1. Home
  2. >
  3. recipe
  4. >
  5. Baking with Nibs: Cynthia’s...

Apr 6, 2015

Baking with Nibs: Cynthia’s Sticky Buns

Gram and Pa's house, Chambersburg, PA

Sticky buns before going in the oven.

I don’t always find the time to make sticky buns, but when I do, they never last long. These are not for those avoiding gluten or dairy or sugar, and each time I make them I love the way the ooey, gooey caramel glaze on top counteracts the bitterness of the nibs I use in place of nuts. This recipe was adapted from Peter Reinhart’s excellent book, The Breadbaker’s Apprentice. I often use nibs in place of nuts when I’m baking, and I recommend anyone try it. Depending on where the cacao is from, they can add a ruddy earthiness, tart fruit notes, or smokiness, as well as a different kind of texture.

I’ve shared this recipe with others who haven’t been able to replicate the results, and I believe these three tips are what make these sticky buns extra delicious. Follow them for best results.

  1. Weigh, don’t measure! After making these in a rental cabin where I didn’t have a scale, I can personally attest to this. Using a measuring cup, particularly for flour, can cause very different weights of flour to be used. For this recipe, you want to use as little as possible, or the dough will become dry and it’s very easy to use too much if you don’t weigh your flour. (The sticky buns will still be tasty, but results are always better when I weigh the ingredients).
  2. The Window Pane Test.  This is a technique I learned from the Breadbaker’s Apprentice.  To test if the gluten in the dough is relaxed enough, grab a piece of it and stretch it apart by four corners into a rectangle. If you can stretch it to a thinness that you can almost see through it like a window, its ready. If it tears or is too sticky to do so, the glutens are not relaxed enough and it’s not ready.
  3. Delicious ingredients = delicious bread. I am a firm believer of the instructions my Great Gramma gave my dad when he wanted to learn her bread recipe: “If you use ‘good ingredients,’ the bread could not fail.”  I’m lucky to live in San Francisco, where its easy to find fancy organic, local, pasture-raised, biodynamic ingredients. (Although it’s also a bit depressing that the chickens whose eggs I use have significantly more space to call their own than I could dream of here).

Cinnamon. The one ingredient I never compromise on is Vietnamese cinnamon.  It has a higher oil content than the average cinnamon bottle purchased at your typical grocery store, which means the cinnamon flavor is stronger and lingers longer than regular cinnamon.

Eggs. Even some friends who are used to San Francisco prices think I’m crazy for buying eggs that cost $1/egg.  However, these eggs are not only more tasty, but also more nutritious. (And what else am I going to buy for $1?)

Milk and butter. Organic is okay, but at the risk of sounding like a Portlandia episode, the diet of the cows is more important since it determines the taste of their milk. I use whole milk and unsalted organic butter.

Sugar, brown sugar, and corn syrup. The more stripped of colors these ingredients are, the less delicious flavors they have. I use Wholesome Sweetener’s Organic Fair Trade Sugar and their Corn Syrup (with vanilla) for the topping.

Flour. Flour quality is important. In the US, mass-produced flour is made by pulling apart wheat into its separate components, and then reassembling them. While this creates a uniform flavor, gluten content, and product, I prefer flour that is closer to its natural state, not processed and reorganized in order to make it all taste the same. It’s the same reason I appreciate single-origin chocolate, because terroir and genetics furnish food with particular tastes, and the fact that those are different is what makes it interesting to me. Good quality bread flour is available, but make sure to do some background checking. I use King Arthur unbleached bread flour for this recipe, but for the rest of my baking I like to use Community Grains hard red winter wheat.

Now, if you can’t find all of the best ingredients, just use as many as you can. This recipe is not the simplest of sticky bun recipes, but it’s worth it, I promise.

Nibby Sticky Buns


91 g sugar

7 g salt

77 g butter

3 g lemon zest

46 g egg

448 g flour (bread flour)

6 g yeast (rapid rise NOT dry active)

252 g milk (whole or half and half)


80 g sugar

13 g ground Vietnamese cinnamon


½ cup sugar

½ cup packed brown sugar

½ tsp salt

½ lb. unsalted butter (room temp)

½ cup corn syrup

¼ cup roasted nibs

1. Combine salt, sugar and butter in a mixing bowl. Cream with paddle attachment on high speed until smooth and pale.

2. Add egg and lemon zest. Beat until everything is mixed well, for another minute. Add in flour, yeast, and milk. Mix over low speed until all ingredients are combined together.

3. Switch to dough hook and beat over medium speed for 15 minutes, until the dough crawls up the hook.

4. The dough should be shiny and tacky, not sticky. If the dough is too sticky, add a spoonful of flour at a time and scrape the sides of the bowl during middle of beating process.** Continue until it passes the window pane test.

5. Form the dough into a shape of ball. Place in a bowl, spraying both bowl and dough with some oil.

6. Cover dough with plastic wrap. Let ferment at room temperature for 2 hours, until dough doubles in size.

7. Prepare the caramel glaze and prep your baking pan for later.

8. Dust working surface with flour. Transfer dough to the counter and use a well-floured rolling pin to roll the dough into a long rectangle with .25 inch thickness.

9. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar generously on the dough. Use your hands to roll the dough away from you to form a long log of dough with a cinnamon swirl, not pressing it too hard. The roll should be quite loose.

10. Slice the rolls into 1-inch thickness buns and gently place on top of the glazed pan, about ½ inch apart.  Proof at room temp for 90 minutes.

11. Preheat oven to 350° F and bake on lowest shelf for about 30 minutes. (Caramel should be melted, and buns should just be turning golden on top.)  Pull out of oven and cool before flipping over onto serving plate.

12. Eat all the sticky buns.

To make the caramel glaze

1. Cream sugar, packed brown sugar, salt, and butter (room temp). Add corn syrup (I use a brand that has vanilla, but you might want to add a teaspoon of vanilla extract) and continue to cream until light and fluffy.

2. Spread a ¼ inch thick layer of glaze on the bottom of a glass casserole pan. Lightly sprinkle nibs on top to taste, not too many or it will be bitter.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: