Presenting the legendary Milton Sticky Buns recipe

March 9, 2018

I started this column 40 couple years ago so I could write about whatever I wanted. Barefootin' because I liked the feel of the earth under my feet. Made me feel grounded. And thank God for gravity so the spinning of the planet doesn't fling me off into the heavens before my time.

These days I don't go barefoot much at all unless I'm on the beach. Dr. Roman told me that we humans aren't designed to walk on hard, flat surfaces like concrete and wood. Tends to flatten out our arches over time and that stresses our feet. He was treating me for plantar fasciitis at the time. Treatment worked. Pain went away.

But I still write about whatever I want, and this week it's sticky buns, complete with a recipe, and apologies to Denise Clemons for straying into her turf.

Former faculty members at the old Cape Henlopen High School will likely remember pans of warm sticky buns that came out of the cafeteria ladies' baking ovens from time to time. When the Lewes-Rehoboth Rotary Club met in the cafeteria, members would occasionally get a few of the legendary buns in a take-out box for home consumption. They were addictive.

I've been wondering over recent years whatever happened to that recipe. Linda Beebe, Dr. Kirk's wife, heard that I was in the hunt. Her mother, Caroline Donovan, managed the cafeteria for a number of years.

"She might know," said Linda. And she did. Marlyn Mitchell was the key. She had the recipe and gave it to Linda.

Linda found out that the recipe originated in Milton where the Donovans and Kings, Clendaniels and Blacks weave a tight web. "They made this recipe at Milton High School where Alice Marvel was the baker," said Linda. When Milton, Lewes and Rehoboth Beach high schools consolidated in 1969 to create Cape Henlopen School District, the sticky bun recipe made it to the new consolidated high school. "Marlyn, I believe, was the baker at Cape," said Linda.

Linda tested the recipe recently and brought me a batch of the buns one late-February evening. They were still warm and just as good as, if not better than, I remembered. All good ingredients, and if you really want to go over the top, melt a pat of butter on one of the buns and settle in with a cup of hot coffee or a glass of cold milk. You won't be disappointed.

In honor of their town of origin, and the good ladies - probably all related - who made them through the decades, I'm calling them:


Dough ingredients:
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons dried yeast (Linda says a packet that's about two and a quarter teaspoons works fine)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup honey (use local, of course!)
1/2 cup butter
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Topping and filling ingredients:
3/4 cup butter
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans.

Linda said she made an extra batch of the topping and filling to have enough to spread on the dough. "Did not need all of it."

Dough instructions

  1. In a large glass bowl combine the flour with the yeast to one side, and the salt to the other, and then hand-stir all three together and set aside.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together the milk, honey and butter and heat to room temperature.
  3. Once the butter has melted, quickly whisk in the room-temperature (lightly beaten) eggs until combined. Make sure the butter isn't hot; you don't want the eggs to start cooking.
  4. Pour the wet into the dry and mix until it forms a dough and all the flour is mixed in. It only takes a few minutes to HAND mix the dough together.
  5. Cover with cling wrap or tin foil and allow to rest at room temperature for four hours. After the four hours, you can place in the fridge for up to four days.

Filling and finishing instructions:

  1. Mix together the melted butter, brown sugar, honey and cinnamon to make caramel mixture, and set aside.
  2. Use a nine-inch cake pan; butter and lightly flour the sides.
  3. With a spatula, spread half the caramel mixture evenly over the bottom and all over the sides. Scatter the pecans over the caramel mixture and set aside.
  4. Dust your work surface with flour. Roll out the dough to a one-eighth-inch rectangle, about 20-inches long. As you roll the dough, make sure you use enough flour so it doesn't stick to your work surface.
  5. With the remaining caramel mixture, evenly spread it over the rolled out dough leaving one inch around the edge WITHOUT the mixture.
  6. Starting with the long side, roll the dough into a log. Roll it over until the seam is underneath.
  7. Using a serrated knife, cut the log into two-and-a-half-inch rolls (around eight or nine pieces.)
  8. Arrange the rolls over the pecans in the prepared pan so the swirled-cut edge is facing up.
  9. Cover the cake pan with plastic wrap and allow to rest for one hour. During this time, the rolls will rise up to the top of the pan and look bubbly.
  10. After they rise, place rolls on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, just in case the caramel bubbles over.
  11. Preheat the oven to 350 and bake approximately 40 minutes, or until golden brown and firm in the center.
  12. While still hot, run a spatula or knife around the outer edges of the pan to release easier and turn over immediately onto a serving plate. (Don't let them set very long in the baking pan or they will stick and turn into a mess.)

The baker's notes say the filling and finishing takes about 30 minutes and the baking 40 minutes.

"I prefer to make the dough a day or two ahead. They are worth every minute of it."

Thanks to Linda, Marlyn, Alice and all the other Milton ladies who perfected this great recipe through the years.


  • Dennis Forney has been a journalist on the Delmarva Peninsula since 1972 and has been writing his Barefootin’ column for The Whale and then the Cape Gazette for more than 30 years. Contact Dennis at