The first memory I have of my mother’s sticky buns is from when I was just a little girl. Hot bread from the oven was a regular treat in our house, everything from raisin buns to braided bread. My favourite though, the one I longed for the most, was her famous sticky buns.

I remember standing at the counter on my tiptoes, fingers grasping the countertop waiting for permission to pull one from the tray. Just at the critical moment, my brothers would arrive and we’d fight for them, pulling one from the tray, the hot sugar burning our fingers and seizing on our teeth. It really didn’t matter much; they were such a heavenly treat.

Sticky buns may look like Chelsea buns or cinnamon rolls because they’re all made with a rich yeasty dough stuffed, rolled, sliced and baked but they’re a world apart when it comes to flavour.

Sticky buns can be a dessert, breakfast treat or an anytime snack as my mother would serve them. The dough is rolled into a flat rectangle and spread with melted butter, brown sugar, pecans and cinnamon. Then it’s rolled up jelly-roll style and sliced into thick spirals of yeasty, sugared dough. Before they were put in the pan I remember my mother would melt lots of butter with brown sugar and chopped pecans on the stove. She’d bring it to a boil and the sugar would dissolve into a syrupy mass. Then she’d add her secret ingredient, a little bit of maple syrup or honey to ensure the stickiness and gooeyness of the finished product.

Still warm, the sweet and sticky concoction was poured onto the bottom of a large baking dish and that’s when she’d place the slices of rolled dough on top. It was sheer agony to watch her cover the pan with a clean dishcloth and set it in the warmest place in the kitchen so the dough would rise just enough to make the dough light and airy when baked. Once risen, they’d crowd each other in the pan and the flavour of the syrupy bottom would be infused into the dough.

When they came out of the oven, she’d flip the sticky buns onto a large platter and hold the baking pan overtop so the syrupy sweetness could drizzle over the buns. I suppose the smart thing to do would be to wait until they were cool, but we couldn’t. Pulling them apart when they were hot made them deliciously dangerous.

The dough was warm and fluffy, the nuts soft and cinnamony and the sticky syrup yummy and messy. We’d be licking our fingers forever after eating them: they are the ultimate treat!

Contrary to what some bakers use, the best sticky buns are not made with white bread dough, but an elegant yeasted dough, rich in butter and eggs with a delicious flavour that lies somewhere between bread and pastry. Technically speaking, the recipe is a cross between a brioche and challah bread. Add to this deliciously decadent dough, a sweet inside that is sugar laced with any flavours your mind can concoct and a sticky outside that can include dried fruit, nuts, chocolate or anything that allows you to put your own personal twist on them. 

I think everyone should have a sticky bun tradition in their family where you add your own favourite ingredients to make them truly personal. After all, if sticky buns are made in three parts; dough, sweet insides and sticky, gooey outside, then you’ve just been given lots of opportunity to change up the flavours in an infinite number of ways.

Using the brioche dough recipe below, pick a sweet inside and sticky stuff for the bottom and bake at 350°F for 20 to 35 minutes. Here are some ideas to get you started. 

The Dough

Brioche is an elegant yeasted dough, rich in butter and eggs, a cross between bread and pastry. It is difficult to make without an industrial bread mixer so here is an easy, cheater recipe that works well. Whisk 1 ½ tablespoons of active dry yeast into ½ a cup of water. Add a pinch of sugar and set aside for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt ½ cup of butter with 1 cup of milk until hot. Pour into a large bowl of a mixer fitted with dough hooks. Add 1/3 cup of sugar, a tablespoon of honey and 2 teaspoons of salt. Mix on low to dissolve the sugar. Add the creamy yeast and 4 eggs. Add 5 cups of all-purpose flour and beat on low speed for 3 minutes. Continue to beat on medium low, adding an additional cup of flour, maybe more. Knead on medium low for 8 to 10 minutes. Let rise for at least 2 hours.

The Sticky Stuff

This is the magic of all sticky buns. Make on the stove top and pour into the bottom of a prepared pan, tilting to coat the bottom evenly. A 18 x 14-inch rectangle pan works well. Set aside to make the buns.

Traditional Melt: one stick of butter in a saucepan with 1 ½ cups of packed brown sugar. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons dark corn syrup and 2 tablespoons of heavy cream. Cook until bubbling.

Maple Walnut: Add ½ cup of butter, 1 cup of packed brown sugar and ½ cup of maple syrup in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the mixture is bubbling.  Add 1 ½ cups of chopped walnuts.

Salted Caramel Pecan: Combine ½ cup of butter and 1 cup of packed dark brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook until sugar dissolves. Stir in 3 tablespoons of heavy cream and ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir and cook but don’t allow it to boil. Add 1 ½ cups of chopped pecans.

Cinnamon Melt: ½ cup of butter with  ¾ cup of packed dark brown sugar over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and add ¾ cup of heavy cream, 1/3 cup of honey, a pinch of salt and ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon. Simmer until golden brown and glossy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add 1 ½ cups of chopped pecans.

Maple Whisky Bacon: Add ½ cup of butter, 1 cup of packed brown sugar, a tablespoon of whisky and ½ cup of maple syrup in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the mixture is bubbling. Add 1 ½ cups of crunchy bacon bits.

The Sweet Insides

Always baste the rolled out dough with plenty of warm, melted butter before sprinkling the sweet insides overtop. Roll, slice into equal rounds, place in the baking pan over the sticky stuff and let rest for an hour.

Nutella Spread: 1 ½ cups of Nutella evenly over top of the dough, leaving a half-inch border on one long side. Sprinkle with half a cup of chopped hazelnuts. Roll. Works well with traditional sticky stuff sprinkling a cup of roughly chopped hazelnuts overtop.

Classic Cinnamon: Stir together 2/3 cup of packed light brown sugar with a tablespoon of ground cinnamon. Sprinkle over rolled out dough. Works well with any sticky stuff.

Apple Pie: Mix together 1 ½ cups of applesauce and ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg. Spread evenly over top of the dough, leaving a half-inch border on one long side. Works well with cinnamon sticky stuff or salted caramel pecan sticky stuff.

Apple Honey: Caramelize 2 cups of peeled apple slices in ¼ cup of honey until the apples are soft, about 5 minutes. Spoon the filling overtop of the dough and sprinkle with a scant amount of pecans. Works well with cinnamon sticky stuff or salted caramel pecan sticky stuff.

Written by Lynn Ogryzlo