Sourdough Sticky Buns are the ultimate indulgent treat. Pillowy soft rolls filled with cinnamon sugar are nestled in a rich brown sugar caramel topping that when flipped after baking reveals a gooey, glossy top beautifully studded with toasted pecans. This is such a rich treat that you won’t believe this fluffy bread is made with sourdough!
Sponsored by Imperial Sugar
Oh sticky buns! How I love you. I remember the first time I laid eyes on a sticky bun at the window of an Amish Bakery at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. It was nestled on a plate with a sticky topping with lots and lots of caramelized nuts. I just knew I had to try one and it did not disappoint. It was every bit as good as it looked.
Recipe Box Series
Ever since creating my sourdough starter in 2018, I’ve been on a mission to recreate some of my most treasured culinary memories. I’m so excited to add this Sourdough Sticky Bun recipe to my Imperial Sugar Recipe Box! With the help of my friends at Imperial Sugar, I’ll be releasing recipes for classic bakes made with a sourdough twist. You can look forward to comforting classics like Sourdough Discard Banana Bread, Apple Pie with Sourdough Crust and Sourdough Discard Chocolate Cake.
Sugar is such a vital part of every dessert, it imparts flavor, texture, moisture, and without it, it would be impossible to make our favorite bakes. I used Imperial Sugar Light Brown Sugar to make the dough, cinnamon sugar filling and easy no-cook caramel for these Sourdough Sticky Buns. The brown sugar imparts a rich molasses flavor to this recipe, you can use if it’s what you have in your pantry!
I’m so grateful to Imperial Sugar for making the Recipe Box Series possible and so proud to be partnering with a company with such a long tradition of producing such high-quality products. Imperial Sugar products are 100% pure cane sugar, non-GMO and provide consistently delicious results.
Baking with a sweet stiff starter
This recipe uses a sweet stiff starter. Unlike 100% hydration starters, stiff starters are made at 50% hydration, in the case of this recipe 25 grams of water for 50 grams of all-purpose flour. Stiff sweet starters are commonly used in pastry recipes as adding a little bit of sugar to the starter creates osmotic stress which limits the production of bacteria that causes acidity in sourdough. The result? Fluffy bread with little to no sour flavor, perfect for these Sourdough Sticky Buns!
You can easily convert your 100% hydration liquid starter to a stiff starter simply by feeding it with twice the amount of flour to water. You can start with an unfed liquid starter and feed it using the ingredients for a sweet stiff starter dictated in this recipe.
What is Tangzhong?
For fluffy sticky buns that stay moist for days, I add roux to my dough. Tangzhong is an Asian technique of precooking flour to incorporate more hydration into dough. This allows you to add more moisture without making your dough too difficult to handle. More moisture equals softer, pillowy bread!
Ingredients you need
This recipe has a long ingredient list but each one adds to the richness of this bake.
- All-purpose flour - The low protein content of all-purpose flour imparts a fluffy texture to these buns. Bread flour will result in a denser, chewier bread so I would not recommend using it for this recipe.
- Cornstarch - My secret ingredient for fluffy, cloud-like buns. Cornstarch inhibits gluten development just enough to produce a really tender crumb without sacrificing structure.
- Imperial Sugar Light Brown Sugar - Adds sweetness and a rich molasses flavor
- Corn syrup - Prevents caramel from hardening
- Whole milk - Imparts richness and tenderizes the crumb.
- Eggs - Imparts richness and enriches the dough.
- Butter - Enriches the dough for a soft, pillowy crumb, and adds richness to the caramel.
- Salt - Enhances sweetness and flavor of the bread
- Heavy cream - Thins out caramel while adding a rich flavor
- Cinnamon - Adds a fragrant spice that balances out the sugary sweetness of this bread
- Rum or vanilla - Adds a nuanced flavor that finishes the no-cook caramel
- Pecans - Adds a textural contrast, optional but highly recommended
Let’s make Sourdough Sticky Buns
- Make the sweet stiff starter
- The night before you’re ready to create your sticky bun dough, create your sweet stiff starter. Since stiff starters are made with a higher proportion of flour, it takes longer for the yeast to exhaust their food source and will be viable for longer than a liquid starter. Ideally your starter will be bubbly and domed when you’re ready to mix your dough. But if your starter has sunk a little bit, don’t worry it’s still ok to use.
- Make the Tangzhong
- Tangzhong couldn’t be easier to make. Simply whisk your flour and water together and heat it up in the microwave at 30 second intervals or until the mixture thickens. Cool the roux completely before using.
- Make the dough
- Mix the dough ingredients including the stiff starter and cooled Tangzhong. Even though this dough is quite enriched I was still able to mix it completely by hand. If your dough feels too sticky to handle at any point, let it rest for 30 minutes to an hour before continuing to knead. Knead the dough until it passes the windowpane test.
- Bulk ferment and cold proof
- Let your dough rise at room temperature until doubled in volume. Since this dough has a lot of enrichment this could take longer than you expect. Let the dough rest in the fridge overnight to develop richer flavors.
- Make the easy no cook caramel topping
- No fussing over a stove top this caramel comes together easily in a mixing bowl.
- Roll out the dough and fill with cinnamon sugar
- Flatten your dough out into a large rectangle about 20 by 10 inches and sprinkle an even layer of cinnamon sugar on top. Roll into a long cylinder.
- Cut your rolls using dental floss
- Using dental floss instead of a knife prevents the dough from being crushed and the filling from squeezing out.
