From jammy buns to Greek doughnuts, these sticky, syrupy creations make getting messy a sweet delight.
6 Oct 2020 - 4:24 PM  UPDATED 6 Oct 2020 - 4:55 PM

--- Join Ainsley Harriott in Ainsley's Mediterranean Cookbook, Sundays 8.30pm on SBS Food or stream it on SBS On Demand. Catch him as he gets sticky-fingered with a rum-soaked Spanish pastry in episode 8, Sunday 11 October ---


Whether it's the honey-drizzled delight of loukoumades or the stickiness of a cinnamon scroll, there's a simple and sensational joy in recipes that involve licking sweet syrupy fingers. 

Here are some of our favourites. 

Sticky buns

The name says it all! This American-style caramel and pecan-laced sticky bun wraps a yeasted dough around a filling of butter, sugar and spice filling, the buns are then baked creating a sticky caramel sauce. Drizzles of icing (added after the buns have cooled - hold onto your will power and wait!) finish it all off. If you need a gluten-free version, try this one from Loving Gluten Free host Helen Tzouganatos. 

Sticky cinnamon pecan scrolls

If waiting for buns to cool just seems too cruel (as in the iced number above), then make this nutty number instead!

"Serve these deliciously sticky, spicy and nutty scrolls straight from the oven. They are best eaten the day they are made – but leftovers aren’t generally an issue," says Anneka Manning of her recipe for scrolls. These do use a yeasted dough so you'll need to plan ahead, but once they are out of the oven, you're good to go! (You might want to wait a few minutes so they aren't too molten-hot.) The buns have cinnamon, butter, pecan and sugar filling, and are baked in a sweet maple-syrup, sugar and butter sauce, creating sticky-finger heaven. 

Bosnian syrup biscuits (hurmašice)

A sweet syrup soaks into these golden buttery biscuits, shared with us by SBS Food's managing editor, Farah Celjo. There's much to love about these biscuits, including the fact that they will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for 2 weeks, with the syrup spooned over. Serve straight from the fridge or at room temperature. Sweetness on demand! 

Tunisian doughnuts (yo-yos)

Pieces of yeasted dough are pulled into ring shapes and fried until crisp and golden, pierced with a skewer several times (for increased uptake!) and then soaked in a lemon, honey and orange blossom syrup. 

Monkey bread

A buttery yeasted dough baked with a sugar, butter and cinnamon topping, then drowned in a salted pecan caramel sauce? It's crying out to be torn apart and devoured!

Greek honey balls (loukoumades)

It's easy to see why these balls of puffy yeasted dough, fried until golden then drizzled with honey, are so popular. Try the ones pictured below, or spice things up with this version, where the doughnuts are generously drizzled with a honey and spice-infused syrup.  


Raspberry jam and chocolate buns

"Swedes just can’t get enough of buns, and neither can I," says Rachel Khoo of these gloriously messy, twisty buns. Made with a rich honey-sweetened, buttery spelt pastry, these are filled with jam and chopped chocolate. Best eaten while still warm!

Upside-down caramel banana bread

This cake looks fancy, but it's so easy to rustle up: a brown sugar, butter and golden syrup sauce is poured over the bottom of the loaf tin, then banana slices and then the banana bread batter, before baking. 

Persian nut bars

“This is a really fab refined sugar-free snack to make for the family – it also makes a great gift. I like to wrap the centres of the bars with a strip of baking paper tied on with kitchen string, so you can pick them up without getting sticky fingers,” says Poh Ling Yeow of her almond, pistachio and sunflower seed bars. 

Ricotta fritters with orange and honey

Yotam Ottolenghi cooked these Italian ricotta and goat's cheese fritters in his Mediterranean Island Feast series and they come with a sweet story about Signora Assunta. They are also made with baking powder, so are a quicker option than some of the yeasted numbers on this list. Served up with orange syrup and drizzled honey, they're a sweet taste of Italy. 


This is the sort of sticky situation a TV host is happy to find themselves in. "Oh, my word! ... the rum’s dripping down my hands. So juicy. Really, really lovely," says Ainsley Harriott as he tucks into a pionono - a sugary, rum-soaked scroll inspired by a pope. "This dessert represents Pope Pius IX, who visited Granada in 1897, and Ceferino Isla González created this dessert in his honour," explains Harriott's local guide, Katya, as the pair tuck into a box of pionono in Ainsley's Mediterranean Cookbook.

Packed with cinnamon, honey, almonds and rum, the scroll-like shape and sugary crown of the pionono represents the Pope and his 'crown', Katya explains. The recipe remains a closely guarded secret (though you might like to try this version) but the basis, Harriot explains when SBS Food chats to him about the highlights of his Granada visit, is a cake of two parts. "You have a thin layer of sponge rolled into a cylinder and soaked in syrup, then a delicious cream, slightly toasted, on top. The ones I tried were pretty heavy on the rum and sweetness - delicious!"

Image of pionono by ajay_suresh via Flickr

More sticky situations
Hotteok salted caramel doughnuts

Fresh, spongy doughnuts, a toasted peanut and sunflower seed filling, and salted caramel glaze - there's nothing not to love about these adorable little treats.

Creamy caramel

It's worth investing in a sugar (or candy) thermometer, as they take the guesswork out of heating creams and sugar syrups, so you can get the perfect homemade treats every time. They're available at kitchen shops and some supermarkets. 

Lemon yoghurt syrup cakes (yiaourtopita)

The Greeks really know how to make a lemon cake and this syrup-soaked yiaourtopita is one of my all-time favourites. These little handfuls are more-ishly tangy, and the lemon icing makes them all the more mouth-puckering. 

Coconut caramel bread (fa’ausi)

Coconut palms line the sandy shores of Samoa, and coconuts are used to make one of the country’s favourite sweets, fa’ausi. It consists of a creamy caramel made with coconut milk, the sugar traditionally caramelised over hot rocks. This mixture is then poured over cubes of baked taro or fa’apapa, rock-hard coconut bread, which hold their shape when soaked with caramel.

Gulab jamun (dumplings in rosewater syrup)
Turkish delight filled doughnuts with rosewater honey

Warm Lebanese doughnuts filled with gooey Turkish delight and perfumed with rosewater honey? Yes please! 

Pistachio semolina cake (ravani)

With the Turkish diaspora spread throughout Greece, Cyprus, Syria, Iraq and the Balkans, it’s no wonder many countries in the region also lay claim to this recipe for a lovely light cake, made from ground pistachios with a zesty orange syrup.


These luscious custard pastries are a much loved sweet snack and most Greek pastry shops make them. In the recipe below it is made in a large tray and sliced. Alternatively, you can make individual filo parcels using the same method. Simply butter several layers of filo pastry and wrap around the custard, forming small rolls. Bake and cover with syrup.