This recipe has four components: the dough that is shaped into buns, the filling that creates the swirl in the shaped buns, the caramel glaze that bakes in the bottom of the baking dish along with the buns, and the pecan topping that garnishes the buns once baked.
To keep the sticky bun glaze from hardening into a taffylike shell, we added cream, which kept the glaze supple. To the dough’s basic mix of flour, yeast, and salt, we added buttermilk, which gave the buns a complex flavor and a little acidity that balanced the sweetness. Butter and eggs enriched the dough further. After the first rise, we spread the filling—brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and butter—over the dough, rolled it out, cut the individual buns, and laid them in the pan with the caramel to rise once more before being baked.
We found that setting the pan on a baking stone in the oven ensured that the bottoms of the buns (which would end up on top) baked completely. To preserve the crispness of the nuts, we created one more layer: toasted nuts in a lightly sweetened glaze to crown the rolls just before serving.
Leftover sticky buns can be wrapped in foil or plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 3 days, but they should be warmed through before serving. They reheat quickly in a microwave oven (for 2 buns, about 2 minutes at 50 percent power works well); they can also be put into a 325-degree oven for about 8 minutes.
If you want to serve sticky buns in the morning, you can complete most of the work a day in advance. After forming and arranging the buns in the baking pan, cover the pan and refrigerate it for 10 to 14 hours. In the morning to speed up the rise, place the baking pan in warm-water bath (about 120 degrees) in the kitchen sink or large roasting pan for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the water bath and let stand at room temperature until the buns look slightly puffy and are pressed against one another, about 1½ hours. About an hour before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 350 degrees. Proceed with baking as directed.