One of my favorite childhood Christmas memories is of enjoying Grandma’s Caramel Sticky Twists at Christmas breakfast every year. Seriously, the anticipation of them was almost as great as the presents awaiting us under the tree.
We only got these amazing sweet treats this one time a year. We would awake at 5 a.m. and get to open one present from our stockings before dad went to the barn for chores. We would then spend the next couple of hours doing our best to distract ourselves with movies until dad got home. We would then resume with the rest the presents in our stockings, and then sit down to a breakfast featuring this special treat Grandma had lovingly made and delivered to us.
As a kid, it was a total mystery to me how Grandma pulled off these mini miracles. All I knew is they were a multi-day effort and required some heavy duty equipment (a stand mixer).
The reality is that while they are certainly an effort, they are not impossible. The hardest part was reading between the lines, so to speak, of the old-school style recipe, which leaves a fair amount to the imagination on certain steps. After taking a go at it myself, I have added some critical details for your benefit.
Like a bread, plan to start this project at least a day in advance by preparing your dough and allowing it to rise overnight. Then get some rest; you’re going to have a busy next day!
When you’re ready to roll, start by preparing your caramel walnut coating. Layer your baking sheets with the melted butter and brown sugar concoction and set aside.
Next, get the filling ready by mixing together your cinnamon and brown sugar and dividing between three small bowls, one for each section of dough you’re going to work with next.
Now comes the fun part. Split your dough into three parts and roll each out to roughly the size of your baking sheets, about 15 x 10.” Think of the dough as a piece of standard printer paper, oriented to landscape, and visualize the page divided into three columns. Spread the middle column with butter and sprinkle with half of one of your bowls of the brown sugar and cinnamon filling.
Fold the one of the outside columns of dough over the center (I folded the left side over here). Then spread the top of that folded layer with butter and sprinkle with the rest of your first bowl of filling.
Fold the last column (in this case, the right hand side) over the top so you have a nice three-layered packet. Press together lightly to seal.
Slice your dough packet parallel to the short edge into roughly 1″ wide pieces. You should get about 10 strips; mine are a bit wider than grandma’s made so I ended up with less. Twist a couple of times and press the ends firmly together into a fan. I pushed the ends against my work surface to stick there for a while and help “train” the dough to stay in place.
Once you’re done slicing and twisting, place the twists on top of your caramel sauce on the baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. Rinse and repeat (do the whole roll, butter, sprinkle, fold, cut twist process again) with the remaining two parts of dough.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and puffy. Have a work surface prepared to flip the twists onto. Warning, this part can be messy and dangerous with the hot liquid. I recommend pulling a piece of foil over the top of the pan, lightly sealing around the edges, and then flipping over to help keep everything contained. Let the pan sit upside down for a minute or so to let the yummy sticky caramel goodness drip all over the twists before you remove the pans.
You will be tempted to dig right in, but for the sake of your poor fingers and tongue, please wait until they have cooled a bit! The caramel is dangerously hot.
I will say that despite my best efforts, I wasn’t entirely successful in recreating Grandma’s treats. I expect she had some other tricks up her sleeve that she developed over the years. I don’t expect to ever reach Grandma’s level, frankly. All I can do is do my best and do my part keep the tradition alive. Hope this becomes a holiday tradition for you now, too. Enjoy!
Grandma’s Christmas Sticky Twists
- 4 ½ c. sifted flour
- ¼ c. sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- ¾ c. butter, cut into small pieces for easier blending
- 1 pkg. active dry yeast
- ¼ c. warm water
- 3 egg yolks, beaten
- 1 c. milk, scaled and cooled to lukewarm
- 2/3 c. butter
- ¼ c. light corn syrup
- 1 ½ c. light brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1 c. chopped walnuts
- ½ c. brown sugar
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- butter, softened (for spreading)
- In large bowl, mix flour, sugar and salt. Cut in butter until combined and clumps are size of small peas.
- Dissolve yeast in warm water.
- Transfer flour mixture into bowl of stand mixer fit with dough hook attachment. Add yeast mixture, along with beaten egg yolks and milk. Beat on medium speed until thoroughly mixed and smooth, forming a thick ball of dough at the center of the bowl.
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator overnight.
- When ready to bake, begin preparing caramel coating by melting butter in small saucepan. Stir in the corn syrup.
- Pour butter sauce in the bottom of 2- 10×15 in. jelly roll pans or rimmed baking sheets, coating the bottom of each pan. Sprinkle 2/3 c. brown sugar and ½ c. walnuts (half in each) evening over the syrup in each of the two pans.
- Prepare the filling by mixing the ½ c. brown sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon in a small bowl; divide into 3 equal portions, one each for each portion of dough.
- Cut dough into three equal parts. Roll out each third of dough into a rectangle, approx.. 15×10” in size. Brush the middle third (of 15” length) with soft butter, sprinkle with half of one of the portions of the filling mixture.
- Fold one third of the rectangle over the buttered / sugared middle section. Spread another layer of soft butter and sprinkle with remaining half of filling over top of this section.
- Fold the other third of the rectangle over the top of the two layers and press gently together.
- Cut the layered dough crosswise (the short side) into strips about 1” wide.
- Grasp the ends of each strip and twist in opposite directions, to form a spiral twist. Pinch each end firmly and seal in a fan shape, pressing the ends into the work surface to hold the dough in place and keep its shape while you finish forming the other twists. Place dough twists in pan about 1” apart.
- Repeat the entire rolling, buttering, sprinkling, folding, and twisting process with the remaining 2 parts of dough. Arrange and fill both baking pans.
- Allow the twists to rest and rise in the pan for about 30 mins in a warm place free from any drafts.
- While the rough is rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for about 20-25 mins, or until golden brown.
- Remove from oven and immediately invert pans over cutting boards or baking racks topped with large sheets of foil. (TIP: put aluminum foil over pans, seal lightly around the edges BEFORE you invert them to keep all the syrup and walnuts from falling out and seeping over the workspace.)
- Allow pans to sit inverted for about 1 minute before removing the pan. WARNING: be very careful with this step; caramel coating will be VERY HOT when first out of the oven.
- Allow the twists to cool before serving.
Twists can be kept refrigerated in airtight containers for a couple of days. They can also be frozen for up to a month. When packing in containers, place a piece of parchment paper between each layer to avoid sticking.
Yields: approx. 25-30 twists
In loving memory of Grandma Phillis Borden
1927 – 2018