sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls

I’ve always been a little bit intimidated by yeast doughs.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I was a teenager I was a very adventurous cook and baker (especially for a teenager) and loved to experiment with new recipes. Most of the time things worked out in my favor, but every once in a while, they didn’t. Once my cousin came over to stay the night and we decided it might be fun to try to make some white sandwich bread. The resulting loaf though, was a total mess. It was dense, heavy, tough, and dry, and while it had definitely risen to an extent, a tap of the loaf was met with a dull thud rather than that nice hollow sound you expect from quality bread.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

Everyone in my family thought of me as an excellent cook for my age, and my cousin was obsessed with my omelettes, begging me to make them for her whenever she stayed over. When we baked this loaf together I think she assumed my touch would turn our dough to gold, so when the bread didn’t live up to her expectations the disappointment was palpable.

One bite, and I could see it in her eyes.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

It was at least another decade before I tried to bake a loaf of bread again.

In my mid twenties, a year or so after I moved to Brooklyn, I decided I was going to start making my own sourdough. It’d had been ten + years since the last time I’d tried to make bread, and instead of trying to perfect a traditional white loaf raised with active dry yeast, I thought, “Oh! The last time I baked bread it was a minor disaster, so I should definitely try to make a bread so hard to master that there are entire online forums on the subject.” Sometimes I can’t even handle what a genius I am.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

I mixed up my little cup of flour and water, set it near my kitchen window, and waited for a little community of wild yeast to set up camp and start birfin’ some babies. To my surprise and elation, on the first try, my starter took and was bubbling away after a few feedings.

And then I made my loaf.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

It barely rose at all. Dense. Heavy. Tough. Dry. Dull Thud.
History repeating itself.

I tried a few more times, thinking my starter just wasn’t strong or mature enough, but never had any results that were worth eating and I decided my attempts were little more than a waste of time and wheat.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

Still, not all yeast doughs intimidate me. I make a pretty decent pizza dough, and a few years ago I made some really great English muffins that I’ve been thinking about trying again soon. When it comes to actual loaves of bread though, I’ve accepted that they just might not be my thing. I might eventually go back to the basics and try some white bread again sometime, but for now I’m not all that worried about trying to perfect my bread game.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

I decided recently that it might be fun to try to branch out and try some other types of yeasted doughs. A few months ago I made a roasted cherry kugelhopf with great results, and the other day I was in the mood for some cinnamon rolls with an autumnal twist. Sweet sticky yeasted doughs like cinnamon rolls are actually crazy easy to get right, to the point of being nearly fool proof. As long as you don’t overheat the milk and kill your yeast, the amount of sugar in this dough will ensure that it will rise like it’s getting paid.
The only thing I had a little trouble with was rolling the dough tightly around the filling, but once it rose again you couldn’t tell the difference.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

These cinnamon rolls are seriously unbelievable. Like… Whoa.

They’re sweet, tender, light as air, and richly autumnal; with plenty of spice and a nice depth and hint of earthiness from the roasted sweet potato. Wrapped up inside is a sticky sweet filling that’s dripping in cinnamon and bursting with toasted pecans. Then a sweet and tangy cream cheese icing goes on top and takes things to a place I almost can’t even handle. Almost.

While I usually prefer desserts with a subtle, reserved sweetness; these cinnamon rolls are anything but subtle and I LOVE it. Warm from the oven they beg to be pulled apart into tender strips of gooey cinnamon heaven dripping with cream cheese icing. I honestly don’t know who I thought I was fooling with that fork in the first photo. My fingers were covered in sticky nutty spicy sugary goodness mere minutes after these came out of the oven, and that fork went back in the drawer clean as a whistle. I promise that if you make these the last thing anyone will be looking for is a fork, but you should probably make sure you’ve got plenty of napkins on hand.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

Sweet Potato & Pecan Cinnamon Rolls

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Roasted sweet potato puree:
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil

