BakingPhil Project 4: Pecan Sticky Buns (Recipe 8.13)


This chapter on enriched yeast breads continues to build on the techniques of quick breads and yeast breads. The increased amount of sugar and fat of breakfast pastries can inhibit the gluten from developing. Breads without too much fat can be mixed using the straight dough method, otherwise the sponge method is (where yeast is activated before adding fat) recommended. Parisian Brioche is, for example, 50% butter and so needs the sponge method. This concept that fat inhibits gluten growth is new to me. Actual “yeasty breadiness” is lost in order to achieve the decadent taste. Here the yeast and flour is reduced to being a mere vehicle of sugar and fat. I feel bad for the yeast. But….these enriched morsels sure are tasty and worthy of special occasions. This is not the type of bread to gorge on. It is the type to share, where a little should go a long way.

The recipe I chose to try is for Pecan Sticky Buns.  At 480 calories a piece, these buns were certainly worth sharing and eating slowly. Studded with cinnamon pecans inside and coated with honeyed pecans on the outside, this bread felt extravagant in every way. The dough felt fragile under the weight of sugar and nuts. Rolling up the layer of brown sugar, nuts and cinnamon in the inside was like hiding treasure. After baking, the rolls became sponges for the slow drip of the caramelized honey. The whole process had an aura of guilty pleasure. In light of my gluten free, sugar free, milk free, first days of the year, these rolls were just……wrong.

This is rococo extravagance where the ornamental and pleasurable cover functional structure. The fragility of dough under my hands as I was shaping the roll was scary and soothing at the same time. Strange. No rolling pin was needed. I just gently pushed and pulled the dough into shape. How odd that luxurious taste is defined by such fragility!

Desserts may not have practical function but are loaded with symbolic function. The pastry chef constructs a dream landscape of sugar in every confection. An escape from the demands of nourishment, these bites are moments of death defying, excess. When consumed as a matter of habit, pastries loose the symbolic function of living a life beyond practical need (and become death inviting). The proportions so crucial to baking parallel the balance of life well lived energized and shaken by moments of excess and loss. Pecan Sticky Buns definitely ranks as a moment of excess.

Once we enter the realm of cookies and cakes, all practical function is lost. As a bun, the pecan sticky bun is uncomfortably poised between bread and cake, self-aware of its own messy, practical fragility and its heavy symbolic sweet glaze. Sometimes, we all have sticky bun moments torn between a nutty, spicy inside and a sticky shiny, sweet coating.

Credits: Many bees sacrificed their labor for this project, butter made from cow milk, sugar, pecan trees, cinnamon bark, lemons, flour, mixers, muffin pans, bowls, lots of spoons, dish washers, children willing to eat the sugar, etc.


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