Make Ahead

Orange-Scented Olive Oil Sticky Buns (Cinnamon Rolls)

November 23, 2011
9 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Makes makes 18 smallish buns, 12 larger ones
Author Notes

I've been monkeying for a bit trying to make some sticky buns that have all the decadent gooeyness of standard sticky buns, but a little fresher flavor. When we bit into these this morning, I knew they were it. The inspiration for them comes from a number of different places. I started by wondering if Joanne Chang's (of Flour bakery) focaccia dough would work for sweet rolls. It is, quite possibly, my very favorite bread dough—amazingly rich, tender, and pillowy, but enriched only by olive oil (quite a bit of it!). This gives it a lovely floral olive oil flavor.

This made me think of olive oil cakes, and how delicious they are, particularly olive oil cakes with a bit of orange fragrance. So, I decided to make a sticky filling with orange zest and juice, plus a little squeeze of lemon juice to add some refreshing extra acidity. This part is similar to the various recipes for lemon sticky buns that were flooding the interwebs a while back.

Then, looking at Melissa Clark's recipe for olive oil and orange cake, I noticed there was buttermilk in the batter. Playing off of this flavor, I decided to make a buttermilk glaze, sweet but with the light tang of buttermilk. I decided to keep the flavors of the dough, the filling, and the glaze different from each other, because I felt each blended with and added beautifully to the others and didn't all need orange notes. However, if you'd like more orange throughout, add a teaspoon of orange zest to the dough, and replace a little of the buttermilk in the glaze with orange blossom water to taste. —fiveandspice

Test Kitchen Notes

These delicious buns are wonderful. You'd never know that the dough was originally focaccia. Work quickly when cutting the buns since the filling is quite liquidy and can seep out from the roll, and you probably won't need all the juice for the filling. I loved the orange and olive oil combo and the little bit of acid in the icing is perfect. —Stephanie Bourgeois

What You'll Need
  • Bun dough
  • 1 3/4 cups warm water
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 cup good, fruity olive oil
  • Orange filling and buttermilk glaze
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer with a bread hook, combine the warm water, yeast, and sugar, and allow to stand for 5 minutes to let the yeast foam.
  2. Add the salt and half of the flour. Turn the mixer on low, and continue to add the rest of the flour allowing the mixer to mix it all together. When the dough has come together in a shaggy ball (this may take slightly more or less flour—err on the side of a slightly sticky dough to keep it from being tough), pour in the olive oil in a drizzle as the dough hook keeps stirring.
  3. On a medium-low speed, let the dough knead for 4 to 5 minutes. (All of this mixing and kneading can also be done by hand.) When the dough is smooth and satiny, gather it together and turn it into a deep, oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp, clean kitchen towel, and put somewhere warm to rise until doubled in volume (mine took about 90 minutes, but my apartment is a bit chilly).
  4. While the dough rises, make the filling. Combine the cup of sugar with the orange zest. Allow to sit for a couple of minutes while the zest releases its oil into the sugar. Then, rub it together until well mixed and slightly moist. Next combine the orange and lemon juice and stir it into the sugar a bit at a time until you have a thick mixture about the consistency of wet sand (you may not use all of the juice). Set aside.
  5. Butter a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. When the dough had risen, punch it down and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll it out into a large rectangle that is a bit under 1/2-inch thick.
  6. Spread the filling mixture onto the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border empty along one of the long ends. Roll the dough up tightly like a jelly roll starting at the long end without the border. Slice into either 12 or 18 equal slices.
  7. Pinch one of the cut sides of each slice closed as much as possible, to help keep the filling in (it will leak out some anyway, but it will work out fine). Then fit the slices into the buttered pan, with the pinched sides down and the un-pinched cut sides up. Cover and allow to rise for another 45 minutes to an hour, until puffed. You can also put the rolls in the refrigerator at this point and let them slow rise over night and bake them in the morning. If you refrigerate them, just let them stand at room temperature for about 15 to 20 minutes before putting them in the oven.
  8. When ready to bake, heat your oven to 350° F. Bake the rolls for 35 to 40 minutes, until the rolls are nicely browned on top and baked through. Then remove from the oven.
  9. While the buns are baking, make the glaze by whisking the buttermilk into the confectioners' sugar bit by bit until it is the consistency that is thick but pourable. When the buns are finished baking, spread the glaze on the warm buns. Serve warm, preferably with some espresso or strong coffee, and moist napkins for cleaning off your deliciously sticky fingers.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Ruth McAllister
    Ruth McAllister
  • Kim Persley Kozlowski
    Kim Persley Kozlowski
  • Dia Sherman
    Dia Sherman
  • madeleine
  • jpriddy

