baking
Cinnamon Buns vs. Sticky Buns vs. Honey Buns
These sweet baked goods might be similar, but they're definitely not the same.
04-15-2022
America's Test Kitchen

No brunch is complete without the inclusion of a sweet, gooey bun, whether it’s a cinnamon bun, a sticky bun, or a honey bun. But what are the real differences between a bun and a roll? While the differences between these brunch pastries might be minor, they are differences no less. (Something that’s decidedly not different about the three: they’re all delicious.)

So, what exactly sets one sticky pastry apart from the others? Read on to find out.

Cinnamon Buns

A good cinnamon roll recipe should produce a pastry that is tender, fluffy, and packed with cinnamon-y filling. But are they really that different from cinnamon buns? Yes: the difference lies in how they’re formed. While buns are braided and rolled to create a more traditionally bun-like result, cinnamon rolls are, as the name suggests, rolled to form a spiral that contains all the oozy butter and brown sugar filling.

Another key difference in these pastries is how they are removed from their pans once they’ve been baking. While cinnamon rolls are removed and then glazed with cream cheese icing, cinnamon buns are flipped out of the pan upside down, allowing the butter-sugar mixture that leaks out of the pastry while baking to form a sweet crust on top. Cinnamon buns are then also usually glazed with a tangy cream cheese frosting.

How do you make the best cinnamon rolls?

  1. Making cinnamon rolls can be involved, but we discovered a big shortcut. We prepared a quick biscuit dough with buttermilk, melted butter, and flour, adding baking powder for lightness and baking soda to balance the acidity of the buttermilk. All of the flavor; way less of the time spent. 
  2. Opt for dark brown sugar instead of granulated in the filling. Brown sugar’s moistness helps it stick to the tacky dough so you can roll it up easily, as opposed to a dry, loose filling made with granulated sugar that scatters when the dough is rolled.
  3. Don’t roll your dough into a too-tight cylinder. We found that keeping the cylinder a little looser produced tall but level buns.

Sticky Buns

Sticky buns are generally a bit more dense than cinnamon buns, and although they share the sticky element with honey buns, the reason each bun is sticky varies. (Both sticky buns and honey buns call for pecans, however.) While honey bun recipes call for, you guessed it, honey, sticky bun recipes call for a caramel glaze.

How do you make the best sticky buns?

  1. To make a softer, more tender, and moist sticky bun, add a cooked flour-and-water paste to the dough. The paste traps water, so the dough isn’t sticky or difficult to work with, and the increased hydration converts to steam during baking, which makes the bread fluffy and light.
  2. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes before adding sugar and salt. This allows the gluten to firmly establish itself, which prevents the bread from collapsing under the weight of the topping. 
  3. Use a spoon to scoop any extra glaze from the baking pan onto the buns after they're finished baking.

Watch the video below to see Bridget and Julia make our recipe for Ultimate Sticky Buns.

Honey Buns

Honey buns—like cinnamon rolls and sticky buns—take the form of an elegant pinwheel-like roll. Instead of having the glaze poured over the top after cooking (which is how it goes down with most sticky bun recipes), honey buns are cooked upside down in a baking pan that’s been lined with the sticky, hearty honey and pecan topping ahead of cooking; much like the cinnamon bun method. The pan is flipped after cooking, giving the top of the honey buns a more flat appearance than that of a cinnamon roll or a sticky bun.

How do you make the best honey buns?

  1. Use buttermilk instead of regular milk in your dough. The tang of the buttermilk complements the honey's rich flavor. 
  2. Orange blossom water is your secret weapon. It adds a subtle, floral backbone, and gives the buns a distinctly "grown-up" flavor profile. 
  3. Cut the granulated sugar and corn syrup, and let the honey do all the talking. 

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