How to Make Sticky Buns: A Definitive Guide

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Is there any dessert more mouth-watering than sticky buns? Not only do they have an incredible savory taste that coats your mouth in sticky goodness, but the texture – light and fluffy while at the same time decadent – is just amazing. I know that they’re one of my favorites, and lots of other people love them too. That’s why I wrote up this post explaining in detail how you can make your own sticky buns from scratch.

But, before you start, treat yourself to an Artful Latte, something to sip while you bake.

About Sticky Buns

These Easy Caramel Apple Cider Sticky Buns melt in your mouth and taste like Fall! With my quick 1-hour version, there's no reason not to make these today!!

What is the Difference Between a Cinnamon Roll and a Sticky Bun?

The biggest difference is the time at which the sweet glaze is added to the recipe.

In a sticky bun recipe, the glaze (usually consisting of a sticky syrupy ingredient like caramel or maple syrup and a harder ingredient like nuts) is added to the bottom of the baking pan before the dough. Once the dough cooks on top of the sticky glaze, the pan is inverted so the glaze acts as a topping, much of which seeps into the freshly baked buns.

Cinnamon rolls, on the other hand, are basically just sweetened buns with a separately-prepared glaze drizzled over them after baking. They’re certainly easier to prepare than sticky buns, but the glaze often doesn’t permeate the buns as deeply since the flavor cannot bake into the buns.

Working with Yeast

Yeast is closer to magical than any other cooking ingredient out there. It starts off small, but it rises and expands at a seemingly impossible clip to make baked goods fluffy and delicious. But the reason for that is because it is actually an organism with very specific needs to thrive and grow. As baker’s we can use that growth to our advantage in recipes. But that also means treating yeast with great care in order for it to work properly.

The first thing to remember is that most yeast needs to be “proofed” before use in order for it to rise properly. That usually means stirring the yeast into a hot liquid like water or milk for a few minutes to wake it up. Note that a lot of store bought baking dough contains instant yeast, which does not need to be proofed. If you’re preparing the dough using traditional baker’s yeast, though, proofing is absolutely essential.

The second thing to remember is that yeast needs to feed while it is rising. Its favorite food is sugar, so make sure it is mixed with a sugary substance. Salt has exactly the opposite effect as sugar, counteracting the rising effect of yeast. Dough recipes will often call for just a little salt, but adding more than that tiny bit will stop the yeast from rising.

Try to keep the yeast warm while it’s rising for maximum effect, especially during the first hour or so of the rising process.

How to Make Sticky Buns

This post is about preparing sticky buns from scratch. That means no pre-made cookie doughs, no pre-mixed syrups, no instant yeast. Making things from scratch is more labor-intensive, but it’s totally worth it, especially with delicate foods like sticky buns. I promise you that, if you make them correctly, these from-scratch sticky buns will be on another level than anything you could get at a bakery or grocery store.

Also, I feel that baking from scratch is where the hobby gets really fun. The foods never come out exactly the same twice like they might with recipes, and you just feel a greater sense of freedom and independence in the kitchen when you’re not following a strictly pre-determined guide. I hope you agree!

What You’ll Need to Make Sticky Buns

For the dough, you’ll need flour, baker’s yeast, sugar, a little bit of salt, milk, butter, and eggs. Many recipes call for a spice like cinnamon, cacao powder, or orange zest to add to the dough. If you’re lost on the proportions of each ingredient you should add, stick to recipes until you get a good feel for how much of each ingredient goes into sticky buns.

For the powdery filling, you’ll need a bunch of butter and brown sugar. You’ll also want to add another dry ingredient like cinnamon to give it a distinct flavor.

For the sweet syrup to pour on top, you’ll melt together a lot of butter, brown sugar, and honey, often adding a bit of a chopped harder ingredient like toasted pecans. You’ll also want to add a little corn syrup or corn syrup substitute, because it will work to keep the syrup soft even after it cools a bit.

In terms of cookware, you don’t need anything too fancy to make sticky buns! As long as you have an electric mixer, lots of bowls for combining ingredients, a saucepan, and a baking dish, you’ll be good to go!

Sticky Bun Preparation

These Easy Caramel Apple Cider Sticky Buns melt in your mouth and taste like Fall! With my quick 1-hour version, there's no reason not to make these today!!

