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Gluten-Free Pecan Sticky Buns

Amazing Gluten-Free Pecan Sticky Buns with fluffy layers of cinnamon roll bliss topped with rich buttery caramel sauce. This simple recipe is perfect for holiday breakfasts or any special occasion. Recipe includes a dairy-free option.

Pecan sticky bun on a white plate, ready to eat.

After sharing my recipe for Dairy-Free Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls several years ago, I got a bee in my bonnet to make pecan sticky buns.

Hey, if I have enough patience to go through the full process of baking homemade cinnamon rolls, surely I can take it one step further. 

This extra step is so worth it because cinnamon buns drenched in caramel with crunchy pecans on top makes these cinnamon buns an absolute dreamboat.

Similar to Pineapple Upside Down Cake, the caramel sauce goes into the cake pan first. The raw cinnamon rolls are then placed on top of the sauce and baked. After baking, the pan is flipped upside down onto a plate and the caramel sauce flows over the buns and presents itself on top.

Those soft layers of cinnamon and sugar infused dough combined with rich, buttery, sweet caramel glaze melting in your mouth is a wish granting factory for your tastebuds. 

This recipe includes both a dairy-free version and a regular version. You can also make the cinnamon rolls using regular all-purpose flour instead of gluten-free all-purpose flour.

For those of you who love baking cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning, holiday celebrations or any time you’re celebrating something special, these gluten-free pecan sticky buns are a true delight.

Full batch of pecan sticky buns on a serving plate with a fork taking one out.

Let’s discuss the ingredients for Gluten-Free Pecan Sticky Buns.

Cinnamon Rolls Ingredients:

Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour: Taking the place of regular all-purpose flour, we need a gluten-free flour blend. I use Bob’s Red Mill’s Gluten-Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour, which I have found to be the best 1:1 replacement for regular flour.

Note that other gluten-free blends should work, but the results may vary. Each blend has a slightly different absorbency and texture so keep that in mind when choosing which flour you use.

Milk (Dairy-Free or Regular): We need warm milk to activate the yeast and to serve as the liquid for preparing the dough. You can use regular cow’s milk or full-fat canned coconut milk. I prefer using full-fat coconut milk to make dairy-free cinnamon rolls.

Sugar: Cinnamon roll dough is lightly sweetened with granulated cane sugar. If you prefer using natural sweeteners, you can use maple sugar instead. I recommend this over coconut sugar because it is more finely ground and lighter in color.

Active Dry Yeast: Used as the leavening agent to make the dough rise, we use regular bread yeast or instant yeast to make yeasted dough. Make sure your yeast isn’t expired before using it.

Egg: One egg at room temperature helps the dough rise and keeps the cinnamon roll layers held together nicely.

Baking Powder: A little baking powder helps the dough rise along with the yeast and creates that beautiful crispy texture on the outside of the caramel sticky bun layers.

Sea Salt: A pinch of salt enhances flavors in these caramel pecan sticky buns.

Cinnamon Roll Filling Ingredients:

Brown Sugar or Coconut Sugar: Bringing that caramelized sugar affect to the cinnamon sugar filling, we need some brown sugar. Dark brown sugar or light brown sugar both work. 

To keep the recipe refined sugar-free, use coconut sugar or sugar-free brown sugar.

Ground Cinnamon: The key ingredient that brings cinnamon flavor to cinnamon rolls! You will need a lot of cinnamon in this recipe so check to be sure you have enough before starting the recipe.

Unsalted Butter or Coconut Oil: To get the cinnamon sugar mixture to stick between the cinnamon roll layers, we need a little softened butter or coconut oil.

Butter results in that iconic cinnamon roll flavor, whereas coconut oil is a great dairy-free alternative. Vegan butter spread (like Earth Balance butter) works too.

Caramel Sauce Ingredients:

Butter (or Vegan Butter Spread): To make the homemade caramel sauce, we need unsalted butter or vegan butter for a dairy-free option. Butter gets cooked at a full boil with sugar to make a delicious sweet and sticky caramel sauce.

Brown Sugar and Pure Maple Syrup: Used to sweeten the caramel, we need brown sugar and pure maple syrup. I like using both because maple syrup adds a rich caramelized flavor and brown sugar brings lots of rich sweetness as well.

Ground Cinnamon & Sea Salt: A little cinnamon and sea salt brings depth of flavor to the cinnamon rolls.

Heavy Cream or Canned Coconut Milk: Adding to the richness and creaminess of the caramel sauce, we need some heavy cream or canned coconut milk for the dairy-free version.

Pure Vanilla Extract: That all star ingredient that brings warm flavor to baked goods.

Raw Pecans: Chopped pecans get added into the caramel topping for delightful nutty flavor and texture.

I love that the homemade caramel is made without corn syrup and is so rich and buttery.

