Tender and light, with just the right amount of sweetness, these apple pecan sticky buns are a perfect breakfast treat! Make in advance and reheat when you’re ready to serve, or fresh out of the oven. No matter when or how you plan to enjoy them, this is a must-bake sticky bun recipe!
Have you ever had a really good homemade sticky bun? The kind with just the right amount of sweetness, a pillow-soft crumb, and a satisfyingly caramelized topping? If you haven’t keep reading so we can rectify (fix) this situation ASAP.
Side note: We’re working on vocabulary in homeschooling at the moment. Can you tell?
This apple sticky bun recipe came about after we went a little overboard this year with the apple picking. I didn’t think so because the day we went there weren’t many good apples on the trees, but I was wrong.
Two apple pies, several rounds of iced apple cookies, a stuffed monkey bread, and plenty of fresh apples later, we still had apples! After a recent rave for my sourdough discard sticky bun recipe though, that’s what I wanted to bake. But without any discard either, it was time for a new recipe! *cheering in the background*
Second side note: Yeastie Beastie (aka – “The Beast”), my sourdough starter is fine, just dehydrated at the moment since I’m not really baking sourdough right now. You can find the method I followed on the KAB site. It works like a charm! I’ve dehydrated and rehydrated with no issue or loss of starter strength.
What are sticky buns and how are they different from cinnamon rolls?
This is a very good question, because for the longest time (before I started baking), I thought they were the same thing with different toppings.
The primary difference between sticky buns and cinnamon rolls is that sticky buns are baked on top of their topping, then flipped so all the gooey goodness is on top! Cinnamon rolls are baked, then glazed or iced.
Both are alike in that they are typically made with yeast dough, with the best recipes resulting in soft rolls. The spices are often similar, with most recipes calling for a healthy helping of cinnamon and/or other warm spices like nutmeg.
Other than the icing, a second primary difference is the inclusion of nuts. Most cinnamon roll recipes don’t include nuts, while nuts are almost always a part of sticky buns. I believe once you remove the nuts, you move more into the “honey bun” category. Pecans are a classic, and what I use in this recipe.
Of course, there are as many variations on each recipe as there are bakers. These are just general observations.
Recipe Tips for the Apple Pecan Sticky Buns
There are three parts to this apple sticky bun recipe: the caramel pecan topping, the spiced apple pecan filling, and the yeast dough. I’m going to share my notes and tips for all three with you now, starting with the filling.
I’m starting with the filling because this is where you get the bulk of the flavor! Of course, the caramel pecan topping adds something, but all the fall apple goodness is here.
We need to cook the apples down a little for two reasons. First, this concentrates the apple flavor, and second, it removes a little water so we have less risk of gaps in our baked buns. Too much water can cause different rates of expansion during baking between the filling and the dough, leaving you with big gaps.
You can make the filling up to a day in advance if you’d like. I usually make mine just before starting my dough, so by the time the first rise is complete, the filling is at room temperature.
The second part is the caramel pecan topping. This pan sauce turned glaze after flipping is a must for good sticky buns! What you want is a nice caramel sauce that is thick enough to stay on top of the buns as a glaze, but smooth and fluid enough to settle nicely into the little top crevices.
I make my sticky bun topping mixture similar to how I make my caramel sauce or start caramel candies, in a small saucepan. Cover it and place it over a medium low heat for a few minutes to melt. You don’t want to rush the melting process because that can cause both separation and crystallization.
In the recipe, you’ll see the option to add 2-3 teaspoons of honey, agave, or corn syrup to the caramel. If you’re familiar with making caramel candy, you’ll recognize the use of an invert sugar. Invert sugars – those that are liquid at room temperature – help prevent the formation of sugar crystals.
Do I always add them to my sticky buns? No, which is why this is optional. But if you’re in a dry climate, it might be a good idea to keep the caramel smooth.
Finally, the yeast dough! It’s a minor modification of my favorite light sticky bun dough, and my go-to when I don’t have sourdough discard on hand. The dough is soft. You don’t want to add too much flour or it will be tough and won’t rise properly during baking.
