Sweet roll dough is actually a type of brioche. The term brioche refers to a yeast bread dough that’s enriched with fat (typically butter, but shortening here), egg, and milk until it takes on a softer consistency and finer crumb.
The proportions of butter, milk and egg determine what characteristics you get in the final dough, but at the end of the day, the American pecan sticky bun is a close cousin to a French pain au chocolat–both are brioche doughs rolled around a filling.
A family recipe provided by Jennifer Kiel of Washington, DC, from her mother-in-law’s collection, started in Kent, Ohio.
Sweet Roll Dough
2 cakes yeast
1/4 c. lukewarm water
1 c. milk
1/4 c. shortening
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. grated lemon rind (optional)
2 eggs, beaten
5 c. all-purpose flour (about)
Crumble yeast in lukewarm water. (If dry yeast is used, the water should be a little warmer.) Scald milk. Place shortening, sugar, lemon rind in a bowl. Add milk and cool to lukewarm. Blend in beaten eggs and softened yeast. Sift flour and measure. Reserve 1/2 cup for the board. Add 2 cups to the yeast mixture and mix thoroughly. Add remaining flour to make a soft dough.
Turn out the dough on a lightly floured board or canvas and knead until smooth and satiny. (About 10 minutes.) Round into a smooth ball; placed in a lightly greased bowl. Grease surface lightly. Cover with a towel and set in a warm place free from drafts. (About 1 1/2 hours.) Punch down. Shape into rolls or coffee cake. Let rise until double in bulk (about 45 minutes). Bake at 375 degrees 25 minutes for rolls and 30 minutes for coffee cake.
Yesterdish reminder: Yeast cakes have the same volume of yeast as envelopes, two and a quarter teaspoons per cake/package. So if you’re measuring from a big container, well, there you are.