Sugar buns are a stunning morning treat, with layers of rich, flaky puff pastry dough swirled with a fragrant sugar mixture and coated in warm butter and sparkling sugar. Consider them the ideal pastry for a fast-and-fancy breakfast treat. They are the easiest way to bring a warm, sugary confection to your mornings (besides picking some up from your favorite bakery).
Unlike their cousins — morning buns, sticky buns, and cinnamon buns — sugar buns can be made with hardly any planning. In less than one hour and with about six ingredients or fewer, you can have these beauties for breakfast.
It's Time to Fall in Love with Sugar Buns
Sugar buns are deceptive. At first glance, they appear to be a simple treat — just a standard pinwheel of pastry coated in sugar. But oh, how wrong we are. Biting into a sugar bun reveals its true nature — all flaky layers of buttery puff pastry, crisp caramelized coating, and warm spices that bloom as you take bite after bite. If you didn't prepare these yourself, you'd surely wonder how such a delicious treat could be so simple to prepare.
Essentially a spin-off of cinnamon rolls, these buns require no kneading, rising, or proofing. You'll only need a few ingredients, most of which you probably have on hand, and less than 20 minutes to put these together. Better still, you can use a few other doughs that you might have on hand in place of the puff pastry that is called for here, too.
Putting the Sugar in Your Sugar Buns
The namesake of these buns — sugar — plays two roles in the baking of these treats. First, the sugar combines with butter while baking to create a candied, caramel-like layer on the bottom of the buns while also turning the almost-savory puff pastry dough into something dessert-like and sweet. Then, as a finishing step, the buns are coated with more sugar — not only for a sparkling finish, but also for some added texture so they crackle and shatter in all the right places when you take a bite. The resulting buns coat your lips in sweetness without being overtly sweet.
What sugar or sugars you use is up to you and what you have on hand in your pantry. I love a combination of white and brown sugar, for an almost caramel flavor, but you could use date sugar for the white sugar and maple sugar in place of the brown sugar for a richer flavor. Topping these buns post-baking with demerara sugar gives them some sparkle and texture, but isn't required.
Swap out your spices: You can also swap out the cinnamon for a mixture of spices — like pumpkin spice or chai spice. Try adding the seeds of a vanilla bean, citrus zest, or even dried herbs for more fanciful creations.
Store-Bought Puff Pastry Makes Sugar Buns a Breeze
Store-bought puff pastry is the secret shortcut for these fast, easy buns. Puff pastry delivers flaky layers and buttery richness to the finished buns without the work of making a laminated dough. You can find it in the freezer section at just about every major grocery store.
Puff pastry is made from a simple dough folded with layers of fat — butter and shortening are most commonly used. The dough and fat are folded over and over creating dozens of thin layers that puff and separate when baked. Freezing and keeping puff pastry cold helps with this puffing effect. Seek out puff pastry made from all butter — these are a higher-quality and, not only do they taste better, but they also puff higher. Puff pastry isn't fussy, but it does have a few particulars. Here are some tips to help you handle it like a pro.
- Thaw frozen puff pastry in the refrigerator overnight or quickly thaw on the counter for 30 to 40 minutes.
- Work quickly and refrigerate the dough if it gets too soft.
- Use a sharp knife for cutting and avoid mashing the dough for a higher puff.
3 Alternatives to Puff Pastry
Puff pastry is something that I always keep on hand, but maybe you don't. You can make sugar buns with three other ready-made doughs. Here are three alternatives that I've had success with over the years.
- Canned crescent roll dough: two cans for 12 buns
- Pizza dough: one pound will make 12 buns
- Homemade or store-bought biscuit dough
Want to make your own? How To Make Puff Pastry from Scratch
How To Make Sugar Buns
What You Need
4 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 (1.25-pound box) frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed but still cold
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
12-well muffin tin
- Heat the oven and grease the muffin tin: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Spray the wells of a 12-well muffin tin with cooking spray; set aside.
- Make the sugar mixture: Combine 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon or lemon zest, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
- Season the puff pastry: Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar onto a work surface. Unfold a piece of puff pastry onto the sugar. Spread 2 tablespoons of the butter on the pastry and sprinkle with 1/3 of the cinnamon sugar.
- Roll up the puff pastry: Roll a rolling pin lightly over the puff pastry to ensure the sugar sticks. Working from the longest side of the puff pastry, roll the puff pastry into a tight roll. Repeat with the remaining sheet of puff pastry, using another 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons of butter, and 1/3 of the cinnamon-sugar.
- Cut the puff pastry: Cut each log crosswise into 6 pieces. Place 1 piece cut-side up in each muffin well.
- Bake the buns: Bake the buns until puffed and dark golden-brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Place the muffin tin on a cooling rack.
- Finish the buns: Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan or a microwave-safe bowl. Brush the finished buns with the butter and sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon-sugar before serving.
- Storage: These buns are best eaten the day they are made. Store any leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature and reheat in a warm oven or microwave.