A DASH of Baking: Cinnamon Rolls with Coconut and Pecans

Gourmet cinnamon rolls with coconut and pecans made with homemade pastry dough worthy of bake-off challenges.

dry yeast in milk
The yeast mixture pre-bloom

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

When I was little, my mother would get these ideas to bake something and suddenly delicious goodies were pouring out of my parent’s tiny kitchen.  It’s surprising now when I got home and see how small the kitchen is again that I’m truly impressed with the things she made there.  There is only one spot in that kitchen where you can realistically roll out any sort of dough or do major prep work so it’s even more impressive that she made all sorts of pastries in that kitchen that required lots and lots of rolling space.  One of these instances, that I remember fondly, she was struck with the desire to make these wonderful sticky pecan buns. 

At the time, the only cinnamon buns I’d ever had were from the mall, and topped with this sickeningly sweet cream cheese icing.  I think most people can admit, these might still be a sticky guilty pleasure of ours still, but we can all also admit how absolutely fake and processed they taste.  A homemade cinnamon roll is in a whole other class of confectionary goodness, as I would soon find out.  The cinnamon rolls my mother ended up making were a day’s worth of effort, with multiple dough risings and kneading, that resulted in a pie dish full of baked swirls.  On the bottom of the dish was a layer of cinnamon sugar whipped butter and pecans.  Once baked, she would flip the buns out of the pie dish onto a plate and let the melted sugar and pecan goodness ooze over the warm buns.  These were rustic and flakey, naturally moist, and free of that ridiculous white frosting.  It’s one of the best things my mother ever baked. 

Bloomed yeast in milk
The fully bloomed yeast

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls – Take One

As a baker I tend to stick to things like cookies, muffins, coffee cakes, and other more forgiving recipes.  Though I really enjoy pastry like croissants and cakes as well, I just want to have something really good at the end of my efforts and pastry and certain cakes can be…well…complete flops when done poorly.  That said, last year during the lockdown, I was really craving some cinnamon rolls and was reluctant to venture out to a local bakery to get some quality ones.  I eventually decided to try making my own, thinking of my mother’s pie dish full of gooey cinnamon buns.

It had been a really long time since I made a yeasted dough, let alone a pastry dough, so I knew I had my work cut out for me.  I also had no standard fall back recipe to go from, so I went to one of my favorite baking resources:  Macrina Baking Book.  Here I found a recipe for cinnamon rolls that I felt was most similar to the ones my mother made with a few exceptions. 1) I don’t believe there should be raisins in cinnamon rolls.  2) I had never thought of using coconut before in a cinnamon roll and it sounded delicious. 3) this recipe called for putting the rolls in a muffin tin, and that was not how I wanted to bake these.  After contemplating how I would adapt this recipe in order to suit my desires, I proceeded with the lengthy process of preparing the croissant dough per the recipe, and ran into my first snag with attempting this recipe.

milk and yeast mixture being poured into a bowl of pastry flour
Be sure to only “just incorporate” the milk mixture into the flour mixture to prevent over mixing of the dough.

Oh, the Book-folds…

Anyone who has watched the Great British Baking Show (or the Great British Bake Off), knows that proper lamination in a pastry dough is critical to getting the classic flakey layers.  One would also have picked up that the temperature of a pastry dough and the butter during the process of creating these layers is crucial to successful incorporation, and that can be extremely tricky to maintain while creating the book-folds that allow the butter to be incorporated with the pastry dough so that these flakey layers are possible.  What I ended up finding most tricky about this whole process actually ended up being how to start the book-folding process successfully.

What the Macrina baking book recommends is wrapping the flattened butter in the dough and then beginning the book-folds.  However, I found when I did this it was extremely difficult to keep the butter contained in the dough.  The next time I attempted this recipe I decided to try folding the butter in similar to how one might fold up a pamphlet, something I saw on an episode of Great British Baking Show.  This worked much better for me and I felt that I had much fewer issues with seepage.  I found that in order for this to work best, it helps to roll the butter out first into the square of the size and thickness you need, then use this to guide how big you need to roll out the dough in order to encase it.

Tips for Better Book-folds

To help you in your dough-folding efforts:

  • Make sure your butter block and dough are as close to the same temperature as possible before you start the book-folds
  • Chill the dough in-between each turn (or round of folding) for 30 mins so that everything stays cool and the layers stay separated
  • If you notice that the butter is starting to poke out of the dough while you are working with it, pinch the dough back around it then stop working with the dough, wrap it back up, and pop it back in the fridge for another 15-30 mins until the dough firms up more.  This will prevent the butter from continuing to seep out while you try and roll it out.

Pastry dough rolled out into a rectangle
The dough rolled out and ready for the butter block.
Encasing butter block in pastry dough
Fold one third of the dough over the butter block. Fold over again to fully encase the butter block and complete one turn.
lamination of pastry dough
One turn almost done…

Third Time’s the Charm – Almost

It ultimately took me three tries to figure out how to make these cinnamon rolls.  The first try, I had a number of issues with keeping the dough around the butter when starting the book-folds. Part of the problem was that the butter was too warm compared to the dough.  The other was that trying to pack the rolls into a pie dish prevented them from expanding correctly during the baking process and most of the butter ended up running out of the dough in the oven and bubbling away in the bottom of the dish.  This did not allow the right caramelization of the sugar and cinnamon in the rolls and ultimately the rolls in the middle of the pie dish were slightly raw.  