105 Reviews

Ruth M. July 20, 2023
Add a tsp of cardamom.
Yummy and vegan too!!
veg.monique January 1, 2021
I liked these buns but didn't love them. It seemed to be an excessive amount of olive oil in the dough (so much that it couldn't all incorporate into the dough) but after baking, I can't even taste the olive oil. Since regular sticky bun or cinnamon bun dough has barely any fat I found this recipe to be a bit of a waste of calories/fat as well as of good olive oil since I can't taste it. However I love the orangey filling and use it in as filling with a regular cinnamon bun dough.
Tracy December 28, 2020
Has anyone tried to make these gluten free? Would they rise at all? I make a good gf mixture, but have not had a lot of success with trying to substitute it in yeast recipes.
ginnygetsfloury December 28, 2020
I haven’t - I’d compare to a gf cinnamon bun recipe. You can always substitute the filling in another recipe
Kim P. January 9, 2020
Made these once last January and randomly again this year and both times turned out spectacular. I didn’t have buttermilk so I thinned some plain yogurt with milk and lemon juice plus some vanilla bean and it was perfect!
teri September 12, 2019
Sounds good. Too bad you can't be bothered to make a printable version.
Heather G. September 12, 2019
I just printed says "PRINT" right below the the right of SAVE, and REVIEW.
teri September 12, 2019
Well d'uh. Time for another cup of coffee...
Dia S. January 21, 2018
Wonderful! Thanks to Susie Hillman for recommending baking on parchment paper, which made turn out and clean up much easier. I did the second rise overnight in the fridge so I could serve them straight out of the oven for brunch. When I took them out of the fridge, they were swimming in syrup, but only a brief worry. They baked up beautifully sticky. A lovely dough and great recipe.
ginnygetsfloury January 6, 2018
This was so good!!! I didn’t have olive oil so I used butter. I also added some orange zest and vanilla to the dough. I wanted cinnamon buns so I added a teaspoon of cinnamon to the filling. It worked great! Thanks for the recipe!
Michelle December 24, 2016
Been making this once a year for 4 years now. Still loving them! I pretty much make them as written every time, though I often end up with anywhere between 14 and 17 rolls, since I never remember how big to roll the initial rectangle. :)
Ceecee February 14, 2016
Thanks for a great recipe fiveandspice. I did used the vanilla almond milk and it worked out great. After reading some of the comments about the dough not rising (because I do not think mine rise at all), I will let it sit for about 2 1/2-3 hrs instead of the 1 1/2.
Ceecee February 6, 2016
Hi, what can one use in place of the butter milk? Would sweetened vanilla almond or soy milk work?
fiveandspice February 7, 2016
Yes, you could use either of those. Don't sweeten the milk replacement but do add about a tsp. of lemon juice to replace the acidity of the butt merlot.
Marghet August 31, 2016
I love the autocorrection of buttermilk = mutt merlot.
Marghet August 31, 2016
*butt merlot. My phone didn't like that phrase either apparently.
madeleine November 15, 2015
Could one add clove and a touch of cinnamon for a wintery version of this?
Tasho November 15, 2015
For me they are perfection as they are... Used to make these for Easter and Sticky Buns for Christmas but make these for both now- add hot cup a Joe and you'll have all the warmth you need! These buns fill you with orange and sunshine!!
fiveandspice November 15, 2015
I think you certainly could add spices if you like spiced rolls though. Both of those would go nicely with the orange flavor, I think.
madeleine November 15, 2015
jpriddy November 9, 2015
Thank you for this—it looks like exactly what I have been looking for! With my family's various food allergies and preferences, I will sub only the buttermilk and be good to go for immediate family.
AmazonVal November 15, 2014
These rolls are ridiculously good. I am making them again tomorrow with a couple tiny tweaks. I will add a bit of softened butter to the rolled-out dough prior to adding the sugar/orange zest mixture. Also am grating a little bit of dark chocolate over the sugar before rolling up. I can't wait to see how they turn out. I love, love, love the combination of orange and chocolate.
Kiki October 13, 2014
I wanted to make this but I'm not a baker. It looks complicated. I guess I'll just buy the Pills*** brand and bake them. I need easy recipes.
Amanda H. October 13, 2014
If you're not a baker, I definitely wouldn't recommend starting with sticky buns, which require kneading and rising. Maybe something like cookies, which you can mix and bake would be a better choice. Here's a nice easy one:
Kathi April 3, 2014
I have found that my oven light warms the oven JUST enough to help the dough rise. I just leave it on, put the dough in and no problems.
Tasho December 26, 2013
So made these again at Thanksgiving and for Christmas breakfast- every time I make them I think they will not turn out- dough so sticky and wet- every time they turn out delicious ! This time I used Trader Joe's olive oil and everybody raved
Carole Z. December 26, 2013
Amazing! Delicious, total winner at today's Boxing Day Brunch!
MamaP December 25, 2013
These were wonderful. I, too, thought the dough wasn't rising. So, I put it in the kitchen while I baked. No issue. This was also my first time making homemade, yeast-based rolls. I couldn't believe how easy it was and how well they turned out. They are now our Christmas tradition. They were truly wonderful. Thank you!
Hina K. October 17, 2013
would using cake flour make these a little less dense?
fiveandspice October 18, 2013
No, it would just mean there's less gluten in the flour to give them structure and make a workable dough. To keep them from being dense you have to add as little extra flour as possible and make sure to give them adequate time to rise. Rising time can vary dramatically based on ambient temperature and on your yeast.
Tasho March 31, 2013
Made these last night for Easter Brunch- had orange sticky buns on recent vac to Florida tht my daughter and I fell in love with- googled around for possible recipe and found this- everybody loved them! And what we did to prevent them from sticking in pan when cooled was to flip them out onto a platter (flat baking aheet work just as well) then drizzle with icing- all if the YUMMY filling was on the rolls! Definitely a keeper- thank you so much!
fiveandspice October 18, 2013