baking
Cinnamon Buns vs. Sticky Buns vs. Honey Buns
These sweet baked goods might be similar, but they're definitely not the same.
02-02-2017
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. And while the differences between these three brunch buns might be minor, they are differences no less. (Something that’s decidedly not different about the three: they’re all delicious. They also all contain buttermilk, for what it’s worth.) So, what exactly sets one brunch bun apart from the others? Read on to find out—and vote for your favorite.

Cinnamon Buns

A good cinnamon bun recipe should produce a bun that is tender, fluffy, and packed with cinnamony filling. Oh, and don’t forget the tangy, smooth cream cheese-based icing that goes on top. The difference lies in one ingredient: nuts. Sticky buns and honey buns include them, while they’re not a traditional component of cinnamon buns.

How to Make Better Cinnamon Buns:

1. Making cinnamon buns 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 to Make Better 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. Wasting glaze is sticky bun blasphemy. 

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

Honey Buns

Honey buns—like cinnamon buns and sticky buns—take the form of an elegant pinwheel-like roll. They’re less like cinnamon buns and more like sticky buns, only 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. The pan is flipped after cooking, giving the top of the honey buns a more flat appearance than that of a cinnamon bun or a sticky bun. (For a great recipe for honey buns, piuck up a copy of our recent title, Naturally Sweet.) 

How to Make Better 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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