Filed under: Breads / Rolls
December 15, 2023

Milk Bread Sticky Pecan Buns

Gooey salted vanilla caramel studded with crunch pecans sits over super soft pillowy milk bread rolls layered with brown butter, brown sugar and ground cinnamon.

5 from 3 votes
Yield: 12 buns
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Milk Bread Sticky Pecan Buns

You guys love these brown butter buttermilk (milk bread!) cinnamon rolls so much and I’d had it on my to do list for over a year to turn them into pecan sticky buns, but I often write stuff down and then get distracted by other ideas (which is what happened last Christmas!). This year though, I had a reader who makes SO many of my recipes ask specifically for a milk bread pecan bun recipe so I moved it right up to the top of the list. 

And I’m SO glad I did because these are revolutionary! I didn’t realize I was going to love pecans + caramel + cinnamon rolls this much tbh. And yet, after baking these and on my way to pick up my daughters from school, I found myself itching to get home so I could eat another (two). 

Recipe Origins

The bread for the rolls is expectedly super super soft thanks to the tangzhong (a chinese method used in japanese milk bread), in between the soft bread layers is brown butter, brown sugar and lots of cinnamon. So far we’re working from my brown butter cinnamon roll recipe but these skip the heavy cream bath and the glaze and instead get baked on top of an ooey gooey caramel (which is more butterscotch if you ask me) flavored with sea salt and vanilla, and a layer of crispy pecans. 

To sum up, it’s christmas morning in a bun =) 

Recipe Ingredients 

Flour: I use bread flour for the rolls but you can also use a high protein all purpose flour (like KAF which is 11.7%). Lower protein flours will not be able to develop enough gluten to give a good roll. 

Yeast: Rapid rise yeast in the US usually comes in packets of 7g. Just one packet for the recipe. 

Powdered buttermilk or milk: This ‘enriches’ the bread and makes it tender, either powder will do. If you’d like to avoid it altogether you can use milk in place of the water (both parts, for the roux and with the yeast) but the dough will be just a bit less moist. 

Oil: Anything flavorless like canola, avocado or grapeseed. You can also use melted butter (browned butter too – but measure AFTER browning). 

Eggs: Two eggs. This dough can’t be made egg-less but you can check out this sour cream based dough for an alternative. 

Salt & vanilla: fine sea salt and pure vanilla extract or a vanilla paste. 

Sugar: We’ll need sugar for three parts of the recipe: in the bread dough, layered into the cinnamon rolls and in the caramel. I use brown sugar for all three. Light or dark is fine. 

Butter: I like to brown the butter for the filling (a la these brown butter buttermilk cinnamon rolls) because it adds so much flavor. You need about 6 tablespoons butter total, if you’re browning it, brown 8 tablespoons to compensate for the loss of moisture. For the caramel, use cold butter. 

Cinnamon: Ground cinnamon, sprinkled over the filling but you can also add some to the caramel if you like. 

Pecans: I buy raw pecans and toast them myself so they are extra crispy and fresh flavored. Even if you are using toasted pecans, freshen them up in the oven with a 5 minute bake at 350 F spread on a baking sheet. 

Heavy cream: or heavy whipping cream. No substitutes. 


How to make the Dough 

First make the roux: set the water and a portion of the flour in a pot and cook over medium low heat until thickened. The texture will resemble a wet paste. Once thick, remove from heat and set aside. 


Pour the yeast into the bottom of a stand mixer bowl and the warm water on top. I like adding a pinch of the sugar to this because it helps activate the yeast. Once you see it’s gotten a bit foamy, or has started to bubble, you know it’s good to use. 

On top of the yeast mixture, add the flour and then the rest of the dough ingredients. I keep the eggs and tangzhong separate so that the heat of the tangzhong doesn’t start ‘cooking’ the eggs. 

Then turn the mixer on and knead for about 7-10 minutes, until the dough comes around the dough hook and is almost clearing the bowl. It will still be sticky, that’s fine. 

Put the dough in an oiled bowl and rub the dough against the bowl so that it too gets covered in oil. Cover the bowl to seal and then leave it to rise until its’ about 1.5 times its original size. 