Dough
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, to be divided
1/2 cup whole milk
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (from a 1 .25-ounce envelope)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar (dark if you have it, but light is fine)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cups sweet potato puree
1 large egg
Oil for coating rising bowl

Filling
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar (dark if you have it, but light is fine)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons  ground cinnamon
1 cup finely chopped pecans

Glaze
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons milk or buttermilk
2 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar, sifted
Few drops vanilla extract (optional)

Make the sweet potato puree:
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Wash your sweet potatoes and prick them all over with a fork. Rub them with oil and wrap in aluminum foil. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on size. Check with a fork after 30 minutes, and if the fork slides through the flesh easily, they’re done. If not, continue to check them every 10 to 15 minutes until they are done.
Let cool for at least 30 minutes, or until you can handle them comfortably.
Peel the skins off the potatoes, they should probably peel off pretty easily. Place flesh in a bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher. Measure out 2/3 of a cup, and eat the rest or save it for another use.

Make the dough:
Brown the butter in a medium saucepan for about 10 minutes or until nutty and golden. Once it starts to brown watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Heat your milk in a saucepan or in the microwave, until warm but not hot. Too hot (over 116) and you’ll kill the yeast. Combine the warmed milk and yeast in a small bowl and set aside to get slightly foamy, which should take about five to seven minutes.

In the bowl of an electric mixer combine flour, sugars, salt and spices. Add just 1/4 cup (not all) of your browned butter and stir to combine. Add yeast-milk mixture, 2/3 cup sweet potato puree and egg, and mix until combined. Switch mixer to a dough hook and run it for 5 minutes on low speed.

Scrape mixture into a large lightly oiled bowl, flip it so the top of the dough is oiled too, and cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel. Set aside until doubled in size, about 1 hour, in a draft-free place.

Meanwhile, line the bottom of two 9-inch round cake pans (or 8-inch round if that’s all you got) with parchment paper, and butter the paper and the sides of the pan.

Assemble buns:
Scoop dough onto a very well floured work surface and flour the top of it. Roll the dough out to an approximately 16×11-inch rectangle and brush with reserved browned butter. Stir together the filling ingredients and sprinkle mixture evenly over dough. Starting on the longer side, roll the dough into as tight a spiral as you can. It’s will make a mess and filling will spill from the ends, no big deal. Just sprinkle the stuff that falls out over the pan after you put the rolls in.

With a sharp serrated knife, using as little pressure as possible, gently saw the log with a back-forth motion, trying not to squish it too much. The dough will be really soft so this will be tough, but you can reshape the rolls as you add them to the pan if need be. I cut the log in half, and then cut the halves in half, and again, and again, until I had 16 even(ish) rolls.

Divide the 16 rolls between two prepared pans, and sprinkle any fallen filling over them. Arrange the two end pieces cut side up. Cover each pan with plastic wrap and let rise for another 45 minutes.

If you want to do these ahead of time, at this point you can put the pans in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, leave them out for an hour to warm up and finish rising.

15 minutes before you’re ready to bake them, heat the oven to 350°F. Once they’re finished rising, remove the plastic and bake the buns for 25 minutes, until puffed and golden and smelling like spiced autumn heaven. Meanwhile, make the glaze. Beat the cream cheese until it is smooth, light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until combined. Drizzle in the milk, a little at a time, until you get the consistency you’re looking for, either thick enough to ice or thin enough to drizzle. Transfer the pans of finished rolls to wire cooling racks and drizzle or ice them with glaze. Eat them while they’re still warm and steamy if you can.

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27 comments

  1. Beautiful rolls, I will try your recipe, I have been wanting to make cinnamon rolls and love this version with sweet potato. Interesting about you problem with bread. I have the same problem with biscuits. Bread I can do no problem but my biscuits are like paper weights and are so heavy and dry. Ugh….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Delicious. It’s funny, no matter how good a baker you are there is always something that throws things for a loop. I can’t do brownies, my mum can’t do pie crust, and my grandma couldn’t do dumplings! Aw well. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. O.M.G.