Fork taking a bite from a caramel sticky bun.

Now that we’ve covered the ingredients list in detail, let’s make some sticky buns!

How to Make Pecan Sticky Buns:

Make the Cinnamon Roll Dough:

Heat the coconut milk and 1 tablespoon of the sugar to about 110 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit in a large mixing bowl (you can do this either on the stovetop or in the microwave).

Sprinkle the yeast on top and whisk until the yeast is incorporated into the coconut milk.

Allow this mixture to sit for 8 to 10 minutes, until the yeast is very fragrant and the mixture appears foamy (in other words, the yeast is blooming).

Coconut milk and yeast in a large bowl.

If you have a stand mixer, feel free to use it to prepare the dough, and mix on a low speed.

While the yeast is blooming, add the gluten-free flour, baking powder, and sea salt to a separate mixing bowl and stir until combined.

Whisk the remaining ⅓ cup of sugar and the beaten egg into the large bowl with the yeast mixture and mix until everything is incorporated.

Yeast in a bowl with sugar sprinkled on top and beaten egg being mixed in.

Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl in halves, stirring well in between each addition. The dough should feel moist but should not be overly sticky.

If the dough is very sticky, continue adding more gluten-free flour a few tablespoons at a time until you’re able to easily manipulate the dough.

Do note that the dough will not feel the same as regular cinnamon roll dough as gluten-free flour tends to remain fairly sticky in recipes like this. There is no need to knead the dough since it is gluten-free.

Form the sticky bun dough into a ball, place it into the mixing bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap, followed by a damp kitchen towel.

Cinnamon roll dough in a mixing bowl being covered with plastic wrap.

Place the bowl in a warm place in your house for 1 to 2 hours, or until the dough has about doubled in size.

The amount of rise time this takes depends on the temperature of your house. If you keep your house warm, it will take about an hour. To speed up the process, if you have a bread proof function on your oven, feel free to use it!

Prepare the Caramel Sauce:

While the dough is rising, prepare the caramel sauce. Combine the butter, sugar, pure maple syrup, sea salt, and cinnamon in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.

Skillet with butter, brown sugar, pure maple syrup melting inside to make caramel.
Boiling caramel in a skillet.

Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and heavy cream.

Grease a 9-inch round or 9-inch square casserole dish or baking pan with a generous amount of coconut oil (or butter if using).

Pour the caramel sauce into the bottom of the baking dish such that it is spread into an even layer.

Sprinkle the chopped pecans over the sauce. Note: if you’d like to lightly roast the raw pecans prior to this step, feel free to do so.

Caramel at the bottom of a greased pan with pecans being sprinkled on top.

Roll out the Sticky Bun Dough:

Lay a long sheet of parchment paper on your counter and sprinkle it lightly with gluten-free flour.

Transfer the cinnamon roll dough to the center of the parchment paper and roll it into a rectangle about ¼-inch thick. (note: if you don’t own a rolling pin, you can use a wine bottle or jar of peanut butter to roll the dough).

Cinnamon roll dough being rolled out.

Spread the softened coconut oil (or soft butter) over the cinnamon roll dough.

Note: if your coconut oil is hard, you can microwave it for 15 second intervals until it is softened (but not melted).

You may not need to use all of the coconut oil, but be sure the dough is generously coated. 

In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar and cinnamon. Note that it won’t mix together very easily. This is normal!

Sprinkle the cinnamon and brown sugar mixture over the dough, leaving about ½-inch around the edges.

Cinnamon roll dough being sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.

Gently press the cinnamon and sugar into the greased cinnamon roll dough with your hands.

Assemble the Cinnamon Rolls:

Assertively roll the dough into a log shape. The easiest way to do this is to utilize the parchment paper to help roll the dough onto itself, then gently pressing the dough over the parchment paper to ensure it holds together into a tight log. 

Cinnamon roll dough being cut with a knife into dough rounds.

Note: you may need to press the dough together if it begins to break apart in any areas. It is normal for gluten-free dough to not hold together easily and it can be fairly finicky to work with, but all you need to do to keep it held together is to persistently press it together in the areas it breaks apart.

Once you have your log of dough, use a serrated knife or a sharp knife to cut it into 10 to 12 equal pieces, about 1-inch wide each.

Transfer the raw cinnamon rolls to the prepared baking dish with the pecans and caramel sauce.

Raw cinnamon roll dough in a cake pan on top of caramel sauce.

Cover the casserole dish with plastic wrap and allow the rolls to sit and rise for another 30 to 40 minutes, after which there shouldn’t be any wide gaps between the rolls as they should become nice and puffy.

Cinnamon roll dough after the second rise, ready to bake.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and remove the plastic wrap from the baking dish. Bake the pecan sticky rolls for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they are very lightly golden brown. 

