These Maple Pecan Cinnamon Rolls are covered in a gooey maple caramel and pecans. The perfect make ahead recipe for the holidays or a long weekend.
Growing up my mom used to make these delicious Maple Caramel Cinnamon Rolls for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were a labor of love and we all looked forward to them every holiday.
I’ve since carried on that same tradition with my own family. We’ll have them for Thanksgiving morning as well as Christmas morning. They get served up with a side of bacon, orange juice and a half of a grapefruit.
This is a lengthy recipe that will take you several hours to prepare. It makes a large 3 dozen cinnamon rolls (give or take). I highly recommend taking the time to read through the directions before jumping in.
Because these cinnamon rolls take a little time, I prefer to make them a few days ahead and then freeze. I’ll share tips below on freezing and reheating.
I’ve also included a few more pictures than normal to hopefully give you a good visual. If you are baking with yeast for the first time, do not be intimidated! I’ve included pictures of what your risen yeast should look like for this recipe.
Another note about this recipe, the dough for this recipe makes 3 dozen cinnamon rolls. The Pecan Caramel Topping recipe includes enough caramel for ONE dozen cinnamon rolls. If you want to cover all of your dough with the Pecan Caramel topping, you’ll want to triple that portion of the recipe.
I prefer to make one dozen Pecan Caramel Cinnamon Rolls, then turn the other two dozen into a Butter Cream Cinnamon Roll (that recipe is coming up tomorrow).
Step by Step Picture Instructions
First you’ll make your dough. If you’ve never baked with yeast before, don’t be intimidated.
I encourage you to read through the directions all the way through before baking your cinnamon rolls.
The key to fluffy and risen cinnamon rolls is making sure your yeast is activated. You’ll use a mixture of warm water and warm milk. Make sure your liquids aren’t too hot (boiling) and not too cold.
A happy medium warm will activate your yeast and start it growing. I also like to sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar in with my yeast. The yeast will feed on the sugar and grow nicely.
Below is what it looks like once I have stirred my yeast and sugar into the liquids. You can see that it’s starting to bubble on the right.
Set it aside for five minutes to make sure that your yeast is activated. This step is the most important part of the recipe.
If your yeast is not activated, your cinnamon rolls will not rise.
After five to ten minutes your yeast mixture will have a filmy layer on top. The longer you let it set, the higher it will grow.
I let my yeast mixture sit for ten minutes and this is what it looked like below.
Once your yeast is completely activated, it’s time to make your dough mixture!
You’ll add in your butter, salt, eggs and flour.
Slowly mix the flour in cup by cup until you have a beautiful sticky dough. You can see the consistency of my finished dough below.
It will have a little stretch and stickiness to it.
Cover your dough with a clean dish towel and set aside. You’ll want your dough to double in size with this first rise.
I typically let it set on the top of a warm stove for an hour. You’ll get a beautiful rise if you make sure it sits somewhere warm and not drafty.
Around the 30 minute mark of the dough rising, I’ll start the process of making my caramel topping.
Chop and sprinkle your pecans in the bottom of your pan. Then start your caramel topping.
Mix together your brown sugar, butter and maple syrup. Cook it at medium heat for 4-5 minutes.
You’ll want the butter to be melted and the brown sugar melted. Watch for tiny boiling bubbles to form.
As soon as they appear, take your caramel sauce off the stove.
Pour the caramel into your pans and set aside.
Once your dough has doubled in size, it’s time to assemble your cinnamon rolls.
Set out your cinnamon, brown sugar, white sugar and softened butter. I prefer using a salted butter to balance out the sweetness of the sugars.
There are measurements for each ingredient in the directions. But I’ll be honest, I never measure my fillings.
I like to make sure that the dough is covered in softened butter and then will sprinkle hefty amounts of the brown sugar, white sugar and cinnamon across the whole thing.
In my opinion, you can never have too much sugar, butter and cinnamon in a cinnamon roll!
Roll a third of your dough into a rectangle. Spread on your softened butter and then cover with brown sugar, white sugar and cinnamon.
Roll up the dough nice and tight, slice them up and place them on top of the caramel in your pans.
It’s okay if your caramel has set just a bit. It’ll melt down again around your cinnamon rolls once it’s popped into the oven.
After your rolls have been placed into the pan, put a clean rag over the top of them for a second rise.
I typically let them rise up one more time for around 30 minutes. You’ll get big and fluffy cinnamon rolls if you do this extra step of letting them rise.
Once they have baked for 25-30 minutes, you’ll take them out of the oven. You’ll want to invert the pan of cinnamon rolls onto another dish or into the same sized baking pan.
Inverting them will make that gooey topping and pecans drizzle over the edges. It makes for a beautiful roll!
We will have these Cinnamon Rolls for Thanksgiving morning and also a batch for Christmas morning. Since these are a more labor intensive recipe, I’ll make them ahead and freeze.