    Moment of silence to observe the perfection of your rolls…..

    Okay, now I’m definitely gonna make cinnamon rolls this weekend for brunch. Thanks a heap. You made me hangry. (Yes, hangry, not hungry. I’m so hungry now, I’m almost angry. Argh)

    ….Seriously though, great job. And as far as bread making goes, DON’T GIVE UP. It takes practice, and lots of trial and error. Trust me on that.You’ll get the hang of it ;-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! Thanks! When I was making them, I had some real trouble getting them rolled up tightly and thought they looked horrible! Once they rose though, they looked great (and tasted amazing)
      I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who uses hangry! I always tend to wait too long to eat lunch at work and end up getting hangry probably 2 or 3 days a week!

      Like

  4. Geezy what a saga of yeast bread escapades to get to this awesome recipe. Now my story is reversed. As a teen I was a whiz with sweet rolls. I never did really master bread. Then I only visited the yeast rolls sparingly thru the years, but they turned out fine. And now that I am a woman of a certain age I am intimidated by even thinking about yeast anything. But I have been wanting to make some cinnamon rolls. These look like winners!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know what it is! I’m sure I could master bread if I tried, but there are so many other treats to experiment with that it doesnt seem to be a priority right now. For now I’m happy to bake biscuits instead or rolls, but maybe rolls are a good place to start before moving into other types of yeast breads…
      Holidays here we come!

      Like

  5. Oh my gosh…I’ve made it my business this year to master the art of bread making. I’m so hit and miss – which is a vast improvement for me. Yeast is probably one of the toughest things for me, so I can completely relate with you on this.

    That said, you have redeemed yourself Tux, because these cinnamon rolls look amazing. The drizzle and that pecan filling- oh boy I wish I had one now! :D

    Will pin!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. First of all, these rolls look absolutely beautiful and like they taste very very good. Also I applaud you for not giving up. This post made me laugh out loud . . . very funny bit about the, you know, gentle transition to sourdough baking!!!!! Sounds just like me. Bread and I are just not great friends and I recently cursed at Chad Robertson all the way through 5 days of a couple of porridge bread recipes from Tartine No. 3. I recently have had astounding success with a brioche recipe from Zoe Nathan’s Huckleberry book and now realize it’s the sugar . . . and the butter . . . and beating the dough for 7 minutes on high speed!!!!! Anyhow, great post! I will be trying this recipe because we had cinnamon rolls and not a wedding cake at our wedding party, so they hold a special place and yet I’ve never made them. I’ll let you know how they turn out!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Love. Love. LOVE. I’m going to try these, Tux. I’m loving the sweet caramelized insides of those gorgeous rolls, and I totally would have had sticky and messy hands along with a sticky and messy face! Forget the fork. Just give me the roll, and I’ll take care of business!! It’s perfect.

    I was the same way…I was on a mission to perfect bread making…and I have just the basics down, or so I thought. I want to broaden my horizons..but I’m so nervous to try! It’s such a disappointment when it doesn’t turn out because you put your heart and soul into it.
    This past Saturday, I made a mushroom pizza, using my regular bread dough. My kids love mushroom pizza..and I knew my 30 year old would come for a visit if I texted her and let her know it was fresh out of the oven, along with those cupcakes that I just posted the icing recipe for.
    So, she’s sitting there eating it, and says: “This isn’t my favorite crust” … I’m like “What??, that’s the dough I use all the time!!” She says “Yeah, it isn’t my favorite..”

    Well. Darn. Now I have to find a new bread dough. Just when you think “you’re all that” somebody comes along and knocks you down a few pegs!! So, I’m on a new mission now. But that’s ok, I’ll figure it out!!

    Wonderful post! <3

    Liked by 1 person

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