Who doesn’t love cinnamon buns? Here we turn the rich, gooey goodness into wreaths, fragrant Christmas morning treats perfect before or after opening the stockings. The rich butter layered with maple cinnamon sugar and pecans yields enough to make two wreaths – one for your own family and the other to give to the neighbors. Of course, it makes beautiful buns, too, or you can make a wreath for Christmas morning and buns to last through New Year’s morning (except they won’t).
1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
¼ cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
2 cups whole milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
7 ½ to 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Vegetable oil, for greasing
½ cup pure maple syrup
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons whole milk
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Make the Dough: In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and set it aside for 10 minutes to grow.
In a small saucepan, heat the milk to just before boiling; Turn off the heat: add the butter, sugar, and salt and stir to combine. Let cool to lukewarm. (You can test by dipping in your finger – if it is too hot to touch, it is too hot for the yeast. If you can just barely feel the heat, it is ready to combine with the yeast.)
Add the milk mixture to the bowl with the yeast. Add 3 cups of the flour and the eggs, mixing well with a wooden spoon or a handheld mixer fitted with a dough hook. Keep adding the flour, cup by cup, until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Test it by pressing in two fingers; if the indentation immediately fills, it is ready.
Place in a bowl lightly greased with oil, turning once to coat the dough with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap (to keep the dough moist and warm) and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 ½ hours.
Make the Filling: While the dough is rising, in a small bowl, stir together maple syrup, brown sugar and cinnamon.
Once the dough has doubled, punch it down and divide it in half. Cover and let rest again for 10 minutes. Roll each half into a 15 x 7-inch rectangle, about ½ inch thick. Rub with the softened butter and sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon-sugar mixture (reserving a few tablespoons) and the pecan pieces.
Beginning with one long side, roll up each rectangle. Seal the edge by pressing the dough together. Form each into a ring, and place each one on parchment paper set on a baking sheet. With scissors, cut 1-inch sections three-quarters of the way into the circles, keeping each piece intact at the center. Twist the pieces outward to show the swirl interior facing up to form a wreath. Adjust the dough on the baking sheets to get it the way you will want it to look when baked. If you would like rolls instead, cut the pieces all the way through and place them swirl side up in a greased muffin tin.
Let everything rise again until almost doubled in volume (about45 minutes). Just before baking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Brush the wreaths or rolls with more softened butter and sprinkle with the reserved cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake wreaths for 35 minutes and rolls for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly on a rack before slicing and serving.
Make the icing, if desired: While the wreaths or rolls are cooling in a small bowl, combine the sugar, milk, and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Drizzle over the top of the cinnamon wreaths or buns.
Makes 2 Wreaths or 12 Buns