Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls
This past December, I went home to Miami earlier – for Art Basel – and stayed later – for Christmas – then I usually do. I was coming back to a cold, gray winter, so any time spent inside felt like a missed opportunity – as though I could somehow store the sun in my skin and the colors in my eyes to get through the next few months. I put together a too-ambitious list of places I wanted to go but was still surprised when I couldn’t get through it all – though what I did see, I loved.
There was the new Pérez Art Museum Miami which opened their incredible new building with Ai Weiwei: According to What? and a really wonderful exhibit of my great aunt’s work, Amelia Peláez: The Craft of Modernity. The Rubell Family Collection opened their 28 Chinese exhibit and Jennifer Rubell held a yellow custard “Faith” breakfast. I finally visited CIFO’s green box collection of contemporary Latin American Art then went for ice cream in Little Havana’s ¡Azucar!. A little more on topic for this site, there was Tapas: Spanish Design for Food which is now on its way to Washington, DC and the Lagniappe wine house which is a little bit of New Orleans in Midtown Miami. While there was too much happening, too fast, to post here, I’ve been better about keeping up on instagram.
I even had time to visit Knaus Berry Farms in Homestead – one of those things my family always talked about doing but never quite got around to. Run by the Knaus family since 1959, they’re best known for their cinnamon rolls though they also operate a small farm stand with jams and jellies, sell impossibly creamy milkshakes, and grow u-pick strawberries and tomatoes. Technically Dunkers though everyone insists on calling them Amish for some reason), their season runs from November thru April. This year we finally joined the line that forms every day and picked up a dozens upon dozens as gifts for anyone who might be missing out.
Now back in the city, I was looking for a project to get past my first snow storm (with the over-reaching name) of the year. Baking seemed like the best option, and I had received a copy The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg, MD and Zoë François to try. Researching bread recipes recently, I kept hearing from professional bakers about time-tried steps that could be eliminated without affecting (and often enhancing) the final product. While I believed them, I felt a little superstitious of leaving them out altogether. Hertzberg and François, however, address these questions from the top, explaining the why behind their streamlined recipes. They also offer basic dough recipes with a high yields that can then be divided and stored for later – a perfect plan for making bread on the day or oh-so-casually popping out freshly made brioche the next time I have friends over.
To that I end, I went with the brioche dough when I made their sticky pecan caramel rolls (it also works with their master dough and challah). Like many of their recipes, the ingredients for the brioche are combined together in one go then left to rise – no proofing yeast or adding softened butter in chunks. The dough is left to chill then shaped with minimal kneading. I made the caramel with the Knaus farm honey I’d brought from home. Smoky and dark like molasses, it was one way of holding onto the warm days of December.
Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls
Recipe from The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg, MD and Zoë François (Thomas Dunne Books, October 2013).
1½ pounds Brioche Dough, defrosted if frozen (see below)
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for sides of pan
1¼ cup brown sugar, well packed
⅓ cup honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 cups whole toasted pecans
Mix together the butter, brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Grease a 9-inch cake pan with butter, then spread half the caramel mixture evenly over the bottom. Scatter half the whole pecans over the caramel mixture and set aside.
Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1½ pound (small cantaloupe-size) piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.
Roll out the dough to an ⅛-inch-thick rectangle. As you roll out the dough, use enough flour to prevent it from sticking to the work surface but not so much as to make the dough dry.
Spread the remaining caramel mixture evenly over the rolled-put dough, then finely chop the remaining nuts and sprinkle them over the top. Starting with the long side, roll the dough into a log and pinch the seam closed.
Using a very sharp serrated knife or kitchen shears, cut the log into 8 equal pieces and arrange over the pecans in the prepared pan, so that the swirled cut edge is facing upward. Allow to rest for 1 hour, loosely covered with plastic wrap.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. A baking stone is not required, and omitting it shortens the preheat.
Place the pan on a baking sheet, in case the caramel bubbles over, and bake about 40 minutes, or until golden brown and well set in the center. While still hot, run a knife around the outer edge of the pan to release the caramel rolls, and invert immediately onto a serving dish. if you let them set too long they will stick to the pan and will be difficult to turn out.
For the brioche dough:
1½ cups lukewarm water (100ºF or below)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 to 1½ tablespoons kosher salt
8 large whole eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup mild honey
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus butter for greasing the pans
7½ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
Mix the yeast, salt, eggs, honey, and melted butter with the water in a 6-quart bowl or la lidded (not airtight) food container.
Mix in the flour without kneading, using a spoon or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle). If you’re not using a machine, you may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour. The dough will be loose but will firm up when chilled; don’t try to work with it before chilling. (You may notice lumps in the dough but they will disappear in the finished product.)
Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature for 2 hours then refrigerate.
The dough can be used as soon as it’s thoroughly chilled, at least 3 hours. Refrigerate the container of dough and use over the next 5 days. Beyond 5 days, freeze the dough in 1-pound portions in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. When using frozen dough, thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours before using, then allow the usual rest and rise times.