Tips I’ve learned from making a hundred cinnamon rolls 

  • Don’t let the dough double in size: if it does or gets overly puffy it’s going to exhaust the yeast and then the rolls will shrink after baking. 
  • Knead but don’t over or under knead: Overkneading the dough will over-develop the gluten, that’s something you want to do for a brioche dough where butter is added and the fat prohibits the development of gluten. We don’t need to do that for this dough but we do want to make sure it’s got enough structure. Stop when the bowl is almost clean but the dough still looks sticky and rough. 
  • Overly softened butter is best to spread over the dough: When it’s in its “creamy” stage it’s easiest to spread. If it’s still cold or even at room temperature, it’s still firm and will tear the dough. If you’re using browned butter like I am, brown it and then let it cool until it solidifies a bit. If the butter has gotten firm again, set it in the microwave to melt it just a bit. 
  • Use unwaxed dental floss to slice the dough log: it just helps you get really clean, unsquashed rolls. 


How to make Caramel for Sticky Buns 

This is a very simple and straightforward process: everything but the vanilla goes into a pot and set it over medium heat. 


Once the butter is melted and the sugar has dissolved, stir and then let it boil for a few minutes. Then take it off the heat and stir in the vanilla. 

Pour the caramel into the bottom of a lightly greased pan and tilt it so that the caramel moves into an even layer. 

How to Shape and Arrange the Buns 

Sprinkle and spread the pecans in an even layer over the caramel. I do this one by one but that’s mostly because I have to prepare the rolls to be photo-pretty 😉  

When the dough is ready, flour the countertop and a rolling pin and roll out the dough to a large rectangle (about the inner size of a cookie sheet) and then spread the super soft butter over it. (Sorry about my window lines in the pic!)

In the video you’ll see I sprinkle the sugar, then the cinnamon and then the salt but that’s because I can eyeball these things pretty well. To ensure you’re getting the right amount, stir together the sugar and flavorings then spread it over the filling. 

Roll up the dough into a log then slice it into about 1.75 inches and arrange the rolls over the nuts. 

I usually arrange my rolls so I have 2 then 1 then 2 then 1… and so on. Leaving enough space for them to rise and bake. 

Cover gently with a tea towel and let the rolls have a second rise. You don’t need to wait for the dough to leave a perfect indentation but a slight one is just fine. 

Preheat the oven and bake the rolls until golden all over. Let cool before inverting the pan. 

You can invert directly onto a large plate or chopping board or place a sheet of parchment paper in between to help with the sticky (but delicious!) mess. 


Make Ahead or Overnight Sticky Buns 

It isn’t ideal, because rising times will be off, but it does make sense if you want to serve these for breakfast. Two toptions:

For the first rise, I’d let it rise for an hour at room temperature then stick it in the fridge overnight. See where the dough is at in the am; if it’s almost doubled in size then it’s ready to be shaped. If not, give it an hour at room temperature before shaping. 

For the second rise, once you’ve shaped the rolls you can leave them for 20 minutes at room temperature then set in the fridge. In the morning, bring the rolls to room temperature and then test them by gently pressing on the side of one of the rolls: if it leaves a small indentation it’s ready to be baked. If it immediately springs back, it might need a bit more time to rise before baking. 


When are pecan sticky rolls done baking? 

The surest way to confirm they are done baking is to insert an instant read thermometer into the bread part of the middle roll and confirm it is at 190 F. If you don’t have a thermometer check that the middle roll is properly risen and golden. 

If you find that some of the rolls are still underdone but some are over-browning, tent the pan with foil and continue baking. 

Serving and Storing the Buns 

Serve them warm! The buns are best the day of baking. If you have leftovers, store them overnight in an airtight container at cool room temperature. Warm them up in the microwave before eating. 

Milk Bread Pecan Sticky Buns Recipe

Milk Bread Sticky Buns

Gooey salted vanilla caramel studded with crunch pecans sits over super soft pillowy milk bread rolls layered with brown butter, brown sugar and ground cinnamon.
Milk Bread Sticky Pecan Buns
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 1 hour
Rising Time: 3 hours
Yields: 12 buns
5 from 3 votes


Tangzhong or Roux

  • 240 g or 1 cup cool water
  • 40 g or ⅓ cup bread or all purpose flour


  • 7 g or 1 packet instant yeast
  • cup warm water
  • 3 tablespoons of 30 g powdered buttermilk or milk
  • 100 g or ½ cup brown sugar light or dark
  • 2 large eggs
  • 52 g or ¼ cup canola oil or browned butter
  • ¾ tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 500 g or 4 cups bread or all purpose flour