Freshly baked cinnamon rolls, fresh out of the oven in a cake pan.

Remove the sticky buns from the oven and allow them to cool for 10 to 15 minutes. If the rolls cool for too long, the sauce will harden and if they don’t cool for enough time, the sauce will be too runny. 

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and loosen up the edges of sticky buns with a butter knife.

Place the parchment-lined pan upside down on top of the baking dish of buns. Use both hands to hold the edges of the baking sheet and the dish of buns and flip the buns over so that they turn out onto the baking sheet with the caramel pecans now showing on top.

Serving plate with caramel sticky buns on top.

If you’d like, sprinkle extra pecans on top.

Serve these delicious gluten-free caramel sticky buns and enjoy! If everyone is comfortable using their hands, you can serve these sweet rolls on a serving plate like monkey bread or pull apart bread. 

Fork pulling off a cinnamon roll from the mass.

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

If you don’t feel confident in your ability to turn the pecan sticky rolls upside down after baking in order to get them out of the pan and reveal a caramel pecan top, you can drizzle the finished cinnamon rolls with the caramel sauce and pecans rather than baking them together. 

This won’t allow the sauce to saturate into the rolls (which is the best part), but it will certainly make preparing them easier. 

Tips for The Best Pecan Sticky Buns:

  • Make sure the milk is the right temperature before adding the yeast. To activate yeast properly, it needs something to feed on (sugar) and a warm temperature.
  • Gluten-free cinnamon roll dough is more challenging to work with than regular cinnamon roll dough on account of the fact that it doesn’t hold together as easily. Don’t get discouraged by this! The dough presses together easily when it breaks, so with a little patience, you’ll end up with delicious gluten-free sticky buns.
  • Be sure to place dough in a warm spot in your house for both the primary first rise and the second rise. For fluffy rolls, make sure the dough doubles in size for both the first rise and the second rise.
  • Although this is a no-kneed recipe, you will still need to roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Be sure you have enough GF flour to use for sprinkling. 
  • While you don’t need a stand mixer to prepare this recipe, some find the easiest way to make fluffy dough is to use one. To do so, mix the yeast mixture using a paddle attachment on low speed. Once you add the flour, use the dough hook to finish the dough.
  • While some baked goods are even better the next day, I find that this gluten-free sticky buns recipe is best when the sticky bun is served warm, fresh out of the oven. The texture is the best when served fresh, but leftovers are always a delight too.
Pecan sticky buns with one bun taken out.

If you’re looking for a special treat for Christmas morning or any time of year, whip up these luscious pecan sticky buns! You can use it as a make ahead recipe to prepare everything the night before and bake the next morning.

Looking for more impressive breakfast recipes to share with guests for special occasions? Here are some reader favorites.

More Impressive Breakfast Recipes:

Celebrate life with these over the  top decadent caramel sticky buns!

Full batch of pecan sticky buns on a serving plate with a fork taking one out.
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4.56 from 9 votes

Gluten-Free Pecan Sticky Buns

A gluten-free version of classic caramel sticky buns! Layers of perfect fluffy cinnamon rolls saturated in homemade caramel sauce topped with crunchy pecans.
Prep Time1 hour
Proving Time2 hours
Course: Breads, Breakfast
Cuisine: American
Servings: 14 Rolls
Calories: 445kcal
Author: Julia

Equipment

Ingredients

Cinnamon Roll Dough:

Cinnamon Sugar Filling:

  • ½ cup light brown sugar or cane sugar*
  • 2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • cup softened coconut oil ***

Pecan Caramel Sauce:

Instructions

Make the Cinnamon Roll Dough:

  • Heat the coconut milk and 1 tablespoon of the sugar to about 110 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit in a large mixing bowl (you can do this either on the stovetop or in the microwave). Sprinkle the yeast on top and whisk until the yeast is incorporated into the coconut milk. Allow this mixture to sit for 8 to 10 minutes, until the yeast is very fragrant and the mixture appears foamy (in other words, the yeast is blooming). If you have a stand mixer, feel free to use it to prepare the dough, and mix on a low speed.
  • While the yeast is blooming, add the gluten-free flour, baking powder, and sea salt to a separate mixing bowl and stir until combined.
  • Whisk the remaining 5 tablespoons (about 1/3 cup) of sugar and the beaten egg into the large bowl with the yeast mixture and mix until everything is incorporated.
  • Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl in halves, stirring well in between each addition. The dough should feel moist but should not be overly sticky. If the dough is very sticky, continue adding more gluten-free flour a few tablespoons at a time until you’re able to easily manipulate the dough. Do note that the dough will not feel the same as regular cinnamon roll dough as gluten-free flour tends to remain fairly sticky in recipes like this. There is no need to knead the dough since it is gluten-free.
  • Form the sticky bun dough into a ball, place it into the mixing bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap, followed by a damp kitchen towel. Place the bowl in a warm place in your house for 1 to 2 hours, or until the dough has about doubled in size. The amount of rise time this takes depends on the temperature of your house. If you keep your house warm, it will take about an hour. To speed up the process, if you have a bread proof function on your oven, feel free to use it!

