These Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls are a fusion of carrot cake and cinnamon rolls, making them ideal for dessert or breakfast! A salted caramel sauce fills them and chopped pecans give them just enough crunch.
Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls
Combining Carrot Cake and Cinnamon Rolls: Cinnamon rolls have been all the rage recently, I’m not sure when they ever really weren’t. I love cinnamon rolls and wanted to make a next-level version, but I didn’t want to high-pile them with toppings. Instead, these caramel pecan cinnamon rolls take delicious, conventional cinnamon roll dough and gives it a carrot cake spin! Topped with a creamy, cream cheese frosting/icing, these are definitely the best of the carrot cake and cinnamon roll world. They’re also stuffed with salted caramel and pecans, making them completely irresistible.
One of the best parts of this recipe is that it DOES NOT have a lot of proofing time. With the right prep order, you could have these beauties ready in about an hour and a half (including the cook and proof time). Cinnamon roll icing is always a debate with me, to cream cheese or not to cream cheese? For this recipe, cream cheese is needed. It gives the rolls even more of a carrot cake feel.
Prep tips to make cinnamon rolls:
- Shredding the carrots before you start anything else will definitely save you time. The easiest way to shred the carrots is to throw them in a food processor and pulse a few times, but a grater will work too!
- Using Instant yeast instead of Dry Active yeast will make the dough ready to roll (see what I did there?) straight from the mixer.
- Use a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, and switch to a dough hook when all ingredients have been added.
- Pull the cream cheese and butter for the frosting out of the refrigerator before you start making your dough. You need both to be at room temperature to make the frosting/icing.
- Use a heating pad, plastic wrap, and a dish towel to speed up your proof time. The heating pad evenly warms the bottom of the dish. The plastic wrap and towel lock in the warmth better than a dish towel.
- Set aside your dough (still in the mixing bowl) and make your salted caramel sauce (see below for recipe and directions)
Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Roll Dough
Heat milk to 112 degrees Fahrenheit in a small sauce pan using a thermometer. (think warm bath water). First, reach that temperature, then add in 1 tablespoon of sugar and yeast and set aside. Yeast is activated when it appears foamy in the saucepan. Be sure to get as close to around 112 degrees as you can. Yeast starts to die at 120 degrees and is totally dead at 140.
While the yeast is activating, combine the rest of your ingredients (but only use about half the flour- 2 cups) in a mixing bowl using the paddle attachment. Next, add the activated yeast and mix. After the yeast and dough mixture is well combined, add another two cups of flour. Switch from the paddle attachment to the dough hook attachment.
Add the balance of the flour ¼ cup at a time, until dough is pulling away from the sides of the bowl, but still sticky.
When the dough is ready, set the bowl aside and make the caramel sauce.
Salted Caramel Filling
This salted caramel sauce is so good, you’ll be lucky to have enough left to use for the recipe after you’re done “taste testing.” The consistency of this sauce is critical, so follow the steps below to ensure you get the right results.
First, place the saucepan containing the butter, sugar, and heavy cream over LOW heat. Stir to combine, and continue stirring until the butter has completely melted.
Now, turn the heat up to Medium. Put down the spoon, and back away from the stove so you’re not tempted to stir. Stirring, at this point, will ruin the caramel.
After the caramel has cooked for about 5 minutes, it will be ready to remove from heat. You will know it’s ready when bubbles begin to form rapidly in the center and caramel has turned an amber color.
Remove from the heat and allow it to cool. Sprinkle in the sea salt flakes and stir. You need to let the sauce cool completely before filling the dough for the rolls.
How to roll cinnamon rolls
When you are ready to fill and roll, use a lightly greased cutting board that is about 9×13 for reference (larger is fine). You’re going to stretch the dough into a rectangle shape about the size (or just bigger) than the board. The dough is very easy to stretch and you likely won’t even need a rolling pin. Pat it down so it’s an even thickness (about ½-3/4″) throughout the rectangle. Then, get ready to brush and roll.
Spoon and brush the caramel sauce from edge to edge. Sprinkle chopped pecans over the caramel sauce.
