Whole Grain Pecan Sticky Buns

Merry Christmas! Yes, the big day is still weeks away, but this much-coveted recipe is my gift to you. Friends have been pleading with me to share it for several years, but I had never gotten around to scaling my Whole Grain Pecan Sticky Buns recipe down to a reasonable size (you probably don't need  five dozen!) and converting it from weights to measurements. Until now.

A little history on my sticky buns is in order. Baking, particularly bread baking, has been a passion all my adult life. In 2004 I decided to get my home kitchen licensed and sell bread on Saturdays at the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market. I showed up that first morning with butterflies in my stomach, second-guessing myself and doubting that anyone would really want to buy my bread, as I nervously set up my awning and table. One of the other vendors wandered over, admired the still warm loaves (I stayed up all night baking so the bread would be absolutely fresh!) and asked if I had anything sweet to sell. Well, no, I only had whole crusty sourdough hearth loaves,  rustic ciabatta, 100% whole wheat sandwich bread, and currant bread with a fragrant cinnamon swirl. I was prepared to offer samples, but I hadn't thought to bake anything in individual portions that could be eaten on the spot. 

“You know, most of the vendors don't have time to eat breakfast before they load up their trucks. If you had something like, say, cinnamon rolls, we'd probably all buy one before the market even opens,” suggested my new friend. “Cinnamon rolls? I can do cinnamon rolls!” I thought. So the next week I mixed up a batch of my whole grain sweet dough and, just for fun, decided to make half the batch into sticky buns by placing the rolled and cut dough onto a layer of pecans and a brown sugar glaze. I let them rise in the refrigerator overnight and baked them in the morning, turning them out of the pan just before heading into town so they'd still be warm for my first customers. Jennifer's Whole Grain Pecan Sticky Buns were born. 

The response was overwhelming. I soon had people in line before my awning was up, grinning with anticipation as they watched me turn the last pan of sticky buns out onto the tray and peel off the parchment, exposing the candied nuts and gooey goodness. I started providing forks because, even though I was required to package them, most of the sticky buns never made it home. A few folks would would arrive each week, Tupperware in hand, and buy four or six sticky buns at a time. 

Eventually, I added cookies, scones, fruit tarts, brownies, and other seasonal treats to my baking schedule, but my reputation as “The Sticky Bun Lady” lingers to this day.

Tips for success:

Let me assure you at the outset that there is nothing difficult about making these sticky buns. They are time-consuming because there are many steps in the process, but nothing is complicated and boy, are they worth the effort. The dough can be mixed two days before you intend to eat them. They can be shaped one day before or early in the morning before baking. The shaped sticky buns can be frozen in the pan for up to one month without sacrificing taste or texture. You can also use half of the dough to make plain cinnamon rolls, for those who don't like nuts.

This rich, sweet dough contains no eggs.  More than half of the flour is whole wheat. I add rolled oats and mashed potatoes for moisture and lightness. 

Parchment paper is a must if you want all of the topping (on the bottom) to stick to the buns and not the pan. Foil pans will work without parchment if you spray them heavily with oil, but be sure to place foil pans on a cookie sheet when baking so the bottom (eventually the top) doesn't burn. For freezing, six rolls fit perfectly in an 8 ½-inch foil cake pan, which fits nicely into a gallon ziploc bag.

Oil spray is very helpful in keeping the top of the dough and shaped buns from drying out in the refrigerator or freezer.

If, upon reading the recipe, you decide it's more work than you're up for but you're still craving these extraordinary sticky buns, email me at breadceterabaking@gmail.com and I will add you to my customer list. I still bake for sale whenever the mood strikes and I'll let you know where you can find me with fresh-from-the-oven baked goods.

Jennifer’s Whole Grain Pecan Sticky Bun and Cinnamon Roll Dough
Makes one dozen sticky buns 

You can make this dough in a heavy-duty stand mixer or in a large bowl with a sturdy wooden spoon and a strong arm. It is not kneaded, just mixed until all the flour is incorporated.

Peel, cut into chunks and boil one medium (3 to 4 oz.) potato in water to cover. 

While potatoes are boiling, combine the following ingredients in large mixer bowl:

½ cup (rounded) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
¾ cup quick rolled oats
1/3 cup canola oil (or other neutral oil) 

When potatoes are tender drain, reserving the water. Whip or mash until smooth.  

Add 1/3 cup mashed potato and 3/4 cup hot potato water to the mixer bowl, stirring well. Let stand 30 minutes. (You can freeze any leftover mashed potato for another batch.)

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine and then set aside:

2 ¼ cups whole wheat flour (King Arthur White Whole Wheat is good)
1 ¾ teaspoons instant yeast (Red Star QuickRise or SAF Red Label)
½ cup instant powdered milk

After the 30 minutes is up, add 3/4 cup cold water to the bowl and the whole wheat flour mixture. Mix well to combine. Let stand 15 minutes.

Mix in 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour and stir well until the dry ingredients are fully incorporated. The dough will be sticky.

Place in an oil-sprayed container with enough room to double. Spray top of dough, cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.

Prepare the filling, topping, and nuts as directed below.

Cinnamon mix:
In a small bowl, stir together ½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar and 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon until the cinnamon is evenly distributed. Soften 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter.

Brown sugar glaze and nut topping:
In a small saucepan, melt and whisk until smooth:  ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter, 1 1/8 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar, 1 tablespoon honey or corn syrup, 1 tablespoon water, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon.

Coarsely chop 6 ounces (1 1/3 cups) pecans.

Prepare the pans: Spray a 9 x 13 baking pan (or two 8 1/2-inch foil cake pans) with oil and then line with parchment paper. (The oil keeps the paper from sliding around as you assemble the rolls.) Sprinkle the chopped nuts evenly over the bottom of the pan, then ladle the brown sugar glaze on top of the nuts to about 1/4-inch thick. (You will probably have a little glaze leftover, which makes a great ice cream topping.)


Remove dough from the refrigerator. Turn out onto a well-floured board or counter and roll out to a rectangle about 10 x 14 inches. Spread with the softened butter. Sprinkle on the cinnamon-sugar mix leaving a one-inch border at the top edge of the dough. Roll up tightly and seal the seam well. Cut the roll into 12 equal slices, about 1 ¼- thick.

Set the slices, cut side down, on top of the glaze and nut mixture in the pans. At this point you can spray the top lightly with oil, cover them with plastic wrap or waxed paper, let rise until the rolls come almost up to the edge of the pan (about an hour) and then bake. Or, you can cover tightly and refrigerate them overnight. In the morning, take them out of the refrigerator and let them rise  for 1 to 1 ½ hours and then bake as directed below. If you'd like to freeze the sticky buns, spray the tops well with oil and cover tightly or place in heavy-duty freezer bags, squeezing out as much air as possible. The night before you wish to serve them, remove from the freezer just before bed and let them thaw and rise at room temperature overnight. In the morning, bake as directed below.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. If using foil pans, place them on a cookie sheet for baking. Bake fully risen rolls for 25 minutes, until golden brown and the center springs back when very gently pressed. A thermometer should read 180 degrees when inserted in the dough. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes and then invert onto a serving tray. Don’t wait longer than 5 minutes or they won’t come out easily.

The individual sticky buns separate easily after baking.

The dough makes fine cinnamon rolls, too!

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