Prepare the Caramel Sauce:

  • While the dough is rising, prepare the caramel sauce. Combine the butter, sugar, pure maple syrup, sea salt, and cinnamon in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Bring the caramel mixture to a full but gentle boil and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened slightly, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and heavy cream.
  • Grease a 9-inch round or 9-inch square casserole dish or baking pan with a generous amount of coconut oil (or butter if using).
  • Pour the caramel sauce into the bottom of the baking dish such that it is spread into an even layer. Sprinkle the chopped pecans over the sauce. Note: if you’d like to lightly roast the raw pecans prior to this step, feel free to do so.

Roll out the Sticky Bun Dough:

  • Lay a long sheet of parchment paper on your counter and sprinkle it lightly with gluten-free flour.
  • Transfer the cinnamon roll dough to the center of the parchment paper and roll it into a rectangle about ¼-inch thick. (note: if you don’t own a rolling pin, you can use a wine bottle or jar of peanut butter to roll the dough).
  • Spread the softened coconut oil (or soft butter) over the cinnamon roll dough. Note: if your coconut oil is hard, you can microwave it for 15 second intervals until it is softened (but not melted). You may not need to use all of the coconut oil, but be sure the dough is generously coated.
  • In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar and cinnamon. Note that it won’t mix together very easily. This is normal! Sprinkle the cinnamon and brown sugar mixture over the dough, leaving about ½-inch around the edges. Gently press the cinnamon and sugar into the greased cinnamon roll dough with your hands.

Assemble the Pecan Sticky Buns:

  • Assertively roll the dough into a log shape. The easiest way to do this is to utilize the parchment paper to help roll the dough onto itself, then gently pressing the dough over the parchment paper to ensure it holds together into a tight log.
  • Note: you may need to press the dough together if it begins to break apart in any areas. It is normal for gluten-free dough to not hold together easily and it can be fairly finicky to work with, but all you need to do to keep it held together is to persistently press it together in the areas it breaks apart.
  • Once you have your log of dough, use a serrated knife or a sharp knife to cut it into 10 to 12 equal pieces, about 1-inch wide each.
  • Transfer the raw cinnamon rolls to the prepared baking dish with the pecans and caramel sauce. Cover the casserole dish with plastic wrap and allow the rolls to sit and rise for another 30 to 40 minutes, after which there shouldn’t be any wide gaps between the rolls as they should become nice and puffy.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and remove the plastic wrap from the baking dish. Bake the pecan sticky rolls for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they are very lightly golden brown.
  • Remove the sticky buns from the oven and allow them to cool for 10 to 15 minutes. If the rolls cool for too long, the sauce will harden and if they don’t cool for enough time, the sauce will be too runny.
  • Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and loosen up the edges of sticky buns with a butter knife. Place the parchment-lined pan upside down on top of the baking dish of buns. Use both hands to hold the edges of the baking sheet and the dish of buns and flip the buns over so that they turn out onto the baking sheet with the caramel pecans now showing on top. If you’d like, sprinkle extra pecans on top.
  • Serve these delicious gluten-free caramel sticky buns and enjoy!

Video

Notes

*For a refined sugar-free version, you can use coconut sugar or maple sugar. Just note that the cinnamon rolls will turn out darker with coconut sugar.
**I’ve found Bob’s Red Mill’s gluten-free 1-to-1 Baking Flour works best for cinnamon rolls. You will need additional flour for sprinkling when you roll the dough.
***You can also use butter, vegan butter spread, or ghee.

Nutrition

Serving: 1sticky bun (of 14) | Calories: 445kcal | Carbohydrates: 61g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 22g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 41mg | Sodium: 287mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 27g

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Recipe Rating




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Becky

Monday 25th of December 2023

Oh.My.Goodness. Made these for Christmas today and they turned out beautifully! Did it completely GF/DF. Def roll out the dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper, but overall it was a really nice dough to work with. I did both rises the night before and stuck in the fridge for the night. This recipe will be a new Christmas tradition! Thank you!

Julia

Tuesday 26th of December 2023

I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed the recipe, Becky! I appreciate you reporting back with your experience - this is super helpful! Happy Holidays to you and your family. :)

Sara

Friday 22nd of December 2023

Excited to try this! Can you put dough in fridge and cook in the morning?

Julia

Friday 22nd of December 2023

Hi Sara! You sure can! Cover them with plastic wrap and store them in the fridge overnight. I'd bring them out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before baking to let them come closer to room temperature. Hope you enjoy! xo

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