With the long side of the rectangle facing you, roll into a log. Slice the log in 2″ sections and place the rolls into your baking dish that should definitely be sprayed with a “baking” spray (cooking spray that contains flour). Your yield will be about 9-10 rolls.
Place the baking dish on top of a warm heating pad and cover the dish with plastic wrap and then a dish towel. Your proof time will be about 20-25 minutes (or until the rolls have about doubled in size).
Now would be a good time to make your frosting/icing. You want it to be ready when the rolls come out of the oven so you can immediately pour it over the rolls.
Cinnamon Roll Frosting
This gooey, delicious icing goes perfectly with these rolls. It has the flavor of cream cheese frosting and the consistency of regular cinnamon roll icing.
Start with room temperature cream cheese and butter. Beat the cream cheese first, until creamy. Add in the butter and mix until well combined. This will help keep bumps to a minimum. Slowly add the heavy whipping cream and Pure Vanilla Bean Paste and continue mixing. Now, add the confectioners sugar and whip ingredients until smooth and creamy.
After your rolls have baked, take your remaining salted caramel sauce and brush it over them BEFORE pouring on the cream cheese frosting/icing (I like to be extra).
Once your caramel sauce looks evenly distributed, spoon the cream cheese icing all over the rolls. Start with a tablespoon over each roll, and spread. Then, pour the rest of the icing evenly over the rolls. Grab a fork, and try not to eat the whole thing!
My favorite tools to make Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls from scratch
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Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls
Salted Caramel Sauce + Filling
- Heat the milk in a saucepan, over low-medium heat, to the same temperature as a warm bath (around 112°). Remove from heat and stir in 1 tbsp of sugar and yeast. Set aside and allow yeast to activate (yeast mixture will appear foamy when it's ready).
- In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine melted butter, eggs, sugar, sea salt flakes, shredded carrots, vanilla bean paste (or extract), cinnamon, and 2 cups of flour.
- Pour in activated yeast mixture and gradually begin spooning in the balance of the flour as the dough mixes. Once the yeast mixture has been well combined, switch to a dough hook attachment. As the dough is kneaded, gluten strands will begin to form. Add flour until dough begins to form and clean the sides of the bowl. It should be slightly tacky, but you should be able to handle the dough without it sticking to your fingers.
- Cover your mixing bowl and let the dough rest for 15 minutes. This is important because it gives the gluten a chance to relax, which will make it easier to stretch and roll out.
Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce+ Filling
- While dough rests, prepare the salted caramel sauce filling.
- In a saucepan over LOW heat, add butter, sugar, and heavy cream. Stir until butter is completely melted. Raise to MEDIUM heat but DO NOT stir. Allow caramel to cook for 5 minutes (without stirring). Remove from heat when bubbles begin to rapidly form in the center and caramel has turned an amber color. As it cools, stir in sea salt flakes and set aside.
- In a separate bowl, combine brown sugar and cinnamon.
- Lightly grease your work surface. Stretch and roll out your dough in a large, thick rectangle (roughly 9×13, use a cutting board for reference). Spread an even layer of the caramel over the dough using a spoon or pastry brush. Sprinkle pecans and a thin layer of the cinnamon-brown sugar mix.
- Gently lift the long edge of the rectangle closest to you and begin to roll the dough into a log shape. Slice into even pieces (I typically get 10 large rolls per batch).
- Place each roll in a greased 9×13 baking dish OR 12" round, dutch oven/cast iron skillet.
- Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and leave them to rise on a warm heating pad or warm area for 30 to 40 minutes. Preheat oven to 350°
- Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown on top. Brush with remaining caramel after you remove them from the oven and before topping with the cream cheese icing.
Cream Cheese Icing
- While rolls are baking, mix (or whisk) together softened cream cheese, melted butter, heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla bean paste. Whip until smooth.
- Spoon about a tablespoon of icing over each Cinnamon roll and then drizzle the rest of the icing over all of them. Spread with a spoon to make icing distribution even. Enjoy!