Sticky Subjects

One of the most recommended and best things we ate while we were in Pioneer Woman country (aka Pawhuska, Oklahoma) earlier this month was Ree’s Pecan Sticky Buns. It wasn’t just that they were light & fluffy on the inside, but they were also sweet & sticky all over. To top it off, they were generously studded with pecans swimming in all that brown sugar, gooey goodness. I’m not sure there’s a better way to start any morning than with soft layers of cinnamony-sweet dough baked to just golden and served up hot with rivulets of amber-colored sauce running down the sides and toasted pecans (I even threw some shaved almonds in a couple pans!) blanketing the top. Is it PE-cans or puh-CAHNS? I’ll just leave this here and let you decide.

When I was a tween/teen, traveling to see my grandparents in Ohio was a regular occurrence owing to my mother’s long career in the airline industry. The Dayton, Ohio airport for years was home to a Cinnabon location just inside the security checkpoint. Right after getting through security, I would stop over for one of my favorite treats. A Caramel PecanBon of course! They’re like a million and half calories, but wow! They’re just so good! These sticky buns remind me of those in a big way, but these I think are even better. My beloved Cinnabon is no longer there, but the memory remains… and now I have a fabulous stand-in when I need a fix!

Reminiscent of thick pecan pie, the pecans are spread in a generous layer on the bottom of a 12in cast iron (I used foil pans and individual cast iron servers to make these easier to give away as gifts). Then a batter comprised of butter, brown sugar, honey, vanilla, and whiskey (a good replacement here is orange juice or even more vanilla if you’d prefer or don’t have whiskey) is whipped and dolloped atop the pecans. The whole mess is brought to a sticky, melty, bubbling sauce in the oven and a bloated pinwheel of cinnamon-and-sugar-laced dough is placed right on top. Let it rise and bake. The final flip is where it’s at. This step sets it apart from your average cinnamon roll.

So what makes the distinction between sticky buns and cinnamon rolls and honey buns? Well in this instance, Ree combines all three in a way. America’s Test Kitchen gives the distinction here between the three. Ree combines the cinnamon-sugar filling of the cinnamon roll, swaps out the typical powdered sugar frosting for the aforementioned pecan-butter-brown sugar-honey base, and throws in the baking technique of the honey buns to create a delightful mash-up of these three breakfast faves. It’s what we all wanted, but didn’t know it until she gave it to us and now we can’t look back!

The sticky buns were so good, I knew the danger as soon as I sank my teeth into the first one. I immediately wanted to eat the rest of them in rapid succession. I’m so so glad I made plans and preparations early on to gift most of them to some friends and family. I’m afraid of what would happen to my waistline if I had kept them around! The pastry was soft with the tenderest crumb and was one of the easiest I’ve actually put together in a good while. The sticky topping wasn’t so sticky that it would pull out a filling, neither was it too loose that it spread all over the plate. Both were just right and received rave reviews from all!

The recipe didn’t quite give temperature instructions, which I think would be detrimental to your average home cook. One can easily kill their yeast (something in short supply lately) if the liquid temperature is too hot. It’s a catch-22 really. I see Ree’s point in saying “heat to just below a boil. Set aside and let cool to warm.” The instructions are vague since a kitchen thermometer is not something everyone has in their kitchen arsenal (I get it, I do), but it’s worth the small investment. If you feel like splurging, the Thermoworks Thermapen Mk4 is America’s Test Kitchen recommended. However, if you’re looking for a bargain (though it may be less accurate), something like this KT Thermo Instant Read 2-Inch Dial Thermometer, would suit just as well. Just don’t try to rely on it for candy-making.

The only real struggle I had is the proper amount of work space required for rolling out the dough. The instructions say 30×18, but unless you have a great island (I’m baking in a galley kitchen here!), you may have to get creative like I did. I have a nice 16×16 wood cutting board we received for our wedding, so I chose to use this. I divided the dough in half and worked in half-batches to pull this creation off. This recipe was so forgiving that it neither mattered nor was it noticeable in the end. This is a true testament to this recipe since baked goodies tend to be more temperamental (especially ones using yeast).

I’m thinking of using pumpkin pie spice with hazelnuts for these in the fall to donate to the annual fall carnival bake sale… What are some of your favorite cinnamon/sticky/honey/pecan buns/rolls?

Currently Reading: Passionate Nutrition by Jennifer Adler

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