A Sweet Start to the New Year

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Sweet Potato Pecan Sticky Buns

Traditions are hard to shake.

For years my family skied at Big White in Canada for the Christmas holiday, and I’d make sticky buns for a late-morning Christmas brunch, served after a couple of hours on the slopes when we were all ravenous.

When I didn’t make them this year, I was asked, “where are the sticky buns?”

Here they are. They will be the perfect nosh to pack for a New Year’s Day snowshoe adventure with a big thermos or coffee or tea.

While I’ve “health-ified” this recipe, it’s still a special occasion treat, not everyday fare. I dropped the sugar, so your teeth don’t ache, but it’s plenty sweet. The dough is made with sweet potatoes, white whole wheat flour, and oil instead of butter for a silky crumb. Butter adds flavor to the filling and sticky topping. Corn syrup is typical, but I prefer Lyle’s Golden Syrup, made with cane sugar.

Traditions rule, but you can tweak them. Happy, Healthy New Year!

Sweet Potato Pecan Sticky Buns

Below is the method of making dough by hand with instant-dissolving yeast. You can also use a mixer and dough hook or bread machine for the dough. If you like raisins, chopped dates, or other dried fruit in the filling, sprinkle on about 1 1/2 cups after the cinnamon-sugar mixture. See Tips below before starting the recipe.

Makes 16 buns.


2 cups white whole wheat flour

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

1/3 cup water

2 tablespoons neutral tasting oil such as avocado or canola

1/2 cup well-mashed sweet potato

1 large egg, lightly beaten

2 cups all-purpose flour


3                  tablespoons butter

1/2               cup packed brown sugar

1/4               cup Lyle’s Golden syrup or corn syrup

2 1/3             cups pecan halves or pieces


1                  tablespoon butter, melted

1/4               cup granulated sugar

2                  teaspoons ground cinnamon

  1. In a large bowl, stir together whole wheat flour, sugar, undissolved yeast, and salt.
  2. Warm milk, water, and oil to about 120° F. With wooden spoon, stir warm liquid into dry ingredients. Stir in sweet potato and egg. Gradually stir in about 2 cups all-purpose flour, enough to make a soft dough. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 4-6 minutes, until smooth.
  3. Place dough in a clean, oiled bowl. Oil top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  4. While dough rises, make topping: warm butter, brown sugar and syrup, stirring until sugar dissolves. Oil or coat with nonstick spray a 9-x-13-inch baking pan (or two 9-inch round cake pans). Spread mixture to even layer.  Arrange pecans, flat side up, evenly over topping. 
  5. Once dough has doubled, punch down to deflate and place on a lightly floured surface. Pat into a rectangle and, with rolling pin, roll to 16-x-12-inch rectangle.  Brush 1 tablespoon melted butter from “Filling” ingredients over dough, leaving 1/2-inch border unbuttered. Mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over dough. Roll up from long side and pinch seam to seal. Cut with sharp knife into 16 rolls. Arrange in baking pan. Oil or spray tops of dough and cover with a light, clean towel, or plastic wrap.
  6. Let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size, about 30-45 minutes.
  7. When rolls are about risen, adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
  8. Remove cover from rolls and bake in center of oven for 20-25 minutes, until rolls are set and golden. (Make sure to check rolls at center of pan.)
  9. Cool 2 minutes in pan. Run thin knife around edge and carefully invert onto serving platter. Top rolls with any pecans left in pan and drizzle with residual topping. Enjoy warm or cool. (Can be wrapped airtight and frozen.)
Shaped buns, before rising. Photo by Lorelle Del Matto
Risen buns.
Photo by Lorelle Del Matto


  • A 4-ounce jar of baby food sweet potatoes or canned pumpkin are shortcuts for the cooked, mashed sweet potato which should be very well mashed.
  • For a silky dough, only use as much flour as needed to make a workable dough. Instead of oil, use nonstick spray for coating pans and dough. I also spray my hands and rolling surface instead of using flour when shaping dough. Adding too much flour during kneading and shaping can make a dry bread.
  • Dough can be made a day ahead, placed in an oiled, sealed food-safe plastic bag and chilled instead of step 3 (letting dough rise in a bowl).
  • If you opt for the cooking the buns in the 9-x-13-inch pan, you’ll need a large platter for inverting the rolls and capturing the sticky topping.

© Lorelle Del Matto 2022

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


  1. Cheryl Eiger says

    I really appreciate how you have made this recipe healthier with unconventional ingredients.
    Also appreciate your science explaining the silky quality of dough
    Maybe my cinnamon rolls can improve with your help !
    Thanks Lorelle

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