By Jennifer Stein Barker

Issue #51 • May/June, 1998

Sweet rolls (or sweet buns, Danish pastries, sticky buns, coffee cake, etc.) are an American tradition for breakfast. Sometimes they are served with eggs and cooked meats, but most often such confections are served as a “Continental” breakfast or brunch, which stands alone. The big advantage to serving breakfast this way is that it can be picked up at leisure, rather than everyone having to eat at once while the cook is cooking.

The big disadvantage to the usual Continental breakfast is that the standard American sweet roll is a puffy thing composed of white flour, fat, sugar, and air. It doesn’t provide much nutrition, any fiber, or enough substance to get through the day. If you are an active person, you will probably find yourself hungry by 10 am after one of these “breakfasts.”

Following are some recipes which produce exquisite sweet rolls and buns, with the substance necessary to keep you going till lunchtime.

About flour

To make a nice soft sweet roll (or to make any whole grain bread softer), you need the most finely ground whole wheat flour you can find. Fine whole wheat flour will provide a more satisfying roll in every way (flavor, texture, nutrition) than white flour or a blend of white and wheat.

Wheats come in two varieties, soft wheat which is used to make “pastry” (cake) flour, and hard wheat which is used to make bread flour. Pastry flour has little to no gluten, and is used for cookies, cakes, and quickbreads leavened with baking powder or soda. Yeasted breads, rolls, and sweet rolls need gluten, in order to trap the little bubbles of gas produced by the yeast as it multiplies. This is how breads get the leavening action from yeast.

While gluten is naturally found in the flours made from hard wheats, it needs to be worked by kneading or beating the dough in order to develop properly. If you are beating a soft dough to develop gluten, use an overhand stroke, and “roll” the dough over and over with your spoon, until it develops thick, ropy strands. If kneading, work the dough for 5-10 minutes, or until it springs back from pressure and develops a smooth, satiny surface.

You need a fine-textured flour to make the softest buns, but ordinary bread flour will do in a pinch. If you cannot get superfine bread flour, and still want a very soft pastry, you can add gluten flour to your whole wheat pastry (cake) flour in the proportion of 2 tablespoons per cup. Gluten flour is a highly refined product, so you don’t want to use too much of it.

Have a great time making these goodies, as your family will have when eating them!

Fruit ring

This is a classic sweet breakfast pastry, with a choice of fruit fillings.

Makes a 9×13-inch ring:

1 cup warm water
2 Tbsp. dry milk powder
3 Tbsp. oil
3 Tbsp. honey
2 tsp. dry yeast
1 egg
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups fine whole wheat bread flour
about 1/4 cup broken nut meats (optional)


In a medium-large bowl, whisk the milk powder into the warm water. Whisk in the oil and honey. Dissolve the yeast into the mixture, add the egg, and mix well. Allow to set in a warm place for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture begins to foam up. Add 2 cups of the flour and beat well. Continue stirring in flour until the dough forms a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead at least 5 minutes, until springy and smooth. Put the dough back in a clean, oiled bowl, cover and let rise while making the filling.

When the dough is risen, and the filling has cooled to lukewarm, turn the dough out onto a floured board, and roll out to an oblong 10×20-inches. Spread the filling lengthwise down the middle third. Sprinkle with nuts if desired. Fold the two long edges over the filling. Roll onto an oiled 9×13 baking sheet with the double layer down. Bring the two ends of the roll around to form an oval.

With a sharp knife, make cuts about 1 inch apart all the way around through the top layer of dough. Put one hand down through the center of the roll, and one on the outside. Gently lifting and stretching, pull the dough towards all the corners of the sheet. The bottom layers will stretch, and the top one will part to show the filling.

Cover the ring and let rise until double in bulk, about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When the ring is risen, brush a little water over the top strips of dough to make a glaze. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top is golden and the ring is done. Serve warm or cool.

Apple filling

3 cups diced apple
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup raisins
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. water
3-4 tsp. cornstarch

Cook the apple, honey, raisins, and cinnamon together just until the apples begin to be tender. Mix the lemon juice, water, and cornstarch in a cup (use more cornstarch if apples are particularly juicy). Add to the apples, and cook over low heat just until thick. Cool to lukewarm.

Prune-date filling

3/4 cup chopped dates
3/4 cup chopped prunes
1 cup hot water
1 Tbsp. honey
1/4 tsp. almond extract

Soak the fruit overnight with the hot water and honey. In the morning, if it has not soaked up all the water, cook over low heat until thick. Stir in the almond extract. Cool to lukewarm.

