Sweet potato pecan rolls give the cinnamon roll a much-needed fall makeover

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Does your family have the Great Pie Debate every fall? Mine certainly does. The main contenders are Team Apple vs. Team Pumpkin — and, although there are no real losers in a dessert battle (more for everyone, right?), we should open up the field a bit. There’s room for all the lovely fall flavors, isn’t there? And even though autumn is (and should be) all about comfort, stepping slightly out of your comfort zone to try something new is always refreshing. Enter: the sweet potato pecan roll.

Sweet potato pecan rolls

Sweet potatoes have long been stars of desserts across the South (a friend of mine is famous for saying that his favorite kind of pumpkin pie is sweet potato). They’re often found under a cloud of marshmallows at Thanksgiving, but they really deserve to be as ubiquitous as pumpkin in the fall. Bright orange, easy to make, and full of vitamins: What’s not to love?

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These sweet potato pecan rolls have all the ooey-gooey deliciousness of a traditional cinnamon roll, but with the mellow smoothness of sweet potato and crunch of pecan in every bite. Usually, cinnamon rolls are made with a milk-based brioche dough, but I went with a challah base instead to leave room for the natural sugars in the sweet potato. The result is a golden-hued dough that is sweet but not too sweet, and plenty sturdy enough to hold all the tasty goodness inside. 

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If you’ve never made cinnamon rolls before, the process can seem a bit complicated, but none of the steps are all that difficult. You’ll start off by making the dough (I used a mixer, but you can do this by hand if you want an arm workout) and then rolling out big, flat rectangles to fill with brown sugar, sweet potato and tons of pecans. Then, you’ll roll them up and slice them to reveal those gorgeous golden swirls inside. Nestle them into baking dishes and pop them in the oven. While they cook, get to work on your frosting if you feel so inclined. Just make sure you let the sweet potato buns cool before frosting them, or it’ll slide right off.

To enjoy these sweet potato pecan rolls for breakfast, make them the night before. (Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, will be to make sure some are actually left in the morning.) They’re a wonderful way to welcome out-of-town guests, a perfect treat to finish off brunch, or even a great way to perk up a Monday.

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This recipe makes a dozen large rolls that keep for up to four days in an airtight container. The sweet potato in the dough and filling helps keep the rolls moist. Just make sure to hold off on frosting until you’re ready to serve (or devour) them.

Sweet potato pecan rolls

Sweet potato pecan rolls

Yield 12 rolls



  • 1-1/4 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola
  • 1 egg + 2 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato (room temperature)
  • 6-8 cups all-purpose flour


  • 2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potato
  • 1-1/3 cups brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 3 cups pecans (or to taste)


  • 1 stick butter

Cream cheese frosting: 

  • 1 stick room temperature butter
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. In large bowl, stir yeast into warm water and let sit for about 10 minutes or until bubbly.
  3. Stir in honey, oil, egg and yolks, salt and sweet potato until well combined.
  4. Add flour 1 cup at a time, allowing mixer to fully incorporate each addition before adding more. If kneading by hand, start with 2 cups, then add 2 more, then go down to 1. (Dough should be smooth and elastic, and bounce back quickly when poked. It might still be sticky because of the sweet potato, but it shouldn’t be so sticky that pieces of it stick to your fingers.)
  5. Cover with dish towel and place in warm, draft-free space for about an hour and half, or until doubled in size. 
  6. Punch dough down. Divide in two and knead for about 5 minutes, adding more flour as necessary to prevent stickiness. 
  7. Roll each section of dough into rectangleabout 24 by 12 inches.
  8. Mix sweet potato, brown sugar and cinnamon for filling and spread evenly over 2 rectangles of dough, making sure to reach edges. Top generously with pecans.
  9. Starting from short side of dough, roll each rectangle into spiral, keeping all filling inside. With loose end down on counter (so gravity keeps roll closed), slice each roll into half, and then cut each half into thirds. Arrange 3 roll by 2 in 2 parchment-lined lasagna trays. You should have 2 trays of 6 rolls that fit comfortably with room to expand. Allow to rest for 20 minutes.
  10. Melt butter and spoon evenly over each roll, allowing some to drip down to bottom of pan. This helps keep rolls moist while crisping bottoms.
  11. Bake for 45-55 minutes until plump and golden brown. 
  12. For frosting, cream butter and cream cheese in mixer until well blended and smooth.
  13. Slowly add powdered sugar at low speed, 1/2 cup at a time. 
  14. Add vanilla and cinnamon. Beat at medium speed until reaching desired thickness. Add powdered sugar or a few drops of water as needed. 
  15. Allow sweet potato rolls to cool before frosting.


If you prefer buns without frosting, use a quick icing (about 1/2 teaspoon of water and 1 cup powdered sugar) and a dusting of orange zest to finish them nicely. 

Pair these sweet potato pecan rolls with our healthier pumpkin spice latte. Find the recipe in the video below.