Step 1. The very first step is beating together the yeast with some warm water and sugar. Remember that the warm water will “proof the yeast,” and the sugar will give it food to do its rising thing. After combining the three ingredients, let them sit for a few minutes. This step is absolutely key to the rest of the recipe, so don’t forget it!

Step 2. Next, add the rest of the dough ingredients and combine them until smooth using the mixer and the dough hook attachments. Punch the dough into a floured ball and let it sit in a bowl. This is the part where the yeast will kick in and rise. You’ll need to let the ball sit for an hour or two, until it basically doubles in size thanks to the yeast.

Step 3. After waiting, you’ll roll out the dough, slather it with butter, and sprinkle on the powdery filling. You’ll then roll the dough into a log and make crosswise cuts to get a bunch of uncooked buns with spirals of filling running through them.

Step 4. Melt together the syrup ingredients, pour them into the bottom of your baking pan (make sure you have the right size), and sprinkle the chopped nuts on top if you’re using them. Then place the uncooked buns on top of that in rows, making sure they are close enough to touch each other lightly. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and leave it overnight or for eight hours. Refrigerating the pan during this waiting period will help the flavors combine a bit more, but it’s not absolutely essential.

Step 5. After the long wait is over, put the buns on the counter (if you were refrigerating them) and remove the plastic wrap to let them come back to room temperature before you bake. While that’s happening, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Once the buns are at room temp (which should take around 40 minutes), bake them for 30 to 35 minutes.

Step 6. After baking, invert the baking dish onto a serving platter. My preferred way to do that is by placing the platter upside down on top of the baking dish, using two baking mitts to hold together the two ends, and then flipping the whole thing so the platter is on bottom and the baking dish is upside down on top. Make sure to invert the dish as soon as you take it out of the over so the sticky syrup does not have time to cool and harden.

And there you have your sticky buns! Do yourself a flavor and serve them while they’re still warm.

These Easy Caramel Apple Cider Sticky Buns melt in your mouth and taste like Fall! With my quick 1-hour version, there's no reason not to make these today!!

If you don’t have the time or willpower to bake your sticky buns completely from scratch, I’ve got you covered! Here are some of my favorite sticky bun recipes that give the chef a little help to make things less exhausting.

Sticky Bun Tips & FAQs

Finally, let’s answer some sticky bun-related questions that seem to come up again and again.

How long do sticky buns last?

If refrigerated in a completely airtight container, sticky buns stay good for a week. If frozen in the airtight container, they will last up to two months. In either of these cases, make sure the sticky buns are allowed to completely return to room temperature before serving them.

You can also cover them and leave them out at room temperature, but they will only last for two days that way. 

Why didn’t my sticky buns rise?

There are a few common causes for this problem:

1. Either too much flour or not enough flour.
2. You forgot to prime the yeast by mixing it in warm water or milk before making the dough.
3. You added too much salt, which inhibits the rising action of yeast.
4. You did not add enough sugar, which is what yeast uses as fuel during rising.

How do you soften sticky buns?

Adding too much flour is a surefire way to make sticky buns too hard.

If your sticky buns were a good consistency but have become a little bit hard, try microwaving them one at a time with a glass of water also in the microwave. This trick may transfer a bit of the moisture from the water to the bun, which may very well do the trick.

Can sticky buns be prepared in advance?

Yes. If you’re preparing the sticky buns a day or two in advance, pour the syrup into the baking pan and prepare the uncooked buns, and leave the buns and syrup in the fridge, covered, for up to 48 hours.

If you want to prepare the sticky buns even further in advance, store the buns and syrup in the freezer for up to two months. Before actually baking them, move them to the fridge and let them sit for 12 hours.

Should sticky buns be refrigerated?

Yes. Before baking, sticky buns need to be refrigerated (on top of the syrup) for at least 8 hours.

As leftovers, sticky buns can be refrigerated and will stay good for up to a week. In this case, however, they need to be kept in a completely airtight container. If the container is not airtight, the fridge will cause the sticky buns to dry out.

Sticking the Landing

Sticky buns are definitely a crowd-pleaser. I’ve prepared them at a few of my dinner parties, and guests are always delighted when I bring out dessert. After all, who can resist the gooey, decadent deliciousness that sticky buns present? Whether you’re cooking for yourself, your family, or a huge banquet, sticky buns (especially ones made from scratch) are sure to be a huge hit!

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