Sweet Rolls with Cardamom and Orange Glaze

rolls with CardamomSweet

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom

When I began my first year away at college, I had heard about the dreaded “freshman fifteen”. It’s that bizarre anomaly that occurs the first time students go away to college and experience eating in the campus cafeteria where there’s not much that’s healthy, low calorie or pleasant tasting. Legend has it that most freshman will pack on fifteen pounds their first year. And sure enough, it happened to me. My mother claimed that when I came home for my winter break she hardly recognized me.

So do you know what the culprit was…Sweet Rolls. It was the one thing that the cafeteria at Rider University served that was actually edible. I used to eat them in mass quantities. So much so that the cafeteria ladies used to hide trays of them when they saw me coming so there would something left over for the other students. So that folks was how I began my lifelong obsession with the Sweet Roll.

Today I made these Sweet Rolls with Cardamom and Orange Glaze. This is not an overly sweet treat, they’re definitely more a roll than a pastry. I like to add cardamom which gives the roll a spicy-sweet taste and pairs very well with the orange glaze.

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom rising in the pan

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom 

Adapted from the LA Times

  • 2 packages of active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 teaspoons plus 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 – 4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons, softened butter
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins (or brown ones, doesn’t matter) re-hydrated
  • 1/2 cup nuts, roughly chopped (pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts or I used pistachios)
  • zest of 1 orange
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted


  1. Place 1/2 cup of warm water (between 105-115 degrees F) in a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Stir it to dissolve it and let it sit to get foamy.
  2. Take your raisins and place them in a bowl covered in warm water and let them sit until you’re ready to use them. This will hydrate them and plump them up. When ready to use, drain and pat them dry with a paper towel.
  3. In a small pan, heat the 1/2 cup of milk until just simmering, then add the butter and stir until it’s melted. Next, stir in 2 teaspoons of the cardamom, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Let this liquid mixture cool to about 110 degrees F.
  4. Pour this mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add the yeast mixture to it. Using the paddle attachment, beat in the eggs one at a time.  Now, change the paddle attachment to the dough hook and add 3 cups of flour to this mixture until dough is smooth. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides and bottom to incorporate all the flour.  Add more flour in small increments until the dough starts to come together. (I ended up using about 4 1/4 cups). Mix with the dough hook for about 5 minutes.  Lightly flour your surface, and with floured hands turn the dough out onto you board. Knead the dough until it becomes elastic.
  5. Take a large bowl (or large covered container) and spray it with cooking spray, or brush it lightly with oil.  Put the dough into the bowl, and turn it to coat it with the spray or oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough sit in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 1 1/2 – 2 hours.
  6. *Side Note: once the dough has risen, you can now punch it down and cover the bowl and put in the refrigerator overnight if you wish to make the rolls fresh for the next day. If you do that, the next day, take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit a room temperature for about an hour, punch down dough again, and roll out to make rolls.
  7. Punch down the dough, and roll it into a 20″ x 15″ rectangle. Make sure the dough is rolled out fairly thin, about 1/16″ so you don’t have overly “doughy” rolls.
  8. I melted my 3 tablespoons of butter in the microwave, in small time increments, just so that the butter became smooth enough to spread with a pastry brush or offset spatula but not so much that it was liquid. Spread the butter over the top of the dough. Whisk together the 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Sprinkle over the top of the dough. Sprinkle the raisins and nuts over the top also. Using a microplane, zest the orange over the top of the dough.
  9. Now the process may get a little tricky, so hang in there. Starting at the longer side of the rectangle, tightly roll the dough into a cylinder. If the dough became a little sticky a lightly brushed a little flour on top of it. I took a ruler and made little slit marks every 1  1/4″ so that I cut my slices all the same width so that they would bake evenly.  Then place the cut rolls into a 9″ x 13″ buttered or sprayed baking dish. Cover with plastic and let rise until they double in size, about one hour. Place in a preheated 350 degree F oven, and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. I rotated my pan after 15 minutes. Let cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes.
  10. To make the glaze: Sift 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl and add just enough fresh orange juice to bring the sugar to a good drizzling consistency. Mix with a whisk or fork. Drizzle over the buns. You can also sprinkle some more chopped nuts on top if you like.
Sweet Rolls with Cardamom

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom

Mama’s Tips: 

If the rolls are browning too quickly on top, cover the top lightly with a piece of foil. You still want the rolls to bake all the way through and not be doughy inside.

