Every Thanksgiving of my childhood was spent at my grandparents’ house. We would drive up to their place on Wednesday and my Mom and Mamaw would spend the day preparing. I didn’t spend much time in the kitchen when I was young, but I could always be called upon to help Mamaw with the preparation for Thanksgiving morning sticky buns.
The buns we made were a tradition. Mamaw had clipped the recipe from a newspaper when I was around eight years old and every year from then on out I eagerly helped her assemble the sticky buns. The night before Thanksgiving I would dig out the pretty bundt pan that was used solely for this occasion; grab a packet of instant butterscotch pudding mix & dig through the freezer for two bags of frozen dinner rolls. Yep, these were cheater sticky buns–assembly only. Mamaw loved a quick & easy recipe from the newspaper. We’d read the recipe together and I’d go about layering the buttery spiced pudding mix, rolls and chopped pecans while Mamaw supervised and cheered me on as she sipped her glass of wine. The buns would sit on the kitchen counter overnight to rise. When I woke up the next morning, it was like magic seeing how those frozen rolls had risen overnight. They looked like light fluffy little clouds dotted with the caramel-y pecan goodness.
After baking and being turned out onto a plate, the mountain of sticky buns would sit on the kitchen counter where they would be picked apart and snacked on throughout the day while all the other preparations were made for our late afternoon meal. I learned much later that these buns were what most people call ‘Monkey Bread’, but I continue to label them sticky buns for the sake of nostalgia. I do not, however, continue to used pudding mix and frozen rolls. While it might be the easier way, I enjoy making yeasted baked goods and I think Mamaw would concur that the flavor and texture of these buns would be a far superior beginning to your Thanksgiving Day or really any special day for that matter.
Over the past 7 years Sam and I have crafted our own Thanksgiving celebrations with different friends, around different tables, in different states & even countries. Some years it’s been just the two of us, others we’ve hosted or we’ve spent the holiday at a friend’s place. As a result we’ve not really settled on any of our own traditions but embraced other’s tables and a mixed collaboration which brings me a lot of joy. I’ve loved every year and all of the traditions we’ve been able to take part in.
This year our Thanksgiving looked different yet again. Sam had a conference stateside in the days leading up to the holiday, so we took the opportunity to visit his side of the family. The day consisted of friends and family, catching up with everyone, and every conceivable kind of Thanksgiving food. The day was special in many ways, not least of all that it was the first Thanksgiving in years that either of us have spent with family.
It was the first time since I started helping with the sticky buns at the age of eight that I’ve not had something to contribute–a pie, a galette, green bean casserole, something! It felt strange and foreign coming to the Thanksgiving table empty handed but I was welcome nonetheless by gracious hosts with warm hearts.
We returned to our home in Manchester a few days after all the celebration. It had been a long time since I’d made sticky buns. The tradition fell away as Mamaw aged. The holiday spirit lingered with me this year and I felt like I needed this recipe. I needed the reminder of little traditions and memories from the past to come alongside all of the new ones I’ve picked up. I didn’t make them for Thanksgiving morning, but the smell of the sticky buns baking in my kitchen days after the holiday transported me back to the Thanksgivings of my childhood in the kitchen with Mamaw. I think that this recipe will be something I go back to, not only on Thanksgiving, but for other special occasions. They may even make a debut at Christmas. They’d be perfect for a brunch-y celebration situation!
If you like these Pecan Sticky Buns, you might also like:
Pecan Sticky Buns
For the buns:
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
- 1/2 cup whole milk warm (110*F)
- 1/4 cup water warm (110*F)
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon of fast rise yeast
- 2 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for dusting
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the stickyness:
- 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 cup pecan halves roughly chopped
To make the dough, stir together melted butter, milk, water, sugar and yeast in a medium bowl or large measuring cup. Set aside for about five minutes so that they yeast can activate. Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Once the yeast has activated, make a well in the flour mixture and slowly pour in your milk mixture with one hand while stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon with your other hand. Once everything has come together into a shaggy mess, scrap the dough out of the bowl onto a clean and lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough until it becomes shiny and elastic.*
Form the dough into a round smooth ball. Lightly oil a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm, draft free place until the dough doubles in size--this should take about an hour.**
Towards the end of the hour that your dough is rising, mix together 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons of light brown sugar and the cinnamon in a medium bowl. Then, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter and pour into another bowl. Grease a 9x5 loaf pan with butter and sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon cinnamon sugar mix and 1/3 of the chopped pecans.
Once your dough has risen, remove it from the bowl and pat it into a rectangle that's roughly 4in x 8in. With a pizza wheel or bench scrapper, cut the dough rectangle into 32 pieces. Roll each piece into a little ball.
One dough ball at a time, dip in the butter and shake a little over the bowl to get the excess butter off, then roll in the brown sugar mixture and then place in the loaf pan. Do this with half of the dough balls, filling up the bottom of the tin. Once you've got your first layer of dough balls down, sprinkle with half of your remaining chopped pecans, then repeat your butter and sugar dipping with the rest of the dough balls placing them atop of the bottom layer in the tin. Sprinkle with the remaining pecans.
Cover the loaf tin with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft free area to rise for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350*F
Once the buns have risen (they should look puffy and be near the top edge of the pan), remove the plastic wrap and place the pan in the preheated oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pan at about 13 minutes to ensure even baking. When they're done baking the buns will be dark and carmelized and you should be able to see little bits of sugar bubbling. Remove from oven and cool in pan for 5 minutes. Turn out onto a plate and let cool about 10 more minutes. Pull apart and enjoy!
*This will be a very wet and sticky dough, but it is absolutely possible to bring it together by hand. If you keep going, it will come together. Mine took about 20 mins, yours might take less or more, just look for the dough to become shiny and smooth and not break when you stretch it. If kneading by hand isn't your thing, you can absolutely make this in a stand mixer. Just put the flour mix in the stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Turn it on low speed. slowly pour in the milk mixture. Once all the milk mixture is in, turn the speed up to medium. Let the dough mix for about 5-7 minutes, or until the dough is shiny and smooth, then return to step 2.
**At this point, you can put the dough in the fridge and finish everything else in the morning. If you do choose to make the dough ahead, just make sure you take it out of the fridge and let it sit in a warm, draft free place about an hour and a half before you want to move on to step 3.