Honey twirls

When I was in college, the cafeteria called these “Cinnamon Knots” and I was addicted to them! Some people also call them “Sticky Buns.”

Makes 1 dozen:

2/3 cup warm water
2 tsp. dry yeast
2 Tbsp. oil
2 Tbsp. honey
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg
3 Tbsp. milk powder
2 cups fine whole wheat bread flour


2 Tbsp. oil
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup broken pecans or walnuts

In a large bowl or small bread bowl, dissolve the yeast into the warm water. Add the oil and honey, and let sit in a warm place for 10 minutes, or until the yeast foams up. Add the salt and egg, and beat well. Stir the milk powder into the flour, and add to the liquid in the bowl. Beat well until gluten strands form.

Warm the oil, honey, and cinnamon for the filling together just until they will blend easily. Roll out the dough on a well-floured board to a 12-inch square. Spread half of the filling on it, and sprinkle with half of the nuts. Roll up, and cut across the log with a sharp knife to make 12 equal pieces.

Oil a 12-section muffin tin. Combine the remaining filling and nuts, and divide evenly among the tins. Place rolls, cut side down, in the tins. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, about 1 hour.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden and crusty on top. Remove from pan immediately by twisting each roll as you lift it out. Invert on rack and cool sticky-side up. Best eaten warm!

Cinnamon-oat rolls

Chewy, nutty, spicy and delicious! These rolls take a little extra time, but they are worth every minute.

Makes a 9×13 pan of 24 rolls:

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 cups warm water
1 Tbsp. yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. oil
1/4 cup honey
2 Tbsp. gluten flour
4-5 cups bread flour


4 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. brown rice flour
4 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup broken walnuts
3/4 cup raisins

Combine the oats and the 2 cups of water. Let soak for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, proof the yeast in the 1/2 cup of water with the 1 tsp. honey. When the yeast foams up, combine the two mixtures and add the salt, 2 Tbsp. honey, and oil.

Beat in the gluten flour and 2 cups of the bread flour. Beat well until gluten strands form between the spoon and the bowl. Add more bread flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough is ready to knead.

Knead the dough on a floured surface at least 7 minutes, until it is smooth and springy. Place the dough in a clean oiled bowl, cover it, and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk. Warm the honey just till it is liquid, and stir in the rice flour and cinnamon. Have the nuts and raisins handy.

Oil a 9×13-inch baking pan, and set it near your work surface. Turn the dough out onto the surface and roll out to a 1×2 foot oblong (the oil from the bowl should keep it from sticking). Spread the cinnamon mixture on the dough, and sprinkle evenly with the nuts and raisins. Roll up across the short direction, so you have a “log” 24 inches long.

Cut the log into 24 equal (about 1-inch) slices. Place the slices in the pan, cut side up. Make 6 rows of 4 rolls. Cover the pan and put in a warm place to rise until double.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the rolls for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tops are golden. Serve warm, if possible.

Orange-poppyseed breakfast rolls

These rolls need no adornment, but a little raspberry jam will elevate them to the sublime! Please use organic oranges, because you will be using the peel.

Makes a 9×13-inch pan of 24 rolls:

2 large oranges
1/4 cup finely chopped date pieces
3 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. poppy seeds
1 Tbsp. dry yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. oil
4-5 cups fine whole wheat bread flour

Get out a medium bread bowl. Using the fine side of the grater, grate the orange part of the peel off the two oranges. Squeeze the juice from the oranges, and add enough warm water to make 2 cups of liquid. Add the liquid to the peel in the bowl.

Add the chopped dates, honey, and poppy seed. Stir well to combine. Sprinkle the yeast over the mixture, and stir to dissolve. Let sit in a warm place for 10 minutes, or until the yeast foams up.

Add the salt and oil, then stir in the flour until stiff enough to knead. Turn the dough out onto a floured board, and knead at least 7 minutes, or until smooth and springy. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning to oil the top, cover, and let rise 2 hours or until doubled in bulk.

Prepare a 9x13x2-inch pan by oiling it lightly. Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces, and shape the pieces into round rolls. Arrange in the pan in 6 rows of 4 rolls. Cover and let rise about 45 minutes, until double. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the rolls test done. Cool 10 minutes in pan, then on a rack until thoroughly cooled before storing.

If these rolls will be kept more than a day, they are best kept in the refrigerator.


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