If your room where you’re baking is cool, while the dough is rising, I take my bowl that’s covered in plastic wrap and wrap it in a bath bowl to keep the bowl warm to encourage rising.

Many times when I’m using raisins in my baking, I will re-hydrate them to plump them up because I think they taste better. You can rehydrate them in just warm water, simple syrup, orange juice or wine. Either way, I think they come out real tasty!

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom

Recipe: Intermediate

The Big Sweet

Everything about Larry is big.  Big smile, big heart, big ideas, and he’s six-foot three to boot.  He’s the husband of my best friend Carol, and I’ve known him for two decades now. They came out to Los Angeles for business and they spent the week staying with us.  We always  have fun. And, it’s always about food! They like to cook and eat as much as I do.

Larry’s specialty of the house is Sweet Rolls. I thought mine were good, but honestly, his are better. As we sat around my kitchen table today talking, I asked him where an ex-college football player and total sports fanatic learned the delicate process of the yeast dough.

1963. That’s when his love of all things baked began. But it came out of sadness. He told me that in June of 1963, he lost his grandfather, the patriarch of their mid-western family. And then, in October of 1963 he lost his father, the back-bone of the family to complications from a minor knee surgery.   Finally, in November of 1963, Larry and the rest of America lost President Kennedy. All the strong male role-models in his life were suddenly gone. His mother Edith, was now alone and had four children in the home to care for.

Larry told me how lonely he felt at that time in his life and how baking with his mother was a way they could spend good, quality time together. He described the 50-pound cloth sacks of flour his mother kept in the kitchen of their home in Cadott, Wisconsin. He said she baked everything, cakes, cookies, breads and pies. There was always something in the oven. But the Sweet Rolls held a special place in his heart. With that Big Larry smile of his, he told me how his mom would time the baking of the Sweet Rolls to come out of the oven at exactly half-time, as he and his brothers and  sisters watched their beloved Green Bay Packers on the family’s television.

So I got him to share Edith’s Sweet Roll’s recipe with me, and now I’m passing it on to you.

Edith’s Sweet Rolls

2 cups warm water (about 100 degrees)

2 packages of active dry yeast

2 lightly beaten eggs

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup melted crisco

pinch salt

5 cups all purpose flour

2 sticks butter

2 1/2 cups brown sugar

1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

1 tsp. cinnamon

In a large mixing bowl combine 2 cups warm water with 2 packages of yeast, mixing thoroughly to dissolve. Let sit for 10 minutes. Beat the two eggs lightly and then add to the yeast mixture.

Add 1/4 cup sugar to yeast mixture. Add 1/4 cup melted crisco and pinch of salt to yeast mixture.  Gradually add 5 cups of flour to yeast mixture stirring with wooden spoon until all flour is incorporated.

Turn dough out onto a lightly flour surface and  form dough into a ball.  Place dough ball back in bowl and cover with tea towel or plastic wrap to rise for 90 minutes in a warm, draft free spot.

Prepare the pan: In a large, rectangular baking pan,  pour 1 stick of melted butter over the surface of the baking pan. You can use pastry brush to brush the butter over the surface of the pan.  Sprinkle 1 cup of the brown sugar over the surface of the pan.  Add 1/2 cup of chopped pecans, sprinkled evenly over the surface.  Set pan aside.

When dough has risen, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to about 1/2″ thickness into a rectangle.

Melt the other stick of butter and brush it onto the surface of the rolled out dough. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar, 1 cup of chopped pecans and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon over surface of the dough.

Starting at the long end of the rectangle, gently roll loosely into a long cylinder.

Using a serrated knife, slice pieces 1″ thick.  Place your 1″ slices loosely in the baking pan and cover and place in a warm, draft free spot to rise for another 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place on center rack in oven.  Bake for about 30-35 minutes until golden brown on top. Do not over bake as the brown sugar can burn. I usually start checking at about 25 minutes as all ovens are different.

Take a foil covered cookie sheet and place on table. When rolls are done, remove from oven and holding on both sides of the baking pan, flip the pan over onto the prepared cookie sheet releasing all the rolls onto the cookie sheet. Using rubber spatula, drizzle remaining brown sugar syrup over the rolls. We ate them right out of the oven.

Makes about 24 rolls.