There tends to be some confusion around the sticky bun — namely, how it differs from a cinnamon roll. Our on-the-ground research has determined that, despite similarities in shape and many ingredients, the key distinction lies within the source of stickiness itself: Where the cinnamon roll is draped in some variety of white icing (generally cream-cheese- or just powdered-sugar-based), the sticky bun gets a glaze of a glassier nature, whether it be a thin syrup or a thicker caramel — super sticky of course — and often, though not always, incorporates nuts. Herewith, the best sticky buns in New York.
2. Balthazar’s Sticky Bun
80 Spring St., nr. Crosby St.; 212-965-1414
Where Flora’s bun has a hint of mystery to it, Balthazar’s provides a deeply comforting familiarity: It’s basically a big, round, buttery, yeasty, crisp-edged croissant that flakes apart with ease and is so generously coated in a sticky caramel redolent of burnt sugar — and thickly studded with coarsely chopped candied pecans and walnuts — that you can’t even tell it’s coiled from the outside, nor that it contains a scattering of juicy raisins. If you find yourself craving the platonic ideal of a sticky bun, this is probably the one you’re looking for.
3. William Greenberg’s Schnecken
1100 Madison Ave., nr. 82nd St.; 212-861-1340
This classic kosher bakery of the Upper East Side (going strong since 1946!) is known for its superlative chocolate cake and black-and-white cookies, but also for its schnecken, or German-style sticky buns (schnecken translates literally to “snail”). The yeasted sour-cream dough, which gets twisted into a sort of hybrid spiral-knot, makes for a pastry that’s moist within but crumbly and crispy on the outside, despite being soaked in a cinnamon-brown-sugar syrup so sweet it will make your teeth ache (in a good way). It incorporates chopped walnuts and juicy raisins, too, and comes in three sizes — miniature, regular, and large — all available in person or by mail order.
4. Sadelle’s Sticky Bun
463 W. Broadway, nr. Prince St.; 212-254-3000
Melissa Weller’s baking has earned her many accolades, and her sticky bun has an especially devoted following: It’s almost kouign-amann-like in structure, made with laminated brioche dough that bakes into a spiral of crispy, papery layers and gets topped with a brown-sugar glaze and flaky sea salt, no nuts.
5. Roberta’s Sticky Bun
261 Moore St., nr. Bogart St., Bushwick; 718-417-1118
Before Sadelle’s, Weller worked at Roberta’s, and so the world owes her for this recipe, too — also a buttery brioche, but a bit airier and more popover-like, and topped with a stick-to-your-teeth salted caramel, plus flaky salt.
6. Amy’s Bread’s Sticky Bun
Another straightforward classic, this pillowy pastry has chewy edges, a sweet and slightly salty glaze, a nice hint of cinnamon, and a substantial, handsome crown of rough chopped pecans.