By Kelly Jaggers
Pecan Rolls – Sweet Yeast Rolls with Pecan Filling and Vanilla Glaze. Time-Tested Family Recipe.
My friend Kelly Jaggers is back with another wonderful family recipe! Her nostalgic memories behind this family recipe, beautifully expressed, make it taste even sweeter. ~ Tori
My mother’s side of the family is from Houston, Texas. My grandmother and great-aunt moved from the family farm in Paige, Texas to the big city after they married to start their lives. Close growing up, they built houses in the same neighborhood, about three streets apart. As a child, when I would go to visit my grandmother, I would often be invited to my Aunt Ruby’s house to play. I think it was a welcome break for my grandmother who was no longer used to the antics of an active little girl.
Aunt Ruby had a very green thumb. She planted a small garden in her backyard that produced tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and string beans. She also had a massive pecan tree in her back yard. As a child I would look up at it in wide-eyed wonder as it was the largest tree I had ever seen. The tree would produce the most beautiful, buttery pecans, and my aunt Ruby would use them to make pecan pies, pecan cookies, German chocolate cakes, pecan candy, and my great-great grandmother Minnie’s pecan rolls.
As my Aunt Ruby grew older her body began to fail. At the end of her life she was confined to a bed. My mother and I would go and visit as often as we could, knowing how much our visits lifted her spirits. She was an avid story-teller, and she delighted in telling me all kinds of family gossip. She also loved to talk about cooking, her days working at the Nabisco factory, and her father, who she said no man – not even her husband who was a Houston Police officer killed in the line of duty – could compare to. As she grew frailer, the pecan tree began to produce fewer pecans. The year she passed away the tree produced no pecans at all. I am not saying it is connected, but my family has always been a little superstitious, and I can’t help but wonder.
This year, when my mother and I went to visit Ruby’s daughter, she handed us each two large glass jars filled with pecans as we left. Evidently the tree is producing again. It made me terribly happy. Ruby’s house is now for sale by a custom home builder. The house will soon be demolished to make way for something shiny and new. It will break my heart when that happens, but I hope that they leave that beautiful pecan tree.
These pecan rolls were my great-great-grandmother’s recipe, passed to me by Aunt Ruby. The recipe doesn’t specify how to form these rolls, but Ruby told me her grandmother would make them either into spirals like cinnamon rolls, or into twisted rolls. I am making the twisted rolls today, but if it makes your life easier to make these like cinnamon rolls, feel free. The only small changes I made to this recipe was to substitute dry active yeast for the fresh yeast cakes which are less and less available in grocery stores, and to give actual measurements for the pecan filling, which my great-great-grandmother would just add by eye. These are best warm from the oven, so if you do not think you need 12 large pecan rolls freeze what you do not need once you have filled, cut and formed the rolls. Let them thaw overnight, then allow them to stand for 1 hour at room temperature to rise, and then bake as directed below.
In case you were wondering, I made these with Ruby’s pecans. It seemed fitting.
Food Photography and Styling by Kelly Jaggers
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- 2 tbsp dry active yeast or 1 ½ fresh yeast cakes
- 1/4 cup water heated to 110°F
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup butter or shortening at room temperature
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup milk scalded
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup butter at room temperature
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 8 oz roughly chopped pecans
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tbsp milk
- 1 tbsp butter melted
- 1 tsp vanilla
- pinch kosher salt
- Begin by preparing the dough. In a small bowl combine the yeast and water. Mix until it forms a paste. In the work bowl of a stand mixer combine the yeast paste with the sugar, butter, salt, milk, flour, and eggs. Mix on low speed for 3 minutes, or until just combined, then increase the speed to medium and mix for 8 minutes. The dough should form a smooth ball and cling to the dough hook.
- If mixing by hand, mix the ingredients with a wooden spoon until they form a shaggy ball, then turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes or until the dough forms a smooth ball.
- Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel, and allow the dough to rise until double in bulk, about 2 hours.
- While the dough rises prepare the filling and glaze.
- For the filling combine the brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, and vanilla in a medium bowl, reserving the pecans. Mix into a smooth paste. Cover with plastic and set aside at room temperature.
- For the glaze mix the powdered sugar, milk, butter, vanilla, and salt until smooth. The mixture should be roughly the consistency of honey. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag, or a heavy duty plastic bag, and set aside at room temperature.
- Once risen, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll the dough out to roughly 13x18-inches. Spread the prepared filling over the dough and then sprinkle evenly with the pecans.
- Fold the dough like a letter along the longest side, folding 1/3 of the dough in.
- Then folding the remaining 1/3 over the top.
- Cut the dough into 12 strips.
- Twist them and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet about 2-inches apart. You may need two sheets to accommodate all the rolls. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and allow the rolls to rise for 1 hour.
- Heat the oven to 350°F.
- Bake the rolls for 18-25 minutes, or until the rolls are golden brown and firm throughout.
- Let the rolls cool for 3 minutes, and then transfer to a cooling rack over parchment paper. Snip the tip of the pastry bag, or one corner of the plastic bag, and drizzle the glaze over the hot rolls.
- Let cool for 10 minutes more before serving.