  • 80 g or 6 tablespoons butter softened (can use browned butter - measure after browning)
  • 200 g or 1 cup brown sugar
  • Pinch fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 cup pecans chopped finely (optional)


  • 2 cups pecans raw
  • 113 g or ½ cup butter
  • 200 g or 1 cup brown sugar
  • 80 g or ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract


  • Start by making the tangzhong or roux: in a pot set 1 cup of water and a ⅓ cup of flour. Whisk well to combine. Turn the heat to medium low and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Whisk well and remove from heat. Set aside to cool.
  • Put the yeast in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer and add the warm water over it and a pinch of the sugar. Stir to combine and leave for a few minutes. Once it starts to foam a bit, you can be sure it’s safe to use.
  • Pour the flour over the yeast along with the rest of the sugar, the oil, salt and vanilla and the buttermilk or milk powder. On one side of the bowl add the cooled tangzhong/roux. On the other crack in the eggs (this is to avoid the heat of the roux cooking the eggs before the dough is mixed).
  • Affix the dough hook and knead the dough on low speed, working it up to medium. Once the dough comes together around the dough hook, about 7-10 minutes.
  • Set the dough in an oiled bowl, toss the dough around the bowl to cover it in the oil then cover the bowl and leave it to rise until almost, but not fully doubled, about 1.5-2 hours.

While the dough is rising two quick things you can do:

  • Brown butter for the filling and set aside to cool. It’s best to use it when it’s at a ‘creamy’ stage so shaping the rolls won’t be messy.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 and spread the raw pecans on a baking sheet. Toast the pecans for 10 minutes, until fragrant. Let cool and set aside.

When the dough has risen, make the caramel for the bottom of the rolls:

  • Set the butter, brown sugar and heavy cream in a pot and add the fine sea salt. Once the butter melts and the sugar dissolves the mixture will start to boil. Let it boil vigorously for about 3-4 minutes then take it off the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  • Pour the caramel into the bottom of a *greased* 13x9 inch cake pan. Tilt the pan so the caramel goes into the edges and is in an even layer. Sprinkle the pecans over the caramel. Set this aside while you shape the rolls.
  • On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about a 12x18 inch rectangle. Spread the cooled brown butter over the dough, leaving a half inch border on one of the short sides. Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Spread the brown sugar mixture over the butter in an even layer, using your hands or an offset spatula. If you like, you can add a sprinkle of finely chopped pecans.
  • Roll up the dough from the longer edge in a tight log. Using unwaxed dental floss or a bread knife, slice the dough into 2 inch rolls. I usually slice off a bit of the edges before I start slicing for the rolls. Lay and arrange the rolls on top of the caramel with space between so they have room to rise and bake. Carefully lay a tea towel over the pan and let rise for 45 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake the rolls for about 25-30 minutes, until golden and fully puffed. To be sure the rolls are done baking, insert an instant thermometer into the center most roll, the temperature should read 190 F. If the rolls aren’t done but some are over-browning, tent the pan with foil as they finish baking.
  • Give the rolls about 10 minutes on the counter to cool. Lay a sheet of parchment paper over the rolls and then a large cutting board over the paper. Carefully invert the pan (turn it upside down) and lift the pan away. If there are pecans still stuck to the pan, you can carefully take them out one by one and place them back on the caramel.
  • These are best served warm and the day of baking but they’ll keep fine at room temperature and a 30 second warm up in the microwave will render them still wonderful the next day.

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Recipe Reviews

  1. 5 stars
    These are delicious! I loved Sam’s brown butter buttermilk cinnamon rolls, so I was super excited when I saw these. I made them for a family members birthday and they did not disappoint! They are super soft and squishy and just divine- I added pecans to the filling and I loved that touch. I flipped them onto a foil covered cookie sheet, and they came out without a problem, so no issues there. I made them the night before and let them sit in the fridge overnight for their final rise. They were a tad overproofed but none of us minded! Just make these now bc they’re fantastic!!!

  2. 5 stars
    These are delicious!!!! I was so excited when I saw these, so I made them for a family member’s birthday and they did not disappoint! They are super soft and squishy and the caramel and pecans are SO GOOD on them! I did add the pecans to the filling and it was a really nice touch. I made these the night before and let them sit in the fridge overnight for their final rise. They were a tad overproofed but you could hardly tell. Once they were done, I just flipped them onto a foil covered cookie sheet, and they came out with no problem. I will definitely be making these again!