Patrick * Mini Pecan Rolls

It was March 31st, 1981. President Reagan had just been shot, and Patrick, age 14, was at home baking biscuits. He had been dismissed early from school that day, and while the nation struggled through a state of limbo, Patrick had a job to do. His mother had just returned to work after a long hiatus, and everyone — including Patrick and his two younger sisters — would need to start pitching in around the house. That night was Patrick’s turn to cook dinner, and he was going to do it right.


Inexplicably springing from his imagination, it occurred to Patrick that a muffin basket might make a nice addition to the dinner table. And so, not only did he whip up a formal dinner for his family of five, he also baked buttermilk biscuits, cornbread muffins, and best of all — pecan rolls. “I spent all afternoon cooking and dirtied every dish in the kitchen,” Patrick recalls. “I’m not sure why, but I just went crazy with it.”

The meal was perfectly, wonderfully over-the-top. On that unforgettable day, Patrick’s pecan rolls — devoured by his family that evening — served as a small comfort. A deep golden brown, they are everything you hope for in a pastry: gooey, sticky, soft, oozing with caramel, swirled with cinnamon, and studded with crunchy, candied pecans.

These days, Patrick tends to serve pecan rolls for breakfast rather than dinner, but they are so deliciously addictive that you just might find yourself eating them all day long.

Three Quick Questions…and Patrick’s Answers

It’s your last meal. What do you have?

I would start with oysters, which I love. Then a caprese salad, and a Greek-style grilled lamb chop, and of course wine. And then for dessert, something with chocolate and whipped cream.

Your kitchen is burning down. What’s the one thing you grab?

I think it would have to be my knives. My new favorite is probably the 5-inch Santoku.

Do you have a favorite cookbook?

I know that everyone says Joy of Cooking, but I’d have to agree. I’m also a subscriber of Food & Wine, which isn’t exactly a cookbook, but I find a lot of great things in there.

Pecan Rolls
Recipe type: Breakfast
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: makes 12 pecan rolls
Though Patrick was unable to locate the original recipe he used for his pecan rolls at age 14, this recipe apparently comes pretty close. These rolls are melt-in-your mouth delicious, covered in gooey caramel and crunchy candied pecans.
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ½ cup warm water, 105 degrees to 110 degrees
  • ½ cup milk, scalded and cooled
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 ½ cups packed light-brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp corn syrup
  • 1 ½ cups pecan halves
  1. Prepare the dough: In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water, then stir in milk, sugar, butter, salt, egg, and 2 cups flour. Add remaining 2 cups flour, and mix, using your hands, until incorporated.
  2. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. Transfer dough to large greased bowl, turning the dough to coat. Cover with plastic wrap, and leave in a warm place for about 1½ hours until dough has doubled in size.
  3. Punch down dough; let rise again until doubled in size (45 to 60 minutes).
  4. Prepare the caramel pecan topping: Grease a muffin tin, and place over a baking sheet. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat; stir in brown sugar, corn syrup, and pecan halves. Cook until sugar is dissolved. Divide pecan mixture evenly among muffin tins.
  5. Prepare the cinnamon-sugar filling: In a small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon; set aside. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to a 12-by-12-inch square. Spread butter over dough, and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Roll up dough into a log, and stretch to even out, if necessary. Using a sharp knife, cut into 12 slices (about 1 inch each). Transfer slices to muffin tins, and let rise for 40 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake pecan rolls until lightly browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven, and immediately invert onto a plate, but don't remove the muffin tin just yet; let stand for 1 to 2 minutes so that the caramel can fall completely and settle onto rolls. Serve while still warm.


  • Susan

    Love the story and the recipe. It makes me think about the first “special” meal that I cooked as a teenager. It involved several courses from the Time Life book on Italy and lots of dirty dishes…

    • Kathryn

      Thanks, Susan! I think lots of people can relate to the whole wrecking-the-kitchen thing the first time we try to cook! 🙂

  • Those pecan rolls look amazing!

    • Kathryn

      Thanks, Esther!

  • So interesting that these are baked in muffin tins! I suspected so from the pictures. What a great idea! And the caramely top, mmm. Kathryn, how do you find so many interesting people to interview? I really enjoy all the profiles come to life in recipes.

    • Kathryn

      Jen- Thanks so much! The blog is all a product of social networking – I know someone, who knows someone else, who knows someone else… I also send a lot of emails, and sometimes approach people from restaurants/farmers markets, etc. Basically, I’m the weirdo inviting myself over for dinner! Haha 🙂

  • Louise

    It’s pretty obvious that Patrick had some experience in the kitchen prior to this one…great work on his mother’s part, I’m sure! It’s quite a different story than my first “whole dinner” for my family, which I believe had something to do with tuna and frozen peas and carrots. I’ve come a long way since then, and my family will thank you for this yummy recipe!

    • Kathryn

      Louise – isn’t it funny what you come up with as a kid? I am sure your family is thankful for all that practice you’ve had in the kitchen!