Pecan Sticky Buns {TWD-BWJ}

Our second May recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie is one with which I am very familiar. Growing up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, sticky buns were an almost ubiquitous morning treat. After leaving PA Dutch country, I tried so-called sticky buns literally from coast to coast. None of them could hold a candle to any that I had growing up. And of the sticky buns in Lancaster County, none could compare to the ones made by Melinda Fisher.

I was close friends with the Fisher boys growing up — John, Jake, and David — and was lucky enough to spend many nights at their house. Dan and Melinda grew up Amish, and although they no longer lived on a farm, they still breakfasted like farmers. So breakfast at their house was always a treat. But never more so than when Melinda made sticky buns.

I’m not sure what made her sticky buns so much better than all others. Dan raised bees, so she naturally used honey in her recipe. But it was more than that. And I wish I had her recipe. They were, as the Dutch would say, am beschde (the best).

So, when Dorie claims that Nancy Silverton’s recipe is the ne plus ultra of sticky buns, she has a high bar to clear in my book. This, then, is a battle of superlatives: the ne plus ultra versus am beschde. And as much as I love Melinda’s sticky buns, I was pulling for Nancy’s recipe to come out on top. After all, I have her recipe available to me in my copy of Baking with Julia.

Nancy Silverton’s sticky buns recipe begins with a batch of her brioche dough. I made the dough the day before baking the sticky buns, and because it is a completely separate recipe, I gave it its own blog post.

The first step in making the sticky buns (once you’ve made your brioche dough) is laminating the dough. No, this doesn’t mean putting through a machine to encase it in plastic. In this context, laminating refers to folding (or turning) layers of butter into the dough. To do this, I divided the dough in half, and rolled one piece out to a large rectangle. Then I spread softened butter over the dough.

When I made the brioche dough, I found it much easier to work with the butter if I spread it with an offset spatula. So even though the sticky buns recipe said to dot the dough with butter, I used my spatula to spread it evenly over the entire surface of the dough. I folded the dough in thirds. letter-style, then rolled it out to roughly the same size it had been before. I folded the dough again, then wrapped it and put it in the fridge while I worked with the other half.

When the dough was chilled, I rolled one piece out again, then brushed it with an egg wash and sprinkled it with cinnamon-sugar and chopped pecans. The recipe said to roll the pecans and sugar mixture into the dough with a rolling pin, which just sounded like a mess waiting to happen. So I covered the dough with wax paper before rolling it. That kept my rolling pin clean and ready for the other half of the dough.

I rolled the dough into a tight log, which I then wrapped in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for about an hour.

This recipe makes 14 sticky buns, but as there are only four of us, I decided I didn’t want to make all the buns at once. After the initial chill, I double-wrapped one log and put it in the freezer for another day.

One of the unique things about sticky buns is that they are baked upside down and inverted onto a plate as soon as they come out of the oven. The “sticky” is a caramel sauce in the bottom of the pan that, when inverted, covers the tops of the buns and oozes down the sides, covering the entire sticky bun with ooey-gooey goodness.

Most recipes for sticky buns that I’ve seen use a caramel sauce that is cooked and then poured into the bottom of the pan. This recipe, however, makes the caramel sauce directly in the pan while the buns are baking. To do this, you use your fingers to smear a stick of butter on the bottom of the pan (at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I found this much easier to do with an offset spatula).

Then you top the butter with brown sugar.

In my final major departure from the recipe, I arranged pecans on top of the brown sugar. The recipe says to press the pecans into the top of the buns, then try to hold them in place while you invert the buns into the pan. Why not just put the pecans in the pan to begin with?

To form the buns, I cut the dough into even-sized pieces (yes, I measured them).

I flattened each roll slightly, then arranged them in the pan.

Looking at the formed rolls, I saw the results of laminating the dough.

I set the rolls aside to rise, which I knew would take a few hours, as the dough was still quite cold. After about two hours, the rolls had risen and were touching, so it was time to bake them.

I baked the sticky buns at 350°F for about 40 minutes, until they were well-risen and golden brown.

As soon as they came out of the oven, I inverted the sticky buns onto a plate.

They were beautifully layered, and the caramel flowed over and around them as if on cue. I waited for the buns to cool a bit (no sense scorching myself with hot caramel after all that work), then dug into them.

The sticky buns were rich, buttery, and pull-apart flaky. The caramel was sweet and creamy, and the pecans gave the buns a nice crunch. As far as the flavor goes, both the buns and caramel were a bit flat and tasted like they needed some salt. And the buns overall were just so-so. Better than many I have eaten around the country. But not as good as the ones I used to get in PA. And nothing like Melinda Fisher’s.

I had such high hopes for these sticky buns, especially since they used an insane amount of butter and were two days in the making. Unfortunately, they didn’t live up to the hype. And while I will continue to search for a sticky buns recipe that can live up to the ones made by Melinda Fisher, I definitely won’t be making this recipe again.

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32 Comments

  1. Cher said,

    May 24, 2012 at 6:48 am

    Congrats on the June hosting gig!

    • gaaarp said,

      May 24, 2012 at 7:53 pm

      Really? I hadn’t heard yet! I’m making the naan for dinner tomorrow.

