In the snowy depths of wintery February, I like to think that Valentine’s Day comes along to warm our hearts with homemade cards, paper mâché roses and sweet treats of rich chocolate, creamy caramel and crunchy toasted nuts. Actually, I do more than think about it; I bake! Why just dream when you can create? There is this decadent little product out there called Nutella. People LOVE it; some love it so much they won’t keep it in their houses for fear of losing all reserve and devouring the entire jar, spoon by spoon. But really, the magical blend of dark chocolate and hazelnuts is easy enough to make on your own with better ingredient control and can be used in a million ways such as in the filling for these not-as-sweet-as-you’d-think spiral rolls.
Indeed, chewy Medjool dates, dark chocolate and toasted hazelnuts never tasted so good. Unless, of course, you take these flavors over the top and add a salted caramel drizzle inside and atop each spiral roll. Which, of course, I did… This Salted Caramel Sauce is from the famous cookbook Ovenly by Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin. I’ve mentioned this resource before when I was making a birthday cake for my friend Elizabeth and topped it with Ovenly’s never-fail buttercream. This easy (not kidding) Salted Caramel Sauce can be made up to a week in advance and kept in the fridge. Your only problem will be keeping it that long—lock the bowl.
And a note: if this recipe looks slightly familiar, it should. Back in May 2021 we were baking spiral roles with rye, cheddar and in-season stinging nettles—nearly the same yeast roll recipe but a totally different happy ending. This recipe is inspired by The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen, a green-gal go-to for years.
- One cup heavy cream, divided into half cups
- One-fourth cup evaporated cane syrup or your favorite white sugar
- One-fourth cup packed light brown sugar
- Four tablespoons unsalted butter
- Three tablespoons agave syrup (Ovenly uses light corn syrup, but I prefer organic blue agave syrup. Up to you.)
- One-quarter teaspoon sea salt
- Seeds from one-half a vanilla bean pod (I usually use the seeds from the whole pod; then, I store the empty pod in sugar in a tightly sealed jar. Next time I bake I have vanilla sugar.)
- One and one-fourth cups warm water, about 110 degrees
- Two packets yeast
- A drop of unsulfured blackstrap molasses
- One cup all-purpose flour
- One cup whole wheat flour
- One quarter cup melted and cooled unsalted butter
- One beaten egg
- Two teaspoons salt
- One-third cup honey
- One cup all-purpose flour
- Two cups whole wheat flour
- One-half cup bread flour
- One-half cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
- One-half cup finely chopped dark chocolate
- One-half cup finely chopped soft Medjool dates
- Two tablespoons melted unsalted butter
- Three tablespoons Salted Caramel Sauce
- Extra Salted Caramel Sauce for drizzle
- Combine one-half cup of heavy cream, the sugars, butter, agave and salt in a heavy saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat, whisking to combine as the ingredients melt. Bring this mixture to a rolling boil and continue to cook and whisk for about five minutes, until tan bubbles appear and the caramel has turned dark brown and thickened to a nearly paste-like consistency. Whisk vigorously to check the consistency. A slightly singed smell and a paste-like consistency are your cues that it is time to remove from heat and move on to the next step. Or you can use a candy thermometer to register 250 degrees. Either way will work.
- Remove the saucepan from heat and whisk in the remaining cream and vanilla bean seeds. Then, return the saucepan to the heat source and cook and whisk vigorously on a low simmer, smoothing out the caramel sauce, about 45 seconds.
- Immediately pour into a heat-proof jar or bowl. Let the sauce cool completely; then, cover tightly and refrigerate for up to a week. You can also freeze for a month or so. Makes one and one-half cups.
- Start with your sponge: place the warm water in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top—this is your proof—your way of knowing that the yeast is fresh and alive. Drop in the tiny speck of molasses and let everything settle in for about five minutes. The mixture should start to bubble a bit and thicken.
- Beat in the first two cups of flour (all-purpose and wheat flour) until everything is incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and top with a clean towel; place somewhere warm and draft free for about an hour.
- Melt the butter, cool slightly and beat in the egg and the honey. Beat everything together and add this mixture to the risen sponge—the sponge should have risen twice its size and be poufy. Beat well. I like a wooden spoon for this, but some folks like a sturdy rubber spatula. Your choice.
- Gradually begin to add in the remaining flours to the mix. Use all the wheat and all-purpose flour. Then add in one-half cup of the bread flour tablespoon by tablespoon. At this point, you have probably put the wooden spoon down and are just using your hands; your dough should have formed a manageable ball that can be transferred to a well-floured work surface. Knead the dough for 15 to 20 minutes, maybe even a bit longer. To keep it from sticking, add in, tablespoon by tablespoon, a little more all-purpose flour. Remember, the more flour, the tougher the dough can become.
