Make the sweet dough:
In a glass measuring cup, add 1 cup milk. Use whole milk if you have it. Warm the milk in the microwave in 20 second increments until it is nice and warm. Stir it with a small spoon and feel it with your finger. It should be about 105-110 degrees F
, or about the temperature of nice bath water. If it feels at all HOT, stick it in the fridge until it cools down.
Add 1 tablespoon of yeast and 5 tablespoons granulated sugar and stir. Wait 5 minutes and check to make sure your yeast is getting bubbly. If not, you have killed your yeast; dump it and start over. Better to start over now than after hours of rising with no results!
Once you are certain that your yeast is alive and well, add two eggs to the measuring cup and whisk it all together until smooth.
Meanwhile, add 3 and 1/4 cups flour to a large bowl or stand mixer
. Make sure you spoon and level your flour. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt.
Add the wet ingredients to the flour in the bowl. Use the paddle attachment on your mixer (or regular beaters if you're using a hand mixer) and beat until combined, about 1 minute. Make sure to stop and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
With the mixer running on low or medium low, add 1 tablespoon of very soft butter at a time, until the entire 1/2 cup has been added in. Make sure each tablespoon of butter is fully incorporated before adding more butter. The process of adding in the butter should take a couple minutes at least.
Once all the butter is incorporated, beat on medium low speed for 5 minutes. The dough should be silky, smooth, and shiny. After 5 minutes, it will not have cleaned the sides of the bowl, but it should be formed together in a loose ball. It is VERY wet and not workable at all.
Grease a large bowl with butter or oil. Don't be stingy now.
Use a spatula to scrape the sweet dough into the greased bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 2 days. (Chilling is not optional. You won't be able to work with this dough until it is completely chilled!)
Make the caramel sauce: In a medium saucepan, melt 3/4 cup butter over medium heat. Add 1 and 1/2 cup brown sugar and stir until incorporated.
Turn off the heat. Add in 1/3 cup honey, 1/3 cup heavy cream, and 1/3 cup water. Add 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Whisk it all together until smooth. Try to break up any chunks of brown sugar. Set aside to cool to room temperature. You can put it in the fridge to speed this up. (You can make the caramel sauce up to 2 days ahead. Store covered in the fridge.)
Make the roll filling: Start by toasting the pecans so that they have time to cool before you sprinkle them on the rolls. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Chop your pecans into small or medium pieces (I actually just bought pre-chopped pecans from the store.) Spread evenly over a dry rimmed baking pan.
Bake at 350 for about 5-7 minutes, opening the oven at least once to toss them around with a spatula. You will know they are toasted when they become very fragrant. Keep a close eye on them, they go from toasted to burned quickly. Set aside to cool. (You are going to add HALF the pecans to the roll filling, and the other half to the caramel sauce; read on.)
In a medium bowl, combine 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/3 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Add in a dash of nutmeg if you like. Once the pecans have cooled, toss about HALF of them into the mixture. Reserve the other half of the pecans for later.
Prepare for rising: Bring a pot of water to a boil on the stove. Place an empty 9x13 inch pan on a bottom rack in your oven. Place another rack above it. Turn your oven on to 350 for about 3 minutes, then turn it off. Your rolls are going to rise in the oven with a water bath. (This way they rise in 45 minutes instead of 2 hours)
Add the caramel sauce that has cooled to a different 9x13 inch baking pan. Scrape it ALL in. I know it looks like a ton. It is. That's why these rolls are so good. Tilt the pan so that the sauce coats the sides of the pan, or use a spoon or brush. (The sauce is greasing the pan, so make sure you coat it well.) Sprinkle with all the remaining pecans. Don't mix. (see photo) Set aside.
Roll out the dough:
Prepare a work surface with a generous dusting of flour. I love to roll out dough on my pastry cloth
, it makes it so easy.
Scrape the chilled dough onto the flour and knead it together a couple times with your hands. Press it out into a rectangle with your hands, then use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a large rectangle. It should be about 1/4 inch thick if not a little thicker. It should measure about 12 inches by 16-18 inches. It doesn't have to be exact.
Sprinkle the sugar and pecan mixture evenly over the dough.
Roll up the dough, starting from the long edge. As you roll, use your hands to smooth out the dough from the center to make the roll even (so that the center of your roll is not way thicker than the edge of your roll.)
Use your fingers to seal the roll.
Use a very long and sharp serrated knife to cut the dough into 12 slices, about 1 and 1/2 inches each. Use a sawing motion. Dip your knife in flour in between cuts. The dough is pretty sticky on the inside. If you waited too long and your rolled up dough is too soft to cut, transfer carefully to the freezer for 20 minutes and try again.
Place each roll in the prepared pan. Yep, straight into the deep caramel bath.
Once all the rolls are in the pan, generously spray some plastic wrap with nonstick spray, and cover the rolls. Do NOT forget to spray the plastic wrap. Do NOT use a tea towel. The dough is pretty sticky, and if your cover sticks to them, it will ruin your beautiful rise when you try to take it off. No, I'm not at all bitter that this happened to me on one of my test runs, why do you ask??
Pour the boiling water that you have on the stove into the empty 9x13 inch pan
that's on the lower rack in your oven. Make sure that you remembered to turn off the oven. It should be nice and warm but NOT HOT. You want the rolls to rise, not cook. If you accidentally left your oven on too long, leave the door open and let it cool down. If the racks are too hot to touch with your fingers, don't put the rolls in the oven. Let them start rising on top of the oven and put the rolls in when the oven has cooled a bit.
Let the covered rolls rise with the water bath for about 30 minutes. They should be nice and puffy. Don't open the oven door, not once, or you will lose your steam.
After 30 minutes of rising in the steam, remove the rolls and the pan of water from the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Let the rolls continue rising out of the oven in a warm spot (on top of or near the heating oven, if possible) for another 15 minutes. The rolls should rise for a minimum of 45 minutes.
Once the rolls are quite puffy and have just about doubled in size, bake at 350 for about 35-45 minutes. Cover the rolls with a sheet of foil in the last 15-20 minutes of baking.
The rolls should be dark golden on top when fully baked. The best way to know if the rolls are done in the middle is to use a thermometer: the center of the rolls should be 190 degrees F.
Let the rolls cool in the pan for about 20 minutes. At this point you can either invert the entire pan onto a platter (enlist help, or at least moral support) or remove the rolls one by one. The rolls should be served bottom-side-up. Devour with a large glass of milk!
These rolls will keep for about 2 days, covered and stored on the counter. They are best served on the first day though.