butter and stir until it melts. At this point the bubbling should start. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the mixture is the color of dark brown sugar.
Now that your caramel is finished, divide it between your 13x9 pans evenly. Set them aside.
Okay! Now you can make the cinnamon butter and chop up the pecans. For the filling, combine the softened butter, cinnamon, and sugar until smooth. Done!
Now toast the pecans and then chop them, fairly fine. I don't like giant hunks of pecans in my rolls, personally.
Okay. Hopefully by now your dough has risen. You want to gently turn it out from the container and cut it into two equal pieces. Immediately fold the ends under and shape it into a rectangle- this will make both pieces easier to roll out. Take the spare and set it aside under a damp towel.
Now roll out the first half of your dough to a large rectangle, top with half the cinnamon butter, and then half the chopped pecans. You should not need any flour to roll out the dough- it will be elastic and smooth.
Now very gently roll the dough towards you into a log. You don't want to stretch the dough as you roll it, as this will affect the shape of the final rolls. Once you roll the log up, set it so the seam side is down, and lop off the ends- to about 2" in on each side. You can bake these separately or just consider them an 'angel's share'. Using a ruler, mark the rolls so they are all the same width- this will allow them to cook evenly. Cut with a bench knife and place in one of your prepared pans.
Repeat the process with the other ball of dough. Cover tightly. At this point, you could freeze the rolls and save them for the next time you want to bring extreme joy to everyone around you. Or bake them now, either way. If you do freeze them, you need to let them thaw and rise on the counter before baking. If you're baking them now, let them rise until large and puffy.
Bake in a 350 oven, uncovered, for about 30-35 minutes, until they are golden brown all over. Remove from the oven and let sit in the pan for about five minutes, otherwise the caramel will run everywhere. Set up a silicone mat or parchment paper on the counter for when you turn out the rolls. Then give them the flip!
That's it! Now just try not to eat them all immediately. That sugar is hot. I should know. My tongue is still healing.
Revised 7/29/14: thanks for the notes, Pam!
Sweet Dough for Rolls:
3/4 c warm water (between 80-110 degrees)
2 t sugar
1 T active dry yeast
1/2 c flour
1/4 c whole-fat yogurt
1/2 c whole-fat sour cream
1/2 c salted butter, softened
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c sugar
2 t salt
2 t vanilla
1 t dough emulsion (optional)
5 c flour, divided
Combine the water, 2 t sugar, yeast, and 1/2 c flour in a medium non-metal bowl. Stir a few times and set aside until doubled in size. Meanwhile, combine the other dough ingredients (everything but the remaining flour) in a large, non-metal bowl or container. Add the sponge once it has doubled in size, stir to combine, then stir in 4.5 cups of flour. Stir together as well as you can in the bowl, then turn out onto the counter with the remaining 1/2 c flour. Knead the dough until it is cohesive, soft and smooth.
Set aside in a greased, loosely covered container to rise. Once it has gotten large and puffy, gently turn out on to the counter and halve. Cover half with a damp towel or saran wrap.
Roll each half to around 10x15, keeping them as rectangular as possible. Fill, roll gently towards yourself, cut evenly and set into prepared pans. Allow them to rise again- another 45-60 minutes- until large and puffy. Bake at 350 about 30-35 minutes, until golden brown. Cool in pans for five minutes, then turn out onto parchment paper or silicone baking sheet.
Bourbon Caramel Sauce:
1/2 c buttermilk
1 1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 c light corn syrup (can omit and use brown rice syrup)
2 t baking soda
2 t vanilla
1/2 t buttery dough emulsion (optional)
2 c salted butter
1/4 c bourbon- the good stuff. I'm talking reeeeallly good, aged, bourbon. If you don't have any you can just leave it out.
Combine the buttermilk, cream, corn syrup, baking soda, vanilla, and dough emulsion on a LARGE saucepan. The mixture will expand quite a bit so you want lots of headroom in the pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mix feels hot. Add the butter (bubbles!) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is the color of dark brown sugar. This will take about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the bourbon carefully- it will bubble and spit. Divide between two metal 13x9 pans (about three cups per pan) and make sure you eat the excess with a spoon.
Cinnamon Butter with Toasted Pecans:
3/4# salted butter, soft
1/4 c cinnamon
2/3 c sugar
2 c pecans
Combine the butter, cinnamon, ad sugar in a medium bowl, stirring until well combined.
Toast the pecans over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they are golden brown and fragrant. Chop to a medium dice and set aside.
When filling your rolls, spread each half with half of the cinnamon butter mixture and top that with 1/2 the pecans.
Whew! You deserve a sticky bun with a nice cold glass of milk, am I right?!