One of the best smells in the world– especially on a weekend morning– has to be homemade caramel sticky buns baking in the oven. The sweet scent of cinnamon wafting through the house, along with the earthy aroma of toasted pecans, is just… divine really. Caramel sticky buns are one of my family’s favorite weekend treats, so a few years ago we began to scour the Twin Cities for the best ones. We found a few gems, but more often than not, we were disappointed. Many were too ‘bread-y’, others were covered in so much caramel that they were just a mess, and a few were hard, crunchy disasters.
Aside from returning to that handful of favorites that we did find, I decided to work on a version that was just right. I try new sticky bun recipes all the time– I really do. We’ve gone through a few that are really tasty, but this one is the best. And it’s better than any we’ve found in local bakeries or cafe’s. Honestly, it’s perfect. It makes a nice tall bun that is soft and tender– not too dense– with a lightly-crunchy top. The dough is soft, buttery, and very easy to work with. It rolls out beautifully.
One interesting thing about this recipe is that the caramel is on the top and bottom of the roll. This means you don’t invert the rolls when they’re finished. Instead, you top them with another helping of caramel. The result is an even distribution of the caramel throughout the roll. It’s a simple difference, but it’s genius.
Another thing that makes these buns different from most recipes is that for the filling, you whip the butter along with the brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg (nutmeg makes everything better). In most other versions, you just spread the butter and sprinkle on the spices. It makes an amazing difference, so do not avoid this step. You’re going to want to lick the mixture right off the spoon!
These buns are wonderful to prepare ahead of time. You can do this a few ways. First, the dough can be refrigerated (it needs to chill for at least to two hours before it can be rolled into buns, anyway). Another option is to finish the buns, get them into the pan, and refrigerate overnight. The rise time will be a bit longer (because the dough is cold), but it makes having a fresh sticky bun in the morning so much easier. Finally, you can just make them the night before– including the baking– since these one’s stay soft and moist. In the morning, just top them with the last of the caramel and toasted pecans. Hope you enjoy these sticky buns as much as we do!
The Recipe: Perfect Caramel Sticky Buns
For the Dough:
2/3 cup whole milk
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast (from one 1/4-ounce envelope)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 3/4 cup (14 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces, plus a bit more melted
For the Caramel Topping:
2 cups chopped pecans, toasted
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Filling:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of kosher salt
flour, for dusting
1 egg, for brushing on the buns
Prepare the dough by heating the milk in a saucepan or microwave until the temperature registers 110-115°F. Mix in the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar. Let it sit for 5 minutes to get foamy. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth. Add the remaining sugar, flour, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a hook attachment. Give the mixture a quick stir with a whisk, then add the wet ingredients. Turn the machine on and mix until it’s a shaggy mess. Add the butter, one chunk at a time, making sure to wait until each piece is mostly incorporated. When everything is incorporated, knead the dough on medium for about 5 minutes. The dough should be soft and silky. Place the dough into a large bowl that has been lightly coated with melted butter. Pour a bit more of the melted butter on top of the dough and spread evenly with your hands. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 1 day.
Toast the pecans by placing them on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven for 10-12 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool.
Prepare the caramel by melting the butter in a small saucepan. Add the brown sugar, cream, honey, and salt. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Let continue to cook for about 3-4 minutes. The glaze will be a deep golden brown. Pour one cup of the glaze into an 8×8-inch pan. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the toasted pecans over the glaze. Reserve the remaining glaze (refrigerate with a cover, if using much later). Note: I’ve made these rolls by lining the pan with parchment paper so they could be easily removed and placed on a platter. It also works just as easily to put them into the pan with nothing at all — the choice is yours.
Prepare the filling by placing the butter, cinnamon, salt, brown sugar, and nutmeg in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix for 2-3 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Set aside.
Form the buns by putting a light coat of flour down on a work surface. Roll the chilled dough into a 12 x 16-inch rectangle. Spread the butter/spice mixture on it, leaving a 1-inch plain border on the side furthest away from you. Sprinkle 3/4 cup of the pecans over the butter (reserve the remaining pecans — put into an airtight container, if using much later). Roll the dough into a tight log. Cut and discard the very edges, if they are uneven. Cut the remaining dough into 9 equal pieces. Re-shape if they flatten out in the cutting process. Place them in the pan and cover with plastic wrap or a light kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm, draft-free area for about 45 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size ( 1 1/2 – 2 hours, if the dough has been chilled overnight).
After the buns have properly raised, whisk the egg with 1/2 teaspoon of water and brush onto the buns. Place the pan of buns on a baking sheet and put into a 350°F oven and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a thermometer registers 185°F in the center. Remove from oven and let cool for a bit. Pour remaining glaze on the buns and top with the pecans. Sprinkle with sea salt and enjoy with a hot cup of coffee.
Source: Adapted from Bon Appetite
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