The second time was nearly perfect, with the exception of that I did not allow for enough time to complete a second rise before they went in the oven.  One good thing I had done this time was to upgrade to a 9×13 inch glass baking dish which allowed for the rolls to have enough space to expand correctly.  The bottoms of each roll were deliciously sticky and the insides were moist and flakey.  I was greedy though and the following weekend decided I would bake this recipe a third time, this time seeing how quickly I could pull the dough and rolls together and also get in a second proofing.  Despite completing he cinnamon rolls in about 4 hours while also cooking dinner, I got overzealous in my timing abilities and went to shower while the rolls were in the oven and ended up leaving them in too long.  This resulted in the sugary bottom burning rather than caramelizing, which is not good eating but was a good lesson is how much time in the oven is definitely too long.  I may have also just cut the bottoms off the buns and eaten them anyways…

All said, I did the experimenting for you, here’s the best way to make these gourmet cinnamon buns in a single rainy afternoon.

Book-folding pastry dough
Folding, folding, folding. Keep those book-folds going…

Cinnamon Rolls with Coconut and Pecans

Adapted from Leslie Mackie’s Macrina Bakery & Café Cookbook (favorite breads, pastries, sweets & savories)

Mackie, Leslie, and Andrew Cleary. “Cinnamon Rolls with Coconut, Raisins & Walnuts.” Leslie Mackie’s Macrina Bakery & Cafe Cookbook: Favorite Breads, Pastries, Sweets & Savories, Sasquatch Books, Seattle, WA, 2006, pp. 76–77.


For the Dough

1 ½ cups whole milk

1 ½ tablespoons dried yeast

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

1 ½ teaspoons salt

3 cups and 3 tablespoons all purpose white flour

12 ounces (or 3 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled

For the filling

1 cup pecans, chopped

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup light brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

½ cup shredded, unsweetened coconut


Heat the milk in the microwave for about 30 seconds in a microwave safe bowl.  Remove from the microwave and stir to ensure evenly warmed.  Mix in the sugar and the vanilla extract until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Sprinkle the yeast over the top of the milk mixture and gently stir in.  Allow the yeast to bloom for about 5 minutes.

In a separate bowl, combine the salt and 3 cups of flour.  Pour the milk mixture in with the dry ingredients.  Use a wooden spoon or spatula to fold the ingredients together in the bowl, being careful not to overmix.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a dark place at room temperature until the dough has doubled in size.  Alternatively, you can prepare this up to 8 hours ahead and allow the dough to rise in the refrigerator instead.

If you have been allowing your dough to rise on the counter, pop it in the fridge while you make your butter block. If your dough has been in the fridge, take it out at this time. To begin the butter block, cut the butter into small pieces so that it’s easier on your mixer. No way in heck I’m doing this by hand, sorry everyone. So place the butter in the mixing bowl and using the paddle attachment, blend with the 3 tablespoons of flour until smooth. Layout a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter. Scrape the butter mixture from the bowl into the center of the plastic wrap. Using the wrap to shield your hands from the butter, smoosh the butter into a rectangle about one inch thick. Wrap the block with the plastic wrap loosely and grab your rolling pin. Shape the butter block into a square roughly 10″ x 12″ within the plastic wrap. Place this in the fridge for safe keeping.

Next, we’re rolling out that dough. Flour your work surface before pulling the dough from the bowl onto the counter. Roll the dough into a 12×20 inch rectangle. Pull the butter block back from the fridge and place the square so that it covers about 2/3rds of the dough. Fold the uncovered dough over the butter and then fold it over again similar to how you might fold a pamphlet or a letter before putting it in an envelope. Pop this back into the refrigerator for 15 mins to chill, or if you dare, proceed at rapid pace through the next book fold.

Cinnamon roll dough
The cinnamon roll dough is ready to be cut and filled.

Rotate your folded dough and roll back into a 12×20 inch rectangle. Repeat the pamphlet style folding and chilling (or clock-racing) until this process has been completed three times. You will now have a lovely dough with lots of layers of lamination! Time to make this into Cinnamon Rolls!

Before we roll the dough out, we’re going to mix the filling together. Using a fork, toss together the pecans, sugars, vanilla extract, cinnamon and coconut in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Cut the prepared dough in half. Roll half of the dough into another 12×20 rectangle (I know, again, again, again…) and then lightly sprinkle with water. Scatter with half of the filling mixture and starting from the long edge, roll the dough up. Cut the dough into 8 equal pieces and place each into a lightly greased baking dish, leaving some breathing room in between each. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling mixture.

Allow the buns to rise either on the counter for 30 mins, or in the fridge for as long as 8 hours. Place the buns in the preheated oven and bake 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool briefly before serving (I love these warm!). These will keep loosely covered at room temperature for a few days, if they aren’t eaten before then.

Pan of cinnamon rolls
It’s hard not to immediately eat a whole pan of these, they’re great with coffee and tea!

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