Make Ahead

A Sweeter, More Savory Holiday Breakfast

December 18, 2012

Sunday Dinners comes to us from our own chef/photojournalist/farmer/father figure Tom Hirschfeld, featuring his stunning photography and Indiana farmhouse family meals.


Today: Tom's make-ahead Christmas breakfast isn't the tater tot casserole of yore: Sweet, Sour, and Savory Sticky Buns

Shop the Story

I have had this notion for some time of doing something savory with sticky buns, and it dawned on me to borrow from my childhood food memories. Besides, I wanted something different this year for Christmas breakfast. 

I wanted something that could be done in advance and needed little clean-up. For years I went the extra mile creating a spectacular Christmas morning menu. Old-fashioned shirred eggs with shrimp and hollandaise sauce, brioche, a fruit plate, and more often graced our table. I did lots of prep, made way too much food, and spent too much time at the stove. Without kids it was never a problem, but now with Viv and Lynn things have changed. It quickly became more important to spend the morning watching the girls open their gifts while having a simple cup of coffee. 

Growing up, most of my restaurant experiences were based on the notion of what could be made into a sandwich with the bread that was brought to the table. When I looked at the menu items, it was always referenced with how the sandwich I would concoct might taste. The tender crumb of buttered yeast rolls smushed down onto a piece of steak. If I was feeling adventurous, maybe a croissant dipped in green goddess with some sort of cheese, or olive drab broccoli and chicken on sourdough. The makeshift sandwich was how I rolled, so to speak.

Rarely did I reach out from my comfort zone, but I did vicariously listen to conversations between my parents and their friends. Some of my earliest food memories came from talk of how good the different dishes were at a certain restaurant, someone's house, or at a country club.

One of the things I distinctly remember is an annual discussion of sticky buns. It always seemed to take place around Christmastime, when my parents were likely to get an invitation to one of the premier country clubs in Indianapolis. My take on the discussion always came around to: something sweet served and eaten with a savory dinner? My inexperienced food mind had trouble wrapping itself around such a concept.

But now I like the sweet and savory combination and so does the rest of the family.    

Not long ago I found myself at the same club my parents talked about all those years. It is in the same spot, for the most part serving the same food. I’m eager to try a sticky bun. Soon enough a brown basket lined with a cloth napkin is brought to the table. I unfold the linen and grab a bun. It is disappointing. My shoulders slump in the realization that the hype was bigger than the reality. I even give it a pass, thinking maybe it was better back in the day, that somehow the recipe has changed, but it probably hasn’t.

So it is with a craving for nostalgia that I pick up the menu. I revert to being a kid (some might say there was no reversion necessary) and I scan the menu in hopes of building a sandwich. One that will utilize the maturity and experience of my adult tastebuds to combine the sweet sticky bun with something savory. I am having fun with the thought, but as it turns out it is nothing more than a fantasy. I quickly set thoughts aside in deference to being the adult I have become and, as such, I suddenly feel the need the move on. At least until I get home.


Sweet, Sour, and Savory Sticky Buns

Makes 12

Maple Brown Sugar Glaze

    1/2 pound unsalted butter
    1/2 cup light brown sugar
    4 tablespoons maple syrup
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

Sticky Buns

    1 pound nicely seasoned sage sausage
    1 cup dried sour cherries, coarsely chopped
    2/3 cups pecans, chopped
    3 tablespoons sugar
    5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
    1 egg, room temperature
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
    1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
    2 cups buttermilk, room temperature
    2 teaspoons instant yeast

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Tom Hirschfeld


Order now

A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

Order now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • the musician who cooks
    the musician who cooks
  • mrslarkin
  • thirschfeld
Father, husband, writer, photojournalist and not always in that order.


the M. December 19, 2012
You never fail to disappoint, Mr. Hirschfeld, whether with story or recipe. I love the sweet and savory or sweet and salty combination, even if it's just a little flavored sea salt on chocolate.
thirschfeld December 20, 2012
thank you. I have grown fond of that same combination too
mrslarkin December 18, 2012
Whoa you'll definitely make it onto the nice list this year. Merry Christmas, thirschfeld.

P.S. No yeast?
thirschfeld December 18, 2012
Thank you mrsl. There is enough Christmas spirit around here to leaven concrete but yes there is yeast, 2 teaspoons. I will fix that pronto.