The ideal pecan rolls can be the star of a weekend breakfast or a birthday brunch. They travel well, too, keeping their yeasty charm when baked ahead and presented as a surprise for your host.
See the following slides for chef Scott Peacock's recipe and step-by-step instructions for creating these caramelly treats.
To get started, stir together water and yeast; let stand until foamy. Meanwhile, heat milk until it begins to steam. Add butter and creme fraiche and stir until just melted. Cool. Stir the milk-butter-creme fraiche mixture into the yeast mixture with eggs and flour. Add granulated sugar and salt, and then beat.
Gradually beat in remaining flour until the dough begins to pull away from sides of bowl and is only slightly sticky. "Don't be tempted to add more flour," says Scott.
Transfer dough to a bowl. Cover surface of dough with plastic wrap that has been lightly coated with softened butter, then cover bowl with a second piece of plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until double in size. "Don't rush it. Slow rising creates better flavor," says Scott.
While dough is rising, butter sides of a rectangular glass baking dish. Stir together softened butter, brown sugar, honey, and a pinch of salt until well-combined. Stir in water.
Transfer topping to pan and with a spatula distribute in an even layer.
Scatter pecan halves over butter-sugar mixture. "Look for fresh pecans. I prefer Georgia's," Scott says. "Buy a pound and keep them in the freezer -- it's less expensive than buying a few ounces at a time."
Remove the risen dough from bowl and gently roll it out on a very lightly floured surface to an 18x15-inch rectangle.
Spread melted butter evenly over the dough.
In a bowl combine granulated sugar, brown sugar, Ceylon cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Sprinkle evenly on dough. Ceylon cinnamon (available at penzeys.com) has a sweeter flavor, a softer texture, and lighter color than regular cinnamon.
Distribute chopped pecans and dates over the dough. "The dates aren't traditional," says Scott. "They're a delicious surprise that echoes the flavor of the caramel on top."
Tightly roll the dough beginning at one long side, keeping the roll as uniform as possible. Pinch the edges to seal the roll.
Using a serrated knife, trim off both ends. Then cut the roll into 12 even slices. "When you slice the rolls, use a gentle, smooth, sawing motion. It prevents tearing," says Scott.
Arrange rolls in the baking dish, evenly spacing them. Use your hands to gently press the rolls into the pecans. "You want them to rise down and out, as well as up," says Scott.
Cover dish loosely with buttered plastic wrap and let rolls rise until fully doubled. Uncover and bake the rolls, rotating the dish once and tenting loosely with foil if rolls begin to brown too quickly ("which they probably will," says Scott).
Let pecan rolls stand on rack for 5 minutes. Invert onto serving platter. If made ahead, reheat uncovered in oven until warm.