The dough is basically a yeast-risen white bread dough (in the British or North American sense of bread) kept plain and simple, to help you bear the richness of the topping (though some recipes will sweeten the dough a little.)
It is topped with nuts, and a glaze made from water and brown sugar; some recipes add corn syrup, but it is not strictly necessary. America’s Test Kitchen, however, recommends the use of corn syrup ”Dark corn syrup plus water was the key to a topping that was substantial enough to sit atop the buns without sinking in but not so firm that it presented a danger to our teeth.” — Sticky Buns. America’s Test Kitchen. Accessed October 2020 at https://www.americastestkitchen.com/recipes/8800-sticky-buns , as did renowned food writer Clementine Paddeford back in the 1960s (see below.)
A debate rages over whether to include raisins or not, and not surprisingly, feelings on the matter seem to coincide with divisions between those that like raisins and those that don’t, period.
Another sticky question is that of cinnamon. Some food authorities will say: sticky buns (aka cinnamon buns.) But purists pooh pooh the idea, and say that sticky buns, in addition to not having cinnamon as cinnamon buns do, are also taller than cinnamon buns. Some recipes call for both cinnamon and raisins, which seems to put them right beyond the pale in all kinds of peoples’ books.
The foundation is a basic bread dough, though it can be enriched with egg and more fat than you might usually put in a bread. Some like to add some vanilla flavouring plus a bit more sugar.
America’s Test Kitchen says a problem with sticky buns is that the bread part often just ends up dry:
“Many recipes for sticky buns call for a firm, dry dough that’s easy to manipulate into the required spiral, simple to slice, and sturdy enough to support a generous amount of topping. But firm, dry sticky buns aren’t very appealing.” Sticky Buns. America’s Test Kitchen.
To assemble the buns with the dough that you have made, you pour some of the glaze and sprinkle some of the nuts on the bottom of your cake pan. Pros add the touch of making sure that each bun (see a few lines further on) will end up with 1 whole nut in its centre.
The dough is then rolled out into a rectangle, and brushed on top with the leftover glaze. It is then rolled up like a Swiss roll (rolling it in from the side of the rectangle, so that you end up with a longer piece of dough than you would if you rolled it up from the bottom.) The dough roll is then sliced into about 8 pieces (each of which will become one of the buns.) These are arranged flat on top of the glaze and nuts in the cake pan, and let rise. Then they are baked, and inverted out of the pan to serve.
See also: Sticky Bun Day
As sticky buns are a favourite breakfast dish, the trick is how to get the dough risen and ready to go for baking by breakfast time. It is easier if you have a bread machine, which you can set the timer on. Some recipes have you start with frozen dough, cut the dough into rolls, set them in the topping and set out the pan on the counter overnight to raise so that it is totally ready to bake first thing in the morning. Others simply have you make them up the night before, cover with a towel (and or brush with a vegetable oil) and let rise slowly in the fridge overnight.
If the glaze comes out crystalized, it can mean that your baking temperature was too hot.
Sticky buns originated in Pennsylvania with German settlers.
Literature & Lore
“Sticky buns belong to Philadelphia as much as Independence Hall and the 12th Street Market. Not just any cinnamon bun, this bun of the Quaker City, but a bun unique of flavor, of a stickiness incarnate. A pilgrimage to Philadelphia in search of its recipe led down Race Street to the kitchen of Harriet E. Worrell. Her family on both sides have baked the bun at least three times a week for three generations.” — Clementine Paddleford, “The Recipes that America Loves”. in The Post Standard, Syracuse, New York. September 11 1960, page 25.
Here are the proportions that Paddleford gives in her 1960 recipe:
1 ¼ cups milk
1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup warm, not hot water
5 cups sifted flour or more
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup shortening
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup butter or margarine
½ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup raisins or currants
1 cup dark or light corn syrup
|↑1||”Dark corn syrup plus water was the key to a topping that was substantial enough to sit atop the buns without sinking in but not so firm that it presented a danger to our teeth.” — Sticky Buns. America’s Test Kitchen. Accessed October 2020 at https://www.americastestkitchen.com/recipes/8800-sticky-buns|
|↑2||Sticky Buns. America’s Test Kitchen.|