The trick to preventing over-flouring, other than using a scale, is to scoop your flour into your dry measuring cup using a spoon. Don’t pack it in. Just fill the measuring cup with flour and use a straight-edge from a butter knife or baking spatula to level.
Rolling the buns with the soft dough and textured filling can feel a little challenging, but as you can see, you don’t need perfection! For prettier rounds than mine, use dental floss to cut your circles instead of a knife. You can see the technique in the video for my apple butter cinnamon rolls. Scrub to the 45 second mark and watch from there.
I hope you love this apple pecan sticky buns recipe, darlings! Happy baking!
Sticky Bun Yeast Dough:
- 3/4 cup whole milk, warm but not hot
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 8 tablespoons melted butter, unsalted
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large egg
- 3-3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Spiced apple pecan filling:
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 pound apples, peeled and diced
- 1 cup pecans, chopped
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Caramel Pan Sauce/Glaze
- 16 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 cup pecans, chopped (see notes)
- 1 tablespoon honey, corn syrup, or agave (see notes)
- Prepare the filling: Combine 1 tablespoon of butter and all the rest of the ingredients for the spiced apple pecan filling in a skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, for 5-7 minutes until the apples are just translucent and the pecans are fragrant and toasted. Transfer to a heat-proof container and set aside to cool.
- Start the yeast dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl, combine the warm milk, yeast, and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. Let the mixture sit 5-10 minutes until foamy. This gives the yeast time to activate. Melt the butter during this time and let it sit to cool a few minutes.
- When the yeast mixture is ready, pour in the cooled melted butter, the rest of the sugar, salt, vanilla, and egg. Mix to combine.
- Add 3 cups of flour, one cup at a time. Add the remaining flour, a tablespoon or two at a time, until the dough is no longer wet.
- Knead for about 5 minutes on low speed using a dough hook, or about 10 minutes if mixing by hand. The dough should be soft and pliable, but not sticky.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Turn once. Cover and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for about an hour, until doubled in size.
- Make the caramel pan sauce: Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray or brush with melted butter.
In a small saucepan, combine the butter, cut into cubes, and sugar. If you're using corn syrup, honey, or agave, add it here. Cover the pot and place it over medium-low heat. Let it melt for 3 minutes, then uncover and stir until smooth.
Once smooth, pour the sauce into the greased casserole dish and sprinkle the pecans over the bun topping. Set aside.
- When the dough has risen, lightly flour your clean work surface and roll the dough into a 12x18-inch rectangle.
- At this point, the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter from the filling should be very soft and easy to spread over the rolled dough.
- Spread the apple filling mixture evenly over the dough, leaving an inch of space at the top long end of the dough.
- Roll the dough starting with the long end closest to you. Cut into 12 equal portions using a knife or floss.
- Arrange the buns evenly over the caramel and pecans in the baking dish.
- Cover the rolls and set them aside to rise for another 30-45 minutes at room temperature until quite puffy.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F during the final portion of the second rise.
- Bake the rolls for 30-35 minutes until a rich golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes in the pan before carefully inverting onto a serving dish or rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. If any of the caramel or pecans stick to the pan, spoon them over the inverted roll.s
- Serve warm or at room temperature.
- Leftover rolls can be stored in the refrigerator, loosely covered for 2 days. Reheat in the microwave or in a 350°F oven for 8-10 minutes.
- While chopped pecans are a must for the filling to make rolling easier, I like to leave most of the pecans in whole halves for the topping. Arrange the pecans curved side down in the baking sheet so when you flip the pan, they'll be curved side up. It's a little detail that adds a lot to the presentation!
- To prevent crystallization, feel free to up to a tablespoon of light corn syrup, honey, or agave. The most neutral flavor will be from light corn syrup, but honey and agave blend reasonably well with the other flavors in the recipe too.
- I use light brown sugar for this recipe because it's what I keep on hand. But as in the sourdough discard sticky bun recipe linked to in the post, you can use dark brown sugar too.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 918Total Fat: 42gSaturated Fat: 19gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 20gCholesterol: 88mgSodium: 251mgCarbohydrates: 124gFiber: 6gSugar: 37gProtein: 15g
These nutrition values are estimates. Exact values will vary depending on the ingredients, brands, and quantities used.