The summer after my freshman year of college, my mom and I flew up to Alaska for a week-long mission trip with a few of the members from my childhood church. Unlike the previous mission trips the pastor’s husband had organized, where we rebuilt sanctuaries and Sunday school classrooms, we traveled up north just to teach Vacation Bible School.
Since most of the adults in the two towns we visited earned the majority of their income during the summer tourism season, they worked extra long hours, making it hard (and expensive!) to hire baby-sitters, so by taking care of their children during VBS, it helped the community a lot more than we anticipated!
With only five kids in the second town’s VBS program, we took turns driving the half hour to that church in the afternoons. They didn’t need all twelve of us, even with their rambunctious personalities! So on one of our off-days, Mom and I walked down to the docks where most of the shops and eateries sat, and we wandered around, watched the fishermen deftly fillet their catches, and stopped for a snack at the bakery.
The moment we opened the door, the yeasty smell of freshly baked bread washed over us, drawing us near the display counter to gaze through the glass at the pastries. I opted for a classic chocolate chip cookie—the size of my head!—while Mom picked out a sticky pecan bun.
I almost turned up my nose at her choice. Back then, I hated nuts in all of my baked goodies! But I still politely accepted a taste, and…
Holy moly! That sweet caramel on the top (bottom?) of the bun… It was so rich and buttery that it immediately made me regret my choice! (Well, until I remembered that my cookie contained chocolate…) But it’s been nearly impossible to find something that gooey and perfect since then, so today, way too many years later, I finally decided to make my own Sticky Pecan Buns the easy way—in the slow cooker!
Yup, that’s right. In the slow cooker. So you can set it and forget it. (Well, not really… Not with that tempting caramel scent in the air!) But by using the slow cooker, I can mix them up, pop them in, and leave the kitchen to run and shower. By the time I’m clean, my sweet breakfast treat is ready!
And for a fun little baking twist, I’m proclaiming this week Slow Cooker Week! So every recipe I post is going to be made in a slow cooker. They’re all baked goodies—none of the traditional crock pot chili or chicken dishes—so you can save your oven for other things.
Even better, this whole wheat dough doesn’t need to rise at all! With most sweet roll recipes, you have to wait an hour after mixing up the dough for it to double in size, but I always get impatient while waiting. I tried making these healthier sticky buns both ways—with and without that first rise—and I couldn’t detect a difference in their taste or texture. So we’re saving time and skipping it!
The sweet cinnamon filling is very similar to my maple cinnamon rolls. It tends to squirt out the sides a little as you roll and cut the buns, but that’s okay! Just scoop up the escaped syrup with a spoon and pour it into the slow cooker between the buns. It adds extra gooeyness to the caramel sauce!
And yes, the caramel sauce is the BEST part of the entire recipe. It’s ooey, gooey, sweet, buttery… Everything a sticky bun should be! I saved (uhh, practically hoarded) the rolls in the center for last, just because they had the most caramel! To make it, simply heat butter, milk, and maple syrup together until the mixture darkens and thickens just a tiny bit; then pour it into the slow cooker and sprinkle with pecans.
However… Make sure to leave a ½” border along the rim! Otherwise, the buns push the pecans out of the way while rising, and the nuts end up on the sides of the buns instead of the tops. Leaving the border is mostly a pretty presentation thing, but I still like the buns better with the nuts in the center.
You guys… There are no words.
Just lots of sticky fingers covered in caramel.
My dad actually stole a few Slow Cooker Sticky Pecan Buns from my first batch to share with his coworker who adores this specific pastry, and she immediately asked if I had posted the recipe yet!
So here it is, but be warned… They’re highly addictive!