This old-fashioned sticky buns recipe comes complete with a decadent caramel glaze and chopped pecans. Made completely from scratch with a make-ahead option, these are a wonderful choice for holiday brunches, weekend breakfasts, or an extra-special dessert.
Now that the chilly weather is right around the corner (hopefully? It’s supposed to be 90 here today, eek!), I wanted a caramel-y, cozy recipe and these sticky buns fit the bill.
For the longest time, I couldn’t go to the mall without being lured into the cinnamon roll shop by that all-too-familiar intoxicating aroma of butter, sugar, and cinnamon. Nearly impossible to walk away, am I right? Luckily, I started making homemade cinnamon rolls and didn’t need to practice self-restraint every time I went to the mall, but there was yet another recipe I wanted to master at home.
Let me introduce you to cinnamon roll’s tawdry cousin – the sticky bun.
Sticky Buns vs. Cinnamon Rolls
Sticky buns and cinnamon rolls start out as the exact same being – the same master dough recipe is used, and even the cinnamon-sugar filling is identical. Aaaaaand that’s where the similarities stop. Let’s go discuss the differences…
- Cinnamon rolls can be baked on a baking sheet or nestled together in a pan, and then covered in icing or glaze once they come out of the oven.
- Sticky buns, on the other hand, are baked on top of a butter, sugar, and corn syrup combination (with pecans!) that turns into an absolute dream caramel situation in the oven. Once they are finished baking, they are flipped upside-down so that all of the caramel they had been sitting in while baking is now drenching the top of them.
- And if you want to go one step further down the caramelized pastry rabbit hole, you must put kouign-amann on your baking list! It’s a fabulous hybrid of a sugared croissant and sticky bun.
I tested caramel glazes that were cooked and went into the pan in a liquid state, and this creamed-together mixture was, HANDS-DOWN, the absolute best at creating a wonderfully thick glaze that was the perfect consistency at both warm and room temperature.
Walking Through the Sticky Buns Recipe
Before you get the whole way down to the bottom and start reading the recipe, let’s give it a quick overview so you know what you’ll be doing:
- Make the Dough – This is an enriched dough with butter and egg, which means that it’s silky smooth and a dream to work with. It also means that the fat keeps it from rising quickly, which is why the rise times you’ll see below are slightly longer than other recipes you may have made with instant yeast. I also use bread flour in this recipe, as all-purpose flour created way too much “fluff” in the buns; a denser version is what I was after and the bread flour delivered.
- Allow the Dough to Rise – The dough needs to double in size and this can take upwards of 2 hours (see above as to why!).
- Make the Caramel Glaze – While the dough is rising, get the caramel glaze ready to go by creaming together butter, granulated sugar, white sugar, and corn syrup until light and fluffy. If you’re planning to use pecans, you can get them chopped up now, as well.
- Roll and Shape the Dough – Next, we’ll roll out the dough into a rectangle, sprinkle it with an obscene amount of cinnamon-sugar (yes, use it all!), roll it up, and cut it into rolls.
- Get Everything in a Pan – Spread the caramel glaze in your pan, sprinkle with pecans, then place the rolls on top, evenly spaced out.
- Rise #2! – Time to let those rolls puff up and smash into each other.
- Bake – Total bake time takes around 30 to 40 minutes (mine usually clock in right at the 35-minute mark), then let them cool in the pan for 5 minutes.
- Flip! – Take that pan and flip it over, either onto a serving platter or another pan (a rimmed half sheet pan is perfect). Scoop up any caramel glaze that runs off and plop it back on the top of the sticky buns. Allow them to cool a bit, then dig in while still warm or let them cool to room temperature.
Here in Pittsburgh, there is a popular local diner chain (Eat n’ Park); along with their meals, you receive two rolls – one a regular dinner roll and the other, a sticky bun (at least, that’s what they used to do; I haven’t been to one in years!). It’s always such a nice surprise to get to enjoy a pseudo dessert with dinner. In the event you want to get dessert, too… well, there are sticky buns for that! They are famous for their Grilled Stickies a la Mode – sticky buns topped with vanilla ice cream.
Biting into these sticky buns had me remembering the good ol’ days… Those early days in high school before we were old enough to drive when my friends and I would get dropped off at the movies, and then walk to Eat n’ Park for a bite to eat afterward. Then, we’d take turns using the pay phone (gasp!) to call our parents to tell them we were ready to be picked up.
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Sticky Buns Recipe
For the Dough:
- 6½ tablespoon (6.5 tablespoon) granulated sugar
- 5½ tablespoons (5.5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3½ cups (437.5 g) bread flour
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 cup (244 ml) + 2 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
For the Cinnamon Sugar:
- 6½ tablespoons (6.5 tablespoons) granulated sugar
- 1½ tablespoons (1.5 tablespoons) ground cinnamon
For the Caramel Glaze:
- 1 cup (227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
- ½ cup (110 g) light brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon (0.5 teaspoon) salt
- ½ cup (170.5 ml) light corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup (49.5 g) coarsely chopped pecans
- Cream together the sugar, butter, and salt on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment. Whip in the egg and vanilla extract until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed until the dough forms a ball. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
- Meanwhile, make the Caramel Glaze: In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and salt, and cream together for 2 minutes on high speed with the paddle attachment. Add the corn syrup and vanilla extract, and continue to cream for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
- Transfer the dough to the counter. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top of the dough with flour to keep it from sticking to the pin. Roll it into a rectangle 18 inches wide by 9 inches long. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough (use it all!), and roll the dough up with the long side facing you, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 12 even pieces.
- Coat the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish with the caramel glaze, then sprinkle the pecans evenly over the surface. Lay the pieces of dough cut-side-up on top of the caramel glaze, evenly spaced throughout the pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size.
- Make-Ahead Note: Instead of the second rise, you can place the shaped buns in the refrigerate for up to 2 days, pulling the pan out of the refrigerator 3 to 4 hours before baking to allow the dough to proof at room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and adjust the oven rack to the lowest shelf.
- Bake the sticky buns for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool the buns in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes, and then remove them by flipping them over onto another pan or serving platter. Carefully scoop any run-off glaze back over the buns with a spatula. Wait at least 20 minutes before serving. The sticky buns are best eaten the day of baking but can be stored, covered, at room temperature for up to 2 days (see notes below on reheating).
- While you may substitute all-purpose flour for the bread flour, know it will produce a slightly different texture than what you see here.
- The corn syrup is a key ingredient in getting the exact right texture for the caramel glaze and I don’t recommend making any substitutions.
- Make-Ahead Note: You can prepare the sticky buns through placing the rolls into the pan, then cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days before baking. Bring to room temperature prior to baking as directed in the recipe.
- Once the sticky buns have cooled to room temperature, I recommend a quick reheat in the microwave for 10 seconds for optimal enjoyment :)
Update Notes: This recipe was originally published in May 2012; it was updated in October 2019 with new photos, a video, and extensive better recipe instructions.
[photos by Ari of Well Seasoned]