As a kid in southeast Pennsylvania I reveled in the regional delicacies. Shoofly pie. Funnel cakes. Creamy white American cheese from our local market. But no treats were more special than the sticky buns my father and our neighbor, Jim, would pick up on Sunday mornings from the now shuttered Minnie’s Bakery.
If I was lucky, I’d get to ride along, and if I was really lucky, I’d be trusted to hold the bakery box in the back seat. I’d carefully pull open a corner and pluck a gooey pecan from the wax paper wrapping. It was a creamy, sweet preview of the indulgence yet to come: The rolls themselves which were the perfect vehicle for a swirl of cinnamon and sugar covered with a flood of auburn, pecan-studded caramel sauce.
Sticky buns originated with 18th century German settlers in Pennsylvania as a pastry called “Schnecken.” Cinnamon rolls get a lot of press, but I think this Philadelphia specialty is due for its own headliner status. My recipe is a nod to those treats but I used sourdough as the base instead of the traditional yeast dough.
The result is a delicious intersection where cinnamon roll meets pecan pie. If you’re lucky, you can steal a warm pecan from the pan before anybody notices. If you’re really lucky, there will be extras left to have warmed up and topped with ice cream that night.
This method allows you to make them in the evening (steps 1-4) and bake them first thing the next morning. So your dad and Jim can sleep in, too.
Step 1: Make the Dough
- 1 cup (227 g) active sourdough starter
- 3/4 cup (170 g) room temperature whole milk
- 1 egg
- 4 tablespoons (58 g) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 3/4 cups (326 g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (57 g) white whole wheat flour (or finely-milled whole wheat flour)
- 1/4 cup (50 g) white sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (8 g) kosher salt
1. Add all ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix until thoroughly combined, about 3 minutes. Let dough rest for 30 minutes, then knead for 4-5 minutes until the dough is smooth, elastic, and clinging to the hook.
2. Allow to rise for 3 hours, giving it a stretch and fold every hour or so to strengthen the dough. It will be puffed and smooth when ready to roll out and slice.
3. Just before rolling, mix the filling, prepare the pan(s), and make the caramel sauce.
Step Two: Make the Filling
- 3/4 cup (159 g) light brown sugar, packed
- 1/4 cup (28 g) all-purpose white flour
- 2 teaspoon (6 g) cinnamon
- 3/4 cup* (158 g) toasted pecans, chopped (*Toast this amount, but use only 1/3 cup for the filling; reserve the rest for step three)
- 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon (14 g) unsalted butter, melted
1. In a dry skillet, toast 3/4 cup (158 g) pecans until fragrant. Chop and divide (1/3 cup for filling, 1/2 cup for the caramel).
2.Mix all other filling ingredients with the 1/3 cup of pecans. The mixture will be slightly dry, which helps keep it from leaking out too much during baking.
Step Three: Make the Caramel Sauce & Prep the Pans
- 3/4 cup (293 g) packed dark brown sugar (for a lighter caramel, use light brown sugar)
- 3 tablespoons (42 g) unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) hot water
- 1/2 cup (63 g) toasted, chopped pecans (reserved from previous step)
1. Whisk sugar, butter, and hot water together in a bowl until smooth.
2. Rolls can be made in a 9” x 13” baking pan (for 12 rolls) or in two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans (6 rolls each). Because of the caramel, non-stick pans are ideal but regardless of the finish, generously coat pan(s) with cooking spray before spreading the caramel evenly over the bottom of the pan(s) with a spatula.
3. Sprinkle evenly with ½ cup pecans and set aside.
Step Four: Fill, Roll & Slice
1. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Flour the top and pat it down carefully to deflate it a bit. Roll the dough into a 14” x 20” rectangle with a rolling pin.
2. Spread the filling evenly on the dough, and starting with the short edge, tightly roll the dough into a cylinder. Squeeze the dough as you roll it up to tighten it. It will get longer as you go, and you can stretch it out once you’re done if you need to before cutting.
3. An 18” cylinder will yield 12 slices at 1 1/2” each. A serrated knife works well for cutting the rolls. Place the pieces into the prepared pan(s), on top of the caramel and pecans, leaving a little room in-between to allow for rising. Cover pan(s) with foil sprayed with cooking spray and put in the refrigerator overnight (8-10 hours).
Step Five: Bake
The next morning, take the rolls out of the refrigerator 30-45 minutes before baking and allow them to come to room temperature. Heat oven to 400°F, remove the foil, and bake for 18-22 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool for 3 to 5 minutes and then gently invert hot rolls onto a serving plate (the caramel will be VERY HOT—be careful!) to allow the caramel to cover the top of the rolls. Scrape any extra off the bottom of the pans and add to the rolls. Serve warm.
Store leftovers in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to two days, reheat briefly before serving. Excellent with ice cream or whipped cream as dessert.