- Once you have a smooth, puffy dough ball that has become somewhat elastic and much less tacky, place your well-kneaded dough in a large clean bowl that has been coated with olive oil. Turn the dough ball to coat it all over. Cover with your sheet of plastic wrap and tuck your clean kitchen towel around it. Place somewhere warm and cozy for about an hour to 90 minutes. It should double in size and will hold the indentation of your finger when it is ready to move on to shaping.
- While the dough rises, make your filling. Toast whole hazelnuts in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes until fragrant. Chop to make one-half cup—the dark skins should just rub off before you chop. Chop the chocolate and add to the nuts. Pit and chop the dates, adding these to the nut and chocolate mixture. You can use a processor on pulse for the chocolate and nuts for this if you wish. However, you want a fairly fine chop, not a paste. The dates work better if done by hand—I like to use my kitchen shears.
- When your dough has risen sufficiently, gently punch it down and turn it back out on your floured work surface. Knead another 10 minutes or so. Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, while keeping the other half covered and protected from drying out, form it into a sort of oblong shape and use a rolling pin to roll it out into an approximate oval-rectangle. (Just as you would if you were making a loaf for bread pans.) See photos at the end of the post.
- Using a pastry brush, coat the rectangle’s surface with a combination of melted butter and the three tablespoons of caramel sauce. Be generous and don’t worry about it running off a bit or being sticky. In the center of the rectangle, make a thin mounded line of your filling mixture. Now, beginning at one end, carefully and tightly roll the rectangle toward the opposite end to form a log. Tuck the filling in and under the roll as you go, spreading it a bit side to side so that every roll gets some filling. If the filling tries to escape, just tuck it back in or pop it in your mouth. Yum.
- With a sharp serrated knife, slice off your rolls at about one-inch intervals, ending with approximately 12 spiral rolls per each of the two logs. If there is extra filling you’ll just have to eat it somehow. Damn. And note: the ends of your logs will be less yummy than the interior rolls—so maybe save those for extra snacking with butter and honey, keeping the center rolls for company and presentation.
- Place each roll on a parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet—at least 9 x 13. The rolls may crowd together a bit as they rise but that’s ok. You will be able to pull them apart once they are baked.
- Cover your rolls with the piece of plastic wrap you have been using—might need a bit more. Cover with the kitchen towel and place back in that warm cozy spot for about another hour. Timing during each rise depends entirely on the heat and humidity in your kitchen. What you are looking for is a doubling in size. And note that my spirals are never uniform, so don’t sweat the small stuff.
- When your rolls are ready, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. I like to place the bottom of my broiler pan on the lowest rack in the oven to heat up, too. I put the kettle on and have boiling water at the ready.
- If you wish you can brush the top of the raw rolls with some melted butter for a glossy finish while your oven heats up. Once you have your tray in the oven, quickly and carefully—using hot pads—pull out the hot broiler pan and pour in the boiling water to create a professional steam infusion. Shut the door to the oven quickly so nothing escapes.
- Bake the rolls for 15 to 20 minutes. I go closer to 20. Then, remove from the oven and slide out of the tray and onto cooling racks. You should wait at least a half-hour before eating. This will be hard. But if patience perseveres, you can use your wait time to heat a little more of your caramel sauce and drizzle atop your cooled rolls. Worth the wait!
The prep time includes all the rising times, as well as the actually working of the dough. The recipe assumes you are making the caramel sauce ahead, which takes about 40 minutes total.
Step By Step Spirals:
The photos above illustrate the consistency you are looking for in the filling, how to shape and fill the rolled-out dough, and the cut rolls ready for their final rise.
These rolls, while delicious, can be made without the caramel sauce, even without the filling. They are light and yeasty and perfectly delicious with butter and honey. You can also make two loaves of honey wheat bread instead of rolls, if that’s easier. Once you roll out your rectangle, delete the filling step and roll the rectangles up into two logs. Seal the bottom and side seams well, place the two logs in well-greased loaf pans. Once the loaves have risen and are slightly over the top of the loaf pans, bake them at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes. Turn out on baking racks immediately to cool. Professional insider tip: loaves cool best on their sides.
Of course, if you really want to treat your valentine diners, you can make a little homemade valentine to go with your sweet treats. A recipe makes a great gift, too! I made this bread recipe card to accompany my delivery of Sweetheart Spirals to my friends George and Sally. That homemade valentine is the “hallmark” of true friendship, I think. (smile)
More heart-felt recipes from this blog include a nutty, fruited chocolate bark, Chocolate-Cherry Love Muffins, Man Cookies (with bacon and jalapeño jam), and Chocolate Custard Pie (from my friend Jane). No excuses…it’s time to whip up some romance!