- Assemble the sticky buns
- Pour your caramel on the bottom of your baking vessel and arrange your cut rolls on top. I used a 12-inch cast iron pan which housed 10 tall rolls, but feel free to use a 9 by 13 inch baking pan for 12 slightly shorter sticky buns.
- Proof the dough until puffy and well risen
- Let your sticky buns proof covered at room temperature until the dough feels bubbly and completely fills your container.
- Bake at 375 F for 45 mins
- Check the rolls at 25 mins and tent with foil for the final 15 to 20 minutes if they are browning too quickly!
When enriched breads like this sticky bun recipe end up tough, it's usually a proofing issue. This dough is highly enriched with sugar, butter and eggs. These ingredients slow down fermentation, so patience is key. Make sure you let your dough proof until it has increased in volume noticeably!
Sticky buns and cinnamon rolls start off the same way, with a dough rolled with cinnamon sugar. Sticky buns are usually baked over a caramel sauce and pecans while cinnamon rolls are not, and instead served with a cream cheese glaze.
The best way to determine when your sticky buns are done is to probe the center with an instant read thermometer. Once your sticky buns register at 190 to 200 F and are golden brown, they are fully baked.
More sweet sourdough bread recipes you may like
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Sourdough Sticky Buns
- cast-iron skillet or 10-inch cake pan
- dental floss
Stiff sweet starter
- 12 grams brown sugar Imperial Sugar Light Brown Sugar
- 25 grams sourdough starter inactive
- 25 grams water
- 50 grams all-purpose flour
- 150 grams whole milk
- 30 grams all-purpose flour
- 540 grams all-purpose flour
- 30 grams cornstarch
- 6 grams salt
- 75 grams brown sugar Imperial Sugar Light Brown Sugar
- 282 grams whole milk
- 2 eggs large
- 56 grams unsalted butter softened
For the filling
- 200 grams brown sugar Imperial Sugar Light Brown Sugar
- 10 grams cinnamon ground
- 4 grams salt
For the topping
- 113 grams unsalted butter melted
- 150 grams brown sugar Imperial Sugar Light Brown Sugar
- 56 grams dark corn syrup
- 3 grams salt
- 113 grams heavy cream
- 14 grams vanilla
- 125 grams pecans
- Make the stiff starter: The night before you want to mix your dough, combine brown sugar, sourdough starter, water and flour in a jar or airtight container. Mix thoroughly, set aside and let rise overnight, or for at least 8 hours.
- Make the Tangzhong: Whisk together the whole milk and all-purpose flour in a microwave-safe bowl until all the flour is hydrated. Microwave the mixture at 30 second intervals until the mixture forms a thick roux. Set aside and allow to cool to at least 85 F before using.
- Make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, brown sugar and salt. Create a well in the center of the flour mixture and add milk, Tangzhong and eggs. Whisk eggs until no traces remain and gradually fold in the flour mixture.
- Tear the sweet stiff starter into small pieces and add it to your dough. Working inside your bowl, knead the dough together until well incorporated and no traces of flour remain.
- Knead the butter into the dough one tablespoon at a time, waiting until the dough no longer feels greasy and has absorbed the flour before adding more. Continue kneading until the dough feels smooth and cohesive.
- If your dough feels too sticky and difficult to handle, return it to your bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for 30 minutes.
- Strengthen the dough: Turn the dough out on a clean work surface (dust with a little bit of flour if your dough feels too sticky and difficult to handle). Knead the dough until it looks cohesive and smooth, about 5 to 10 minutes. Round the dough out into a tight ball and place in a clean, lightly-oiled mixing bowl.
- Bulk ferment: Let the dough rest undisturbed until it has doubled in volume and looks and feels bubbly. This could take 4 to 6 hours depending on the health of your sourdough starter and the temperature in your kitchen.
- Overnight rest: Deflate the dough inside the bowl to redistribute the food for the yeast. Round it into a tight ball, cover and place it in the refrigerator for an overnight rest.
- Make the filling and topping: Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it rest at room temperature while you make the filling and topping.
- Whisk together the brown sugar and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl combine melted butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Stir until all sugar has dissolved. Add in heavy cream and vanilla. Pour the topping into your cast iron pan. Spread an even layer of pecans on top. Set aside.
- Roll out the dough: Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface. Using a rolling pin dusted with flour, flatten the dough out into a large rectangle about 18 inches long (you don’t have to be exact but try to get as close to this length as possible. If your dough snaps back, let it rest before continuing.
- Sprinkle an even layer of cinnamon sugar on top of the dough, leaving a 1 inch margin. Starting with the longer side, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Seal the seam and lightly roll the cylinder to a 20 inch length.
- Cut out your rolls: Portion out the dough into 10 equal pieces. Arrange the rolls on top of the caramel topping.
- Final proof: Cover the rolls with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place. Let the rolls proof untouched until they look well risen and puffy and have filled out your container, about 2 to 3 hours.
- Bake: Once your rolls are close to being ready, preheat the oven to 375F. Bake the rolls for 35 to 40 minutes, tent the rolls with foil for the last 10 minutes if they appear to be browning too quickly. The rolls will look evenly browned and register at 200F when they are ready.
- Serve: Place the pan on a wire rack to cool slightly, about 5 to 10 minutes. Turn the buns out onto your serving platter. Enjoy the buns fresh from the oven!
- Leftover buns can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for upto 5 days.
- Proofing is everything with this bake. If you do not let your dough properly proof you’ll end up with dense, rubbery buns, so be patient.
- When in doubt use gram measurements over volume measurements.