My family Christmas celebration was at my home on Christmas morning, and prior to opening gifts we enjoyed a simple brunch. I kept the number of dishes to a minimum, but made each one count!
We had hash browned potatoes with onion and garlic, partially cooked the night before and then heated the morning of until done in the oven. There was a festive looking frittata made with broccoli, onions, garlic, red pepper, roasted red pepper and a hearty helping of Monterey Jack cheese. A plate of lovely premium maple-smoked bacon, oven roasted, is a holiday essential at my breakfast table and, like usual, disappeared in a flash. And the crowning glory of our brunch was a tower of warm pecan cinnamon rolls.
I made the rolls Christmas Eve, letting them rise in the fridge overnight. Although the recipe has several steps, none of them are complicated and they’re relatively easy to make. Using the dough hook on the mixer to knead the dough reduces the labour factor, too. A bit like having Santa’s elves at work for you!
When my mother and my children arrived Christmas morning, they were greeted with the fragrance of freshly baked cinnamon buns. How’s that for a Christmas greeting?
Pecan Cinnamon Rolls
The dough for these rolls is slightly adapted from the 1993 edition of The Canadian Living Christmas Book. That recipe is for cranberry rolls, but I used a standard, simple cinnamon pecan filling instead.
Prepare a 9 x 13 inch dish by lightly buttering it. I used a deeper dish than the standard, since I’ve had issues in the past with the syrup bubbling over the sides of the standard 2-inch deep dish. I’ve adapted this recipe to use less sugar, so I don’t think that would be a problem. To be on the safe side, place a baking tray on the rack below while baking them.
For the Rolls
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp quick-rise yeast (1 packet; you can also use active dry yeast)
- 1/2 c sour cream
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 eggs
- 1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 to 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Brown Sugar Syrup
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 3 tbsp water
- 18 to 24 pecan halves
- 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 2 tsp Saigon cinnamon
- 3/4 cup chopped pecans
- 3 tbsp melted butter
Dissolve 1 tsp of the sugar in 1/2 cup lukewarm water (it should barely feel warm on the inside of your wrist). Sprinkle the yeast on top and let stand for 10 minutes or until frothy.
In a saucepan, heat the sour cream, the rest of the sugar, butter and salt over low heat until the sugar dissolves and everything is incorporated. Let cool. (I put mine in the fridge for about 10 minutes.)
Lightly beat the eggs in the bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment. Add the sour cream and yeast mixtures and incorporate. Then gradually beat in the whole wheat flour. Beat for 2 minutes or until smooth. Scrape down the bowl.
Switch to the hook attachment for your mixer. Gradually beat in the all-purpose flour to make a soft, slightly sticky dough, scraping down the bowl once or twice. I used the full 2-1/2 cups, but you may need less. On speed setting ‘2’ knead the dough for 10 minutes. If the dough crawls up the hook attachment you may need to push it down.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning so the whole dough ball is oiled. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel and set in a warm place to rise for 1 to 1-1/2 hours until doubled in size.
Heat the butter, brown sugar and water for the syrup in a saucepan, stirring until all melted and incorporated. Pour the syrup into the prepared buttered dish, then arrange the pecans, flat side up, so there will be one roughly in the centre of each bun, plus extras. Set the dish aside.
Punch the dough down, and roll out on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle about 12 x 18 inches. Brush with the melted butter from the filling recipe, then sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon mixture evenly over top, leaving about a 3/4 inch strip free along the top edge of the dough. Scatter the chopped pecans over top. Starting at the bottom long edge (i.e., closest to you) roll into a tight cylinder, pinching and sealing the seam at the top. With the seam on the bottom, pat the ends of the roll so they’re flat and ensure the roll is a consistent diameter all along its length.
Using a serrated knife, cut in half. Cut both pieces into half again, and then slice each section into 3 even pieces, for a total of 12 slices. Pat and shape them as necessary so they’re nice and round and an even height. Place in the pan on top of the syrup and pecan mixture. There will be room around each roll for further expansion.
Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, remove from the fridge and let sit on the counter while the oven heats to 350º F. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until the rolls are lighly browned and sound hollow when you tap them.
Remove from the oven and let sit on a rack for about five minutes. Cover an extra-large baking tray with parchment paper, then carefully invert the baking dish onto it, so the rolls are now bottom side up, with all the syrup and nuts nicely displayed. Scrape any syrup from the bottom of the dish over top the rolls. Place the baking tray on a rack to cool, and serve warm or at room temperature.
These rolls were warmly received by my family, and I think your guests would enjoy them too. A simple touch like this adds an air of festivity to the holiday brunch, and is a homey way of showing people how special they are to you.