Bake Great Buns: National Sticky Bun Day

By Cristen Clark, Food & Swine

Editor’s Note: National Sticky Bun Day is observed annually on Feb. 21. Originally known as “schnecken” and still considered to be a Philadelphia specialty, it is believed that the sticky buns origin in the U.S. began in the 18th century when the German settlers brought baking tradition with them when they began settling near Pennsylvania. Famous cousins to the sticky bun are the cinnamon roll, caramel roll and monkey bread.

Several years ago, when I began my journey of motherhood and staying home to raise children and work on the farm, I fed my love of cooking for my family, one recipe after another. When I was free of children, I devoured cookbooks, reading them like novels, gleaning important information that would help me become better and more consistent in the kitchen. Something about baking was cathartic for me, and I did it whenever I could.

The first recipe I took on is the one that took me the longest to perfect: Sticky Buns. I’ll be the first to admit; my initial batch was the most horrific thing I’ve turned out of my kitchen until this day. They were harder than a hockey puck (I used old yeast, beginner mistake!), they had no flavor (I used old spices, oops!), and my Labrador Annie wouldn’t even eat one. This experience propelled me to a higher pants size and into the competitive world of contest cooking and baking. The next year I won a cinnamon roll contest, and since then, a version of this recipe has gained enough blue ribbons to have its own box. My secret ingredient in this recipe is mashed potatoes. The potato starch slightly disrupts the gluten network that develops when you knead the pastry dough (giving the buns their structure), leaving a more tender result. This recipe takes time, but is always worth it.

These classic buns make a fabulous centerpiece, and I won’t lie, they pair fantastically with slices of ham!

Sticky buns have a few basic requirements they need to meet in order to keep their name and notoriety.

Tips to make the best sticky buns, ever.

1. The foundation of a perfect sticky bun is excellent pastry dough. A sweet roll of any kind, shape or flavor must have excellent dough. Without flavorful, tender, featherlike dough, it doesn’t matter how great your caramel mixture is that enrobes that bun, the foundation of a sticky bun is the dough. (See above: mashed potatoes)

2. The caramel mixture has a balance of sweetness and has a “sticky” texture. The caramel mixture that drapes over the edges of the sticky bun is classic. These buns will be served “turned out” which means after baking, the pan will be removed from the oven and the rolls delicately turned out so the caramel drips over the top. The balance of caramel to soft, delicate pastry dough is key. Don’t be foolish and double the caramel recipe, more isn’t always better. Too much caramel, and your rolls will be smashed under the weight.

3. Toasted nuts make a richer flavor. If you choose to add nuts to your classic sticky bun, giving the dry nuts a pre-toast in a dry skillet will develop their flavors tremendously. Pro-tip: Try several nuts in the amount you are using to ensure they are not spoiled. Fresh is best here, or frozen will work well too.

Basic Baking Tools and Tips

Oven Thermometer: Buy one at the local hardware store and calibrate your oven’s temperature every few months.

Aluminum Pans: For cinnamon rolls, sticky buns and more, aluminum pans are best for baking. Glass and nonstick bakeware tend to bake up much hotter (potentially burning caramel on your sticky buns).

Digital Instant Read Thermometer: This purchase made my baking, cooking, grilling and smoking better. Temperatures of sticky buns in the center of the roll should be 185F before removing from oven.

Relax, read your recipe and have fun!

Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns

By Cristen Clark,

Yield: 12 very large rolls or 16-18 medium/large rolls

Ingredients for the dough:

  • 4 ½ tsp instant yeast (2 packets)
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 cup buttermilk (warmed to 115 degrees)
  • 6 TBSP salted butter, room temperature
  • 2 eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup creamy mashed potatoes
  • 1/4 cup nonfat milk powder
  • 5 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 6 TBSP salted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 TBSP ground cinnamon
  • 1 TBSP all purpose flour
  • Dash of salt

Mix in a small bowl: brown sugar, sugar, cinnamon, flour and salt. Set aside to use once dough is rolled out.

Ingredients for the caramel glaze:

  • 6 TBSP salted butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 TBSP heavy cream
  • 2 TBSP KARO light corn syrup
  • 1 TBSP honey
  • Dash of salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon


Combine all ingredients except cinnamon in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil for 30 seconds. Remove from heat, stir in cinnamon. Stir and divide glaze evenly between 3-8” cake pans.


  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 TBSP
  • Dash of salt

Toast pecans in butter and salt in skillet over medium heat, until fragrant. Chop and divide evenly over caramel glaze in 3-8” cake pans.

Dough Instructions:
Proof yeast with warm water and honey in a large mixing bowl until foamy. Add buttermilk, butter, eggs, sugar, salt, potatoes and dry milk powder, whisk well. Stir in flour. Add flour, stir until dough comes together. Turn out on floured surface, knead 8 minutes.

Place in greased bowl, flip dough over so both sides are well greased then cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise until double. (60-75 mins). Punch down dough. Let relax for 5 minutes.

On a lightly greased surface roll dough into 12×24-inch rectangle. Spread butter evenly over dough, evenly sprinkle filling on butter. Roll up long end to long end. Pinch seam at the end of the roll. Score the dough in 2 inch increments. Slide dental floss under roll. Bring up ends of floss and crisscross at the center and pull quickly, slicing through the dough. Place 4 slices each, cut side up in 3 well buttered 8” cake pans containing caramel filling and nuts. The rolls should not be touching at this point. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until double in size. (60-75 minutes) Remove plastic wrap.

Bake the rolls in a 350-degree oven for 24-28 minutes being sure the internal temperature is 185 degrees. Do not let the roll tops overbrown. Tent with foil during the last 10 minutes of baking if necessary.

Remove rolls from oven. Let rest a couple of minutes then invert onto serving plate. Serve warm.

TIP: If you want an easy roll-out, chill the dough after the first rise. It is much easier to roll out when it is chilled a few hours, or up to 24 hours!