What’s the difference between a sticky bun and a cinnamon roll, anyway?
For starters, a sticky bun is (obviously) stickier, baked in a puddle of caramel glaze and topped with even more of the stuff. They both have some cinnamon, though it’s definitely not as prominent a flavor as you’d find in a cinnamon roll (think teaspoons not tablespoons).
Also, the bread part itself is noticeably lighter, soft and tender, more like a lightly sweet dinner roll as opposed to the heavier, doughier base of the cinnamon roll.
The caveat to that lighter texture is the dough is a bit trickier to work with. In fact, when I first mixed it up I was certain the recipe was missing an entire cup of flour. The dough will be very soft and sticky, it will not ‘come together in a ball’ like most bread-type recipes specify. And yet, after rising and refrigerating, it will be workable. I promise.
I used Bon Appetit’s Ultimate Sticky Bun recipe as a base (why reinvent the wheel, right?) and then adapted the filling and glaze to include the figs (both fresh and dried).
In the caramel glaze, I scooped out the flesh of a few figs and cooked that into the caramel, giving it a subtle fruity undertone but not marring the texture in any negative way.
In the filling, I mixed it all together in a food processor with a generous amount of dried figs, a sweet and buttery paste with hints of fig and cinnamon.
The result is a downright amazing sticky bun, with a little extra depth and dimension from the figs. It’s more than just cinnamon and sugar and caramel and pecans rolled up in a tender, fluffy dough. The figs might not be immediately identifiable, but there is no doubting they add a little somethin’ somethin’ to the mix.
Yes, it’s a time intensive process, but it can also be split up into very manageable pieces if you plan ahead. Might I suggest the following schedule:
Day 1, morning: Make dough. Let rise, then cover and refrigerate (refrigerating for at least 2 hours makes the dough much easier to work with, so don’t skip this step!)
Day 1, evening: Remove dough from fridge and let sit while you make the topping and filling. Roll out and assemble, then cut and arrange buns in baking pan. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Day 2, morning: Remove from fridge 1 hour before baking. Preheat oven, then once buns have risen nicely, bake. Let cool slightly then enjoy.
Topped with toasted pecans, chopped fresh figs, and a sprinkle of flake sea salt, it’s truly a thing of beauty.
- 2/3 cup whole milk
- 5 tablespoons sugar, divided
- 1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- melted butter, for brushing
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup honey
- 4 fresh figs, ripe flesh scooped out
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 teaspoons brandy (optional)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 8 dried black figs, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup chopped)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 large egg
- 8 ounces pecans, coarsely chopped (about 1 3/4 cups chopped)
- 1-2 fresh figs, trimmed and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- Coarse sea salt (such as Maldon)
- Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat or in a microwave until an instant-read thermometer registers 110°F-115°F. Transfer milk to a 2-cup measuring cup; stir in 1 tablespoon sugar. Sprinkle yeast over milk and whisk to blend. Let sit until yeast is foamy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs; whisk until smooth.
- Combine remaining 4 tablespoons sugar, flour, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add milk mixture. With mixer running, add 1/2 cup room-temperature butter, 1 piece at a time, blending well between additions. Mix on medium speed for 1 minute. Knead on medium-high speed for about 5 minutes, adding up to 1/2 cup additional flour as needed, until dough is soft and silky. Dough will still be very sticky and will not come together into a ball like bread dough, but you want it to at least start looking like a dough and not a batter.
- Brush a medium bowl with some melted butter; scrape dough into bowl. Brush top of dough with remaining melted butter; loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, about 1 to 2 hours. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill dough for at least 2 hours or overnight (chilling is what will make the dough even remotely workable, so don’t skip this step!) Remove from refrigerator 1 hour before you begin assembling.
- Line an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan with foil; lightly spray with cooking spray. This will make cleanup much easier later on. If you have another small baking pan, a 9-by-5 or whatnot, have that ready too as depending on how you roll/cut your buns, you may end up with a few extra.
- For topping: Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread out nuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast until fragrant and slightly darkened, 10-12 minutes. Let cool completely.
- Melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar, cream, honey, fig flesh, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until glaze is golden brown and glossy, 3-4 minutes. Stir in brandy (if using). Pour 1 cup of glaze into prepared baking pan, tilting to coat bottom and sides (reserve remaining glaze for later). Sprinkle 1/2 cup toasted pecans over bottom of baking pan and let cool.
- For filling: In a food processor, pulse together butter, sugar, dried figs, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt until smooth and paste-like.
- Punch down dough; turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. Lightly dust top with flour. Roll into a 12×16″ rectangle about 1/4″ thick. Spread the filling mixture over dough (use your fingers if it is easier), leaving a 1″ plain border on the long-side farthest from you. Sprinkle 3/4 cup chopped pecans evenly over filling.
- Carefully roll dough into a log beginning with the long edge closest to you, tightening as you roll, and patting in ends if they begin to taper. Pinch together the seam where the long side meets the roll to seal. Arrange the log seam side down on the work surface.
- Using a large knife (I find a sharp serrated knife to work the best here), cut the log crosswise into 1 1/2-inch thick sections (you’ll end up with 9-12 of them). Lightly flour the knife between slices if the dough is too sticky. If needed, reshape to form round edges by cupping lightly floured hands around each bun and gently pushing and turning them in a circular motion. Arrange 9 buns, cut side up, in prepared pan; space them evenly apart (buns should not touch each other). At this point the buns can be covered and refrigerated overnight, or you can let them rise and bake right away.
- Loosely cover pan with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Let buns rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, about 1 hour, or 1 1/2-2 hours if dough has been chilled overnight.
- Preheat oven to 350°F with the rack positioned in the middle.
- Whisk egg with 1/2 teaspoon water in a small bowl. Brush tops of buns with egg wash. Bake, rotating pan halfway through and tenting with foil if browning too quickly, until buns are golden brown, filling is bubbling, about 40 to 50 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of buns registers 185°F. Let cool for 5 minutes. Spoon remaining glaze over top and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup pecans, chopped fresh figs (if desired), and coarse sea salt. Serve buns warm or at room temperature.
Adapted from Epicurious/Bon Appetit.