Once during a Sunday brunch, I confessed to my girlfriend that I was craving a big, fat cinnamon roll. "Oh, yum," she replied, "I love sticky buns."
"No," I countered. "Not a sticky bun. A cinnamon roll. You know, cream cheese icing. Possibly raisins."
"Well," she shrugged. "They're basically the same thing, right?"
No, oh, no. These two breakfast pastries are certainly similar but definitely vary in appearance and taste: The cinnamon roll is an amazing yeasty spiral that might be mistaken for a complex dinner roll if not for its frosting crown, while the sticky bun is a dark brown finger-licking treat dotted with pecans or walnuts.
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And because a cinnamon roll requires a double rise in the preparation, it's softer and fluffier, with a stronger salty, butter flavor. A sticky bun is less doughy, heavier in brown sugar, and heartier, thanks to the infusion of nuts.
I admit there's a fine line, as with stuffing and dressing, but when push comes to shove you can discern one from the other by the presence (or absence) of frosting. A cinnamon roll must have vanilla or cream cheese icing; a sticky bun marinates in its own brown sugar glaze.
Sadly, I have not been able to find good samples of either in the Houston area. Please don't tell me to go to Cinnabon or The Kolache Factory; I'd rather eat dog food. Central Market and Whole Foods have sticky buns and cinnamon rolls, but I have yet to find a massive, swollen delectable version of the latter in an independent Houston bakery.