National Sticky Bun day is February 21. Did you know that this breakfast sweet roll topped with a caramel glaze, as well as nuts and/or raisins, was introduced to America in our region?
Sticky buns trace their origins to Germany where they’re known as “schnecken,” meaning snail—inspired by the bun’s spiral shape. German settlers brought their baking traditions to America when they started settling in and around Philadelphia in the late 1600s. As German settlers, like the Pennsylvania Dutch, moved elsewhere, the sticky bun tradition went with them. In some areas it remains a bakery staple long after other German cultural traditions have vanished.
For the record…
Sticky buns, cinnamon buns, and honey buns are close cousins—their toppings are the biggest difference. Sticky buns are crowned with a caramel glaze finished with nuts and/or raisins. Cinnamon buns usually feature a cream cheese frosting spread.
According to America’s Test Kitchen:
Sticky buns are generally a bit more dense than cinnamon buns, and although they share the sticky element with honey buns, the reason each bun is sticky varies. (Both sticky buns and honey buns call for pecans, however.) While honey bun recipes call for, you guessed it, honey, sticky bun recipes call for a caramel glaze.
Whether you prefer them topped with nuts, raisins, or both, here are some South Philly spots to pick up these delicious doughy delights (call ahead to check availability!):
2300 S 3rd St.
Thursday to Saturday—6:30 a.m. to Noon
Make a trip to Whitman for Baker Brother’s amazing glazed sticky buns. You’ll find them topped with nuts or raisins, but don’t ask for both on the same bun—there’s no mixing of toppings here. The bakery, formerly known as Hier’s, is also famous for their butter cake.
847 W Ritner St.
Tuesday to Saturday: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Frangelli’s sticky buns have a light and airy consistency, while still being densely flavorful. Enjoy version with nuts and raisins. This family-owned-and-operated business has been providing LoMo with traditional pastries for 65 years. While you’re picking up sticky buns, try their famous Franolli or their neighborhood favorite—the Ice Cream Doughnut.
1009 Christian St.
Tuesday-Wednesday and Sunday 8am to 4pm
Thursday-Saturday 8am to 6pm
According to Zagat’s The Ultimate Guide to Sticky Buns in Philadelphia: “Sticky buns have been incorporated into the rotating menu at this Italian Market icon, and while they don’t grace the dessert case as often as the shop’s famous cannoli, if you stop by on a Saturday or Sunday morning, you’re likely to find a few gooey, raisin-topped rolls to try.
1614 W Ritner St.
Monday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This west-of-Broad Street staple is known for their fluffy, yeasty, doughy buns. The caramel covered treats are among the best South Philadelphia has to offer. Their buns come three ways: nuts, raisins, or both. They’re also known for their cannolis and custom wedding and bridal cakes. Editor’s Note: send us a photo of one of their sticky buns and we’ll include it in this article and credit you!
1639 S 10th Street
Monday to Sunday—7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Varallo’s has great raisin- and nut-toppped sticky buns. Be sure to call ahead—they sell out quickly. Or just stop by and enjoy some of their other pastries.
1437 East Passyunk Avenue
Wednesday to Saturday: 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
OK, OK. This article is about sticky buns and Essen sells cinnamon buns. But these are sooooo good, we couldn’t resist including them. How about a taste test? Step 1: buy some sticky buns. Step 2: buy some of these cream cheese-frosting-topped confections. Step 3: eat and compare. All in the interest of culinary growth, right?