Caramel Apple Pecan Sticky Buns
Gooey pull apart sweet rolls wrapped with apples and a cinnamon brown sugar filling.
Glazed with caramelized sugar that makes for the ideal warm comfort food!
Sticky Bun FAQ's
What’s the difference between cinnamon rolls and sticky buns?
This amazing dough is the same dough as I use for my classic cinnamon rolls. I halved that dough recipe so this version can fit perfectly in a 9×13″ baking dish. You want it to fit in something contained like a baking dish because of the caramel spread. Unlike cinnamon rolls where you frost the rolls AFTER baking, this glazing process actually happens in the oven! You spread a sugar-butter mixture in the bottom of a baking dish, followed by pecans and then the cut cinnamon rolls. After baking you flip the pan over onto a tray or baking sheet so the caramelized glaze is now on the top. Upside down sweet rolls! Because it’s the same dough it means you could make a full batch and turn half into normal cinnamon rolls and half into these sticky buns if you wish.
I’m new to using yeast – any tips?
Yes! Check out my working with yeast guide for some tips!
Can I prep any of this in advance?
Yes! There are lots of ways to prep this in advance.
First, you can make the dough and stick in the fridge overnight to freshly fill and bake the next day. This is very helpful because it’s actually a lot easier to roll up the cinnamon rolls when the dough is slightly cold. The sugar mixture can also be made in advance!
The second option is to make the dough and form/cut, and place the rolls on top of the sugar mixture in the fridge overnight. In the morning let the rolls sit out for about 30 minutes while you preheat your oven. Sometimes I prefer the first option if I have the time because I think having them freshly rolled tastes better, but on a day like Christmas morning, a tiny sacrifice in quality is definitely worth having it done in advance in my opinion, and many people don’t even notice the difference!
Can I cut out the first rise if I’m short on time?
Yes! I love to make the dough, let it rise, form the rolls, and then let it rise again before putting in oven – so two rises. I’ve found it makes for a lighter, fluffier roll. However, I’ve cut out the first rise before, and they’ve still been a hit, so do that if you need to and your family will still devour them.
Can I make this into mini buns?
Yes! Mini buns are perfect for brunches and showers, or little kids. I do so by forming my rectangle to be a longer log and shorter width. This will make your swirl tighter and smaller by the time you roll it up. You’ll have one long skinnier log instead of a shorter fat one. Cut the log in 1″ sections, and it’ll make the perfect mini cinnamon rolls! You can also group them into a fun shape by using a heart shaped baking pan for a special holiday or event!
How to Make Sticky Buns
Three parts to sticky buns:
1. Dough: easy, fool proof brioche dough rolled out into about a 14″x12″ rectangle.
2. Filling: an easy basic filling to top the dough – butter, brown sugar-cinnamon mix, and your favorite tart apples
3. Caramelized sugar spread: these sticky buns are like upside down cinnamon rolls. To caramelize the sugar, we place it in the bottom of the pan and then top with pecans. It caramelizes into a gooey glaze to become decadent pull apart sticky buns.
You roll up the dough into a log and slice to place on top of the sugar spread. To slice the rolls, you can use a sharp serrated knife or my personal favorite…floss! I know, kind of funny, but this priceless secret I learned from my mom is now the only way I do it! It makes for a cleaner cut. The floss keeps the swirl layers perfectly even. Just cross the ends over and pull tight. It’s magic!
Easy Sticky Bun Adaptations
There are several ways you can adapt this to your liking or make substitutions for missing ingredients.
1. Not a nut lover? We can still be friends. If you have some family members that are scared of nuts, it is SO easy to just put nuts down on half of the pan. The other half you can leave plain OR put chopped apples down in addition to the chopped apples in the filling.
2. No pure maple syrup? You can sub out the maple syrup for honey! I love the depth the maple syrup provides, but honey works too! I haven’t tried using a sweetened syrup like Mrs. Butterwoth’s but if you try it, let me know!
3. Trade out or omit the apples! You can eliminate the apples without it impacting the recipe if you’d like. You can also swap them out with pears!
If you have any questions about adapting this recipe, feel free to ask below!
Caramel Apple Pecan Sticky Buns
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 ¼ tsp instant yeast
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 large egg
- About 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- ⅓ cup brown sugar, packed
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup chopped apples (granny smith or a tart red variety work great)
- ¾ cup brown sugar, packed
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 1 cup chopped pecans *see note for optional toasting
Prepare the dough
- Using a stand mixer with the dough hook attached (or you can mix & knead by hand in a large bowl), combine the warm milk, yeast, and sugar together. If using active dry yeast instead of instant yeast, wait about 10 minutes for the yeast to activate and get foamy.
- Add the egg, salt, and half the flour. Mix on low speed. While mixing, add the butter one tablespoon at a time.
- Slowly add the remaining flour while mixing. Pour your last half cup of flour in slowly, watching the dough. You may add slightly more or less flour as needed. You've added enough flour when the dough is soft, slightly sticky, and pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Knead for 8-10 minutes on low-medium speed.
- Remove the dough hook and cover the bowl. Let the dough rise for about 30-60 minutes, or until doubled in size.* (See note for a tip)
- While dough is rising, prepare the filling by combining the sugars and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Mix together and set aside.
- Combine all of the ingredients together in a bowl, except the pecans. Using a hand mixer, beat together all of the ingredients until combined. Line a 9x13" baking pan with parchment paper then gently spraying with non stick spray. Spread the caramel spread evenly into the pan. Add chopped pecans evenly on top of the spread. For extra-loving apple lovers, you can add more chopped apples here with the pecans. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Transfer the dough to a clean work surface spread lightly dusted with flour. Roll out the dough into about a 14"x12" rectangle. Spread an even layer of softened butter and generously sprinkle the cinnamon sugar filling and chopped apples.
- Gently roll it up into a log. Cut into 1"-2" sections using a strand of floss or sharp serrated knife, making 12 rolls. Place rolls on top of the caramel spread in the pan. Set aside to rise until dough has risen about 50% and is puffy.
- Bake for about 28-30 minutes, until tops are golden brown. Remove from oven and let it rest for 5-10 minutes in the pan. Then invert the pan by flipping it over and placing rolls on top of a baking sheet or serving dish. Serve warm. These are best warm, same day. To reheat, place in microwave or oven to gently warm up again.
Bosch Universal Mixer
USA 9x13" cake pan (these pans are my favorite - they last forever!)
French rolling pin
Silicone mat (one of my favorite, most used kitchen item!)