An Ohio reader seeks a nutritional overhaul of her grandmother’s sweet favorite. By MaryAnne Gragg
Credit: Randy Mayor

The Reader: Angela Thompson, 29, Cleveland, Ohio, product manager

The Recipe: Pecan Sticky Rolls

The Story: For more than 50 years, Thompson’s grandmother, Philomena Olivo, has delighted friends and family with her irresistible Pecan Sticky Rolls. These yeast-raised cinnamon buns are extravagant: The butter- and egg-enriched dough is formed into oversized bakery-style rolls smothered in a gooey brown sugar–butter sauce and topped with pecans. Thompson recently had a private baking lesson with her grandmother during which Olivo divulged the secrets of this treasured family recipe. However, with the knowledge of just how much butter, sugar, and eggs go into the sweet pastry, Thompson decided she needed an updated version to enjoy these special treats while adhering to her commitment to a healthful lifestyle.

The Dilemma: The dinner-plate-sized rolls contribute nearly half the 2,000 calories an average healthy adult needs in a day, according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines. Loaded with two cups sugar, one-half cup pecans, and nearly two sticks of butter, the rolls weigh in at more than 835 calories and about 36 grams of fat each, including 18 grams of saturated fat, about the maximum daily allotment, according to the USDA.

The Solution: Portion size was an issue here, so our first step was to increase the recipe’s yield from six servings to 15 still generously sized rolls. Then we used skim milk instead of whole and one-half cup egg substitute in place of the egg to shave a few calories while maintaining the dough’s richness. The filling and rich sauce are the high-fat and -calorie culprits, so we halved the butter in both components to trim 30 calories and five grams of fat (three grams saturated) per roll. To curb calories, we reduced the granulated sugar in the filling by one-third and the brown sugar in the sauce by one-fourth to drop another 20 calories per portion. Using dark brown sugar―which has a higher moisture content and stronger molasses flavor than light brown sugar―offers richness and preserves the stickiness of the sauce. We also used fewer high-calorie pecans (and toasted them to intensify their flavor), cutting another 10 calories per serving.

The Feedback: “They were fabulous,” Thompson says. She reports many family members found the lightened rolls just as tasty as the originals. Even her grandmother admits, “I think these might be better than mine.” Armed with this new recipe, Thompson looks forward to contributing to new memories associated with this family tradition.

Before | After
Calories per serving
835 | 275
35.6g | 7.6g
Percent of total calories
38 percent | 25 percent