Pecan sticky buns are based on a German dish, then super-sized, amped up with more sweetener and topped — or bottomed, if it's an upside-down version — with a nut that's native to our shores. But what sets the truly American version apart from other nut-rolls though is that long baptism in the namesake sticky sugar-butter sauce. They can be made in a pan or on a sheet, covered in frosting or not, but they'll always be made with a yeasted dough, and sweet enough to make dessert pretty irrelevant.
In L.A. we found that the pecan sticky bun is almost always an even better choice than the cinnamon roll, if such a thing is possible. They might not always have actual pecans — sometimes walnuts make an appearance, but they are always, as advertised, sticky and worth every bite. For the results of our exhaustive hunt for the best choices around town, turn the page.
10. Euro Pane:
Everything at Euro Pane is beautiful, and the walnut — yes, walnut — sticky bun is no exception. Light and airy and built with a rich dough, it's redolent of almond extract, making the nut flavors come to the fore much more than the glaze. As with almost all of the sticky buns on our list, quantities are limited, so make sure to call ahead if you want to try one for yourself. 950 E. Colorado Blvd., 107 Pasadena; 626-577-1828.
9. Canter's Deli:
Just how Canter's manages to make a pastry taste like candy, we can't say for sure, but they do. Maybe the maraschino cherry, perched in the center of the doughy swirl, is the key. It's unabashed toyland essence must have spilled over. You can saunter up to the counter for your fill of the least expensive version of this pastry we scoped out, or order one while sitting in a booth with a cup of coffee. Make sure to look up, too: The autumn leaf ceiling motif is almost a direct reflection of the pastry in hand. 419 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles; 323-651-2030.
8. Milo and Olive:
At almost all times of day there is a short line at Milo and Olive, of people hoping for a hit of something to satisfy their sweet tooth. If one of them doesn't beat you to the pecan sticky bun, and they're fresh from the oven, make sure to grab one. On the small-side, it has a hearty exterior and tender interior due to the whole wheat dough, and a brown-sugar bourbon pecan glaze. While it isn't exactly sticky, it is heavy with nuts and has a glorious yeasty flavor. 2723 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-453-6776.
Turn the page for picks 7 through 5…
7. Sweet Jill's:
Every day baker and owner Jill Pharis dutifully makes temping little cakes and cupcakes and pies and tarts, and places them gently behind glass. But it's her pecan sticky buns and their companion cinnamon rolls that are truly front and center. They rest under a cover on a warming tray next to the register, calling out to you to indulge. The rectangular portion is weighed down with chopped nuts and optional — also warm — frosting, poured from a pitcher either directly on top of the pastry or into a to-go container. This is Americana at its finest, not complicated, just sweet as sin and worth every bite. 5224 E. 2nd St., Long Beach; 562-438-4945.
6. Urth Caffe:
The bakers at Urth Caffe have a lot to be proud of: They use organic and fair trade ingredients to make pastries that the most eco-conscious person can indulge in without (much) guilt. That everything is warming and good is almost a bonus. The pecan sticky bun was the only version we tried that had a walnut-pecan mix and was also layered with a handful of currants. The classic addition brings it to another level, with the pop of tart from the dried fruit cutting though the sugar. Unsurprisingly, it's an ideal compliment to any of their thoughtfully brewed coffee options. 451 S. Hewitt St., Los Angeles; 213-797-4534.
We can forgive the person who spelled babka wrong on the sign the day we took that picture. We can also forgive Karen Hatfield's team for calling this confection something so vainglorious. Because this is simply a stunning pastry. Would our Bubbie call it a babka? No, because that's a dry coffee cake and this is the opposite of dry. Would Bubbie eat it? Of course she would, with enormous relish. And you probably should too. 143 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; 323-939-0151.
Keep reading for number 4 on …
Warm, tender, baked sweet dough. Hot melted butter and brown sugar pooling onto the beautiful plate. Russet-brown bacon on top as a garnish. Did you need us to tell you anything else about this visually stunning brunch-only pastry? Do you need us to tell you how much we enjoyed that the pecans are toasted and chopped, ever so slightly, so it's that much easier to cut through? Kids, it's breakfast. Dig in. Then go kiss the pastry chef. 1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; 310-392-6644.
Another brunch-only addition to our list, and a damn fine one. On weekend mornings after 11 a.m. (they aren't always ready just at opening; these things take time) the topaz-colored buns sit unassuming on a tiered tray on the bar, the rich glaze catching the soft light in the dim room and tempting all passers-by. Not too sweet, the pleasantly single-portioned buns are best warm, so if you take one home, make sure to heat it back up. 3219 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-666-7133.
You can easily be blinded by the gorgeous presentations at Manhattan Beach Post, the pecan sticky bun in particular. It's served in a pretty steam-punk Staub cast iron pan, with the sugar-shock sauce still bubbling away as it's placed down, making the whole thing an art directors dream. It could come in a paper sack and still be one of the best things going. Enough for four people — as are all of the “small plates” David LeFevre is known for — the buttery, orange-scented topping cascades over a rich dough. Breakfast nirvana. 1142 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach; 310-545-5405.
And for our top pick…
So what number do we assign the pecan sticky bun that stands head and shoulders above the others? Can we make it number one, twice? We would if we could. This was by far the best Los Angeles has to offer. The interior crumb is the color of freshly churned butter, soft and tender, airy and light. The rich pecans are neither too sparse nor too overwhelming. The portion is manageable for one, but also enough to share. And if you ask nicely, the folks at Suzanne Goin's Brentwood restaurant will serve it with bacon on top. It's refined — read, not overly sweet — beautiful to behold and tastes exactly the way a pecan sticky bun should. Available daily. 11648 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood; 310-806-6464.
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