Pecan rolls, also known as pinwheels or caramel pecan rolls, are a classic American breakfast food that are sometimes also served as an after dinner dessert. Recipes vary, as is typical with classic foods, but all primarily feature a soft yeast dough rolled around a filling of pecans, brown sugar, cinnamon, and other ingredients. Once rolled, the dough is cut into individual pastries and baked with a topping of pecans, caramel, butter, and more brown sugar. Characteristically, pecan rolls are sticky and sweet, owing to the sugar and caramel used in most recipes, and can be served hot or cold.
In the southern to southwestern United States, pecan rolls and a variety of pecan desserts are staples, owing to the states of Georgia, Texas, and New Mexico historically producing the largest pecan harvests in the US each year. Prolific availability of pecans in these states lends to numerous recipes and ideas for baking with pecans. As such, recipe variations for pecan rolls are common and plentiful. Variations on the traditional recipe include adding different nuts, or using dates, raisins, or dried fruit along with pecans. Changes to the topping often include adding orange or other fruit flavors, using white confectioner sugar instead of brown sugar as a base, using cream cheese icing as a topping, or even using no topping.
Baking pecan rolls involves three stages: preparing the topping, making the dough, and rolling. Topping ingredients for classic pecan rolls include softened butter, brown sugar, pecan halves, and cinnamon. After whipping together ingredients, the topping is spread in the bottom of a baking dish. Most recipes suggest refrigerating the dish while the dough and fillings are prepared.
Dough is formed by combining yeast, flour, and other ingredients and then allowing the mixture to rise. Once risen, the dough is flattened and spread with fillings such as brown sugar, caramel, pecans, and other chosen ingredients. Keeping the ingredients inside, the dough is rolled and cut into biscuits, much like cinnamon rolls and other similar pastries. Raw dough biscuits are placed on top of the topping mix in the baking pan to rise again before baking.
Similar in name only, pecan rolls should not be confused with pecan log rolls, a candy also popular in America, especially the Southern states. Pecan log rolls are small, cherry-flavored candy nougat lengths rolled in crushed pecans. Since pecan log rolls are intended to be a candy, these treats are often sold by candy shops and convenience stores in individually wrapped servings, much like a candy bar. In contrast, pecan rolls and caramel pecan rolls are yeast pastries, typically homemade or found ready-made in bakeries, restaurants, and grocery stores.