To freeze, simply bake in a disposable aluminum baking tin. When you invert them, invert into the same sized baking tin.
Once they have cooled a little, I’ll wrap them thoroughly in plastic wrap (lots and lots of layers to keep them fresh) and pop them into the freezer.
When it’s time to eat them, I’ll pull them out of the freezer an hour and a half ahead of time. Thirty minutes before breakfast I’ll pop them back into a 350 degree oven with tin foil on top. They’ll warm up after ten minutes or so (just keep checking to make sure).
You can also thaw them the night before in the refrigerator and warm them up the next morning when you’re ready.
Additional Cinnamon Roll Recipes
I also use the dough of this recipe to make our favorite Butter Cream Cinnamon Rolls. I will be sharing that recipe shortly.
My friend Liz also walks you through an amazing Cinnamon Roll recipe here that I can’t wait to try!
Butter Cream Cinnamon Rolls
Cinnamon Roll Dough
- 2 tbsp. yeast
- 1 tsp white sugar (to help activate your yeast)
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 cup warm milk
- ⅔ cup butter
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 eggs
- 7-8 cups flour
Butter Cream Frosting (makes enough for 1 dozen rolls)
- 2 ½ tbsp flour
- ½ cup milk
- 7 tbsp softened butter
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla
Cinnamon Roll Filling
- 1 ½ cups softened butter
- 1 ½ cups brown sugar
- 1 ½ cups white sugar
- 6 tbsp. ground cinnamon
Make the dough
- Put your milk and water into a sauce pan. Heat it up until it's a touch warmer than luke warm. You don't want it too hot or else your yeast will die. And you don't want it too cold or else your yeast will not grow.
- Sprinkle in your yeast and a teaspoon of sugar. The sugar will feed the yeast as it grows. Set your bowl aside for at least 5 minutes to make sure that your yeast has activated. After 5 minutes you should have a growing layer of yeast at the top of your bowl. If not, start over and try again. This step is crucial in having cinnamon rolls that rise.
- Once you have activated your yeast, you'll add in your sugar, softened butter, salt and eggs. Mix until it's fairly combined (it's okay if your butter isn't incorporated all the way).
- Slowly mix in 6 cups of flour one at a time. The dough will appear sticky. Your seventh cup of flour will be the one you use to get rid of some of that stickiness. I usually add in a quarter of a cup at a time. The dough will be somewhat sticky to the touch, but not so sticky that you can't get it off your finger.
- Cover your dough with a clean dish towel and set aside. The longer you let your dough rise, the better it will be! I prefer letting it double in size in the bowl.
Make the Butter Cream Frosting
- While your dough is rising, you can begin your Butter Cream frosting. This recipe makes enough Butter Cream frosting for one dozen cinnamon rolls. If you plan on having enough Butter Cream for your entire batch of dough, you'll want to triple this recipe. I prefer to do one batch of pecan caramel rolls (you can find that recipe in another post), then making the rest of my cinnamon rolls into butter cream.
- In a sauce pan, combine the flour and milk. Cook on low heat while stirring consistently. Stir until the flour and milk have formed a sticky ball. Once you have a sticky ball of dough, set aside and let it cool.
- Once your flour ball has cooled completely (it MUST be completely cool to continue on with this next step), then it's time to finish your frosting.
- In a mixing bowl beat together the flour ball, butter, sugar and vanilla. Mix on high speed until the frosting is light and fluffy. Set aside until it's time to frost your cinnamon rolls.
Assembling the Cinnamon Rolls
- Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and, using a rolling pin, roll into a rectangle.
- Spread 1/3 of your softened butter onto the dough rectangle (remember, you're making 3 dozen). You can add more or less butter. I typically add a bit more than the recommended amount of butter.
- Top evenly with 1/3 of your brown sugar, white sugar and cinnamon. Feel free to add more or less of each ingredient. I prefer adding a bit more cinnamon. There isn't a right or wrong way to add the cinnamon and sugars. Just make sure they're sprinkled somewhat evenly.
- Tightly roll up the dough to form a log. Cut 1-2 inch even rolls and place them on top of your pecan caramel topping.
- Cover with a clean towel and let them rise for another 30 minutes to an hour. The longer you let them rise, the fluffier they'll be!
- Preheat your oven to 350°. Bake your cinnamon rolls for 25-30 minutes. You'll want to check the center cinnamon roll to make sure it's completely done. That center one tends to take a bit longer to bake.
- As soon as your cinnamon rolls are baked, pull them out of the oven to allow them to cool. Once they have cooled a bit, you can frost them! The hotter your cinnamon rolls are, the faster your butter cream frosting will melt.
- If you are planning on freezing your cinnamon rolls for later, you can bake them first. Let them cool completely and then cover with several layers of plastic wrap. When you're ready to eat them, pull them out of the freezer a few hours before serving to thaw. Then pop into a 350° oven for around 10 minutes or until they're warmed up.