  2. Kayte said,

    May 21, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Well they certainly look exceptionally lovely…I would love to sit down to one of those! Which is why I didn’t make them…I added up all that butter and calculated it against swim suit season and decided I would just come and drool at the ones you made instead. Nice job of it all…and now I would love to taste the real deal you rave about!

    • gaaarp said,

      May 21, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      Don’t even talk to me about swimsuit season. I have steadfastly avoided any and all opportunities to be seen shirtless in public for several years. Now we’re going to Myrtle Beach with my wife’s family. I just hope I don’t get harpooned if I go swimming in the ocean.

      • Kayte said,

        May 21, 2012 at 10:19 pm

        Awwww…don’t sell yourself short…somehow a guy holding a sticky bun and eating it during swimsuit season goes over a lot better than a lady doing it…lol. Just avoid those tiny speedos and you will do just fine. Happy vacationing!

  3. Shortbread said,

    May 19, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Love the picture showing the lamination! You’ll have to do some research and find out the secret to those buns from PA.

  4. Teresa said,

    May 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    They turned out beautifully! It’s too bad the taste didn’t match up to the looks for you, though.

    I hope you find that perfect sticky bun recipe someday.

    • gaaarp said,

      May 17, 2012 at 5:14 pm

      I think that should be my goal for the next year or so!

  5. Sara said,

    May 17, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    By the way, yours look great–I love the picture where they just came out of the oven and are still in the cake pan. Love your innovation with the pecans. I have Nancy Silverton’s books and so far haven’t used them much. they are pretty intense.

    • gaaarp said,

      May 17, 2012 at 5:14 pm

      Thanks. You should take a foodie trip to eastern PA. There’s some crazy good food there.

  6. Sara said,

    May 17, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    I’ve never really had sticky buns (I don’t count the prepackaged ones) but I’ve been meaning to try the Flour Bakery recipe–it’s apparently their signature pastry! (I could just get it in person I suppose but it’s dangerous to go in there).

  7. spike said,

    May 16, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    a little salt might go a long way with these. sorry they weren’t your favorite

  8. May 16, 2012 at 6:50 am

    They look stunning! I love that I can clearly see the butter in your rolls before they’re baked. Layers in the making! I followed your advice and used my offset spatula for the laminating, too. I also added a touch more salt to the dough. I liked them okay, and I look forward to sharing them when I bake off the rest of the frozen ones. I would, however, love to be so lucky to try one as delicious as Melinda’s. 🙂

    • gaaarp said,

      May 16, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      I’m glad my experience was beneficial to you! I still have the second log to bake. I think I’m going to add a bit of salt to the caramel when I make them.

  9. May 15, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Sorry they did not turn out to taste as you had hoped. We enjoyed them in our house! I will make them again. Wonderful photos 🙂

    • gaaarp said,

      May 15, 2012 at 8:46 pm

      Glad to hear you liked them. My family would gladly eat them again, but I probably won’t make them.

  10. May 15, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    I really enjoyed your post…we had a few similar pictures! I noticed the butter in the rolls as well…it was a fun process although long…not something you just pop in the oven 🙂 Your buns looked totally delicious!!

    • gaaarp said,

      May 15, 2012 at 8:42 pm

      I like the idea of laminating the dough. I’ll probably do that next time, even if I use a different recipe.

  11. Cakelaw said,

    May 15, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Love your step by step photos, and your buns look beautiful – sorry they didn’t live up to your expectations. Good luck with your hunt for the perfect bun recipe.

    • gaaarp said,

      May 15, 2012 at 8:40 pm

      {Blushing} She likes my buns!

  12. Kathy said,

    May 15, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Sorry these didn’t hit the bar for you…Yours do look absolutely perfect and delicious! I really loved the flavor of these buttery buns! Have a great day!

  13. May 15, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    So sorry that they didn’t turn out as you had hoped. They’re absolutely beautiful, though! 🙂

    • gaaarp said,

      May 15, 2012 at 6:24 pm

      Thanks. They were good, just not out of this world.

  14. smarkies said,

    May 15, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    wow! nice and caramelly! Sorry it didn’t live up to the hype.

  15. May 15, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Great photos!

    ~Carmen
    TWDBWJ member
    http://bakingismyzen.wordpress.com

  16. Ckay said,

    May 15, 2012 at 10:06 am

    They look great.
    I’ve cheated on the butter and luckily the brioche turned out fine (it needs more salt and sugar, though). I did not like the sticky topping, but will remake the modified brioche for sure. With this recipe we surely gained experience (and probably weight!)

    • gaaarp said,

      May 15, 2012 at 6:23 pm

      I will definitely make other brioche-based recipes from BWJ, but with a different brioche dough.

  17. Cher said,

    May 15, 2012 at 8:27 am

    Sorry that these didn’t quite live up to the memory…

    I thought these were really good, but maybe not the recipe I would rush to for the future (I have had great success with some simpler recipes.)

    They look tasty & I am sure that log in the freezer will make a pleasant treat in the near future.

    • gaaarp said,

      May 15, 2012 at 6:22 pm

      I think that was a big part of the issue I had with them: they were good, but not as good as they should have been for all the work involved.


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