Recipe Review

I Tried Baking These Famously Giant Sticky Buns, and the Caramel “Goo” Is Unreal

published May 21, 2023
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sticky bun on plate
Credit: Photo: Lucy Schaeffer; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

I’ve long known about the legendary sticky buns from chef Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery in Boston; they famously won in an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay. So when it came down to deciding the contenders for the sticky bun recipe showdown, I knew I had to see if I could get bakery-style results in my own home kitchen. Her recipe relies on brioche dough, which I had never made before. Could I find bakery-quality success in my own home kitchen, as a bona fide brioche newbie? 

How to Make Joanne Chang’s Sticky Sticky Buns

As noted, these sticky buns are made with brioche dough. The process starts by combining all-purpose and bread flours, yeast, sugar, salt, water, and eggs in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Once a dough comes together, you add almost three sticks of butter, a little at a time over a span of 10 minutes, then knead the dough for 15 minutes once all the butter has been incorporated. This dough proofs in the fridge for a minimum of six hours or up to overnight (I chose the latter timeframe). Note: You’ll only use half of the brioche dough for the buns — unless you choose to make a double-batch of buns.

For the sticky bun glaze (which Chang calls “the goo”), you’ll melt butter in a saucepan and whisk in brown sugar until it’s dissolved. You’ll remove the pan from the heat and whisk in honey, heavy cream, water, and salt, then allow the goo to cool to room temperature.

To make the sticky bun filling, you’ll stir together brown sugar, granulated sugar, a hint of cinnamon (1/8 teaspoon), and some pecans. When the dough is ready, you’ll roll half of it into a rectangle (reserving the rest for another use), sprinkle on the filling, roll up the dough into a log, and cut it into 8 slices. You’ll pour the goo into a 13×9-inch pan, top with more pecans and then the dough slices, and allow them to rise until they’ve expanded enough to touch each other (about two hours). At that point, you simply bake the buns, uncovered, at 350°F for 35 to 45 minutes (I went for 35 minutes), then invert them onto a platter.

Credit: Photo: Lucy Schaeffer; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

My Honest Review of Joanne Chang’s Sticky Sticky Buns

Holy cow! That inarticulate phrase accurately captures my first impression. 

Before you even tuck into one, these sticky buns will elicit all kinds of wonky interjections. For starters, they’re huge — about the size of large packaged honey buns (with which they share nothing else in common) and loaded with lots of luscious, buttery, glossy, caramel-y goo. And that is the flavor that dominates. There’s a hint of cinnamon in the filling, and no more than that, so that it doesn’t overpower the caramel-rich flavor of the glaze.

The buns themselves are wonderfully rich, with a complex, yeasty flavor and soft, pillowy texture (thanks to the brioche dough). You also get nuttiness from the toasted pecans inside and on top of the buns. Because they bake uncovered, the bottoms of the buns (which start off as the top when they’re baking) crisp up a bit, which is a lovely textural contrast to balance all the gooey softness. 

These sticky buns are nothing short of superb, and everything about them — their size, their texture, their flavor, the abundant amount of caramel goo — makes them feel special, like the time and effort you put into making them paid off in an enormous way.

If You’re Making Joanne Chang’s Sticky Sticky Buns, a Few Tips

  1. Proof perfectly. Check your oven or toaster oven to see if it has a proof setting, which will provide the ideal environment for the dough’s second rise. My kitchen was chilly when I made these buns, so room temperature wasn’t going to cut it.
  2. Add more spice if you’d like. For me, the scant amount of cinnamon was ideal, as it allowed the caramel flavor to shine, with just a nice, subtle back note from the spice. If you love the flavor of cinnamon, though, feel free to use more. Although I would caution you to use no more than 1 teaspoon, so that you don’t overpower the goodness of the goo.
  3. Cover for softer buns. The buns bake uncovered, which creates a wonderfully light crispiness on top, which then becomes the bottom when you invert the buns. If you’d prefer a consistently gooey texture throughout, cover the pan halfway through the bake time.

Overall rating: 10/10