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A Vegan Baker Conquers Her Fear of Cinnamon Rolls

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This recipe challenged my assumptions in a number of ways, starting with the secret belief that I’m destined to destroy any recipe that involves yeast. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but a few failed baking projects are all it’s taken for me to feel certain that I just can’t handle homemade rolls, twists, buns, or breads.

I wish I feared this... so I could conquer and eat!
I wish I feared this... so I could conquer and eat! Photo by James Ransom

This is, of course, ridiculous, and it’s so out of keeping with what I think is the spirit of home cookery: a willingness to try things, to mess up, and to keep experimenting. This year, in keeping with that intrepid spirit, I’ve vowed to tackle home bread-making, starting with some of the sweet and simple dishes I love; cinnamon rolls, for one.

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I’m happy to say that this recipe went exactly as it should have. The rolls rose on schedule; they were pliable to kneading and rolling; they baked up to sweet, golden perfection. I included raisins and pecans because I’ve always loved a little texture in cinnamon rolls. It was a treat to pull the rolls apart and find the mix-ins hiding among ribbons of cinnamon and sugar.

The rolls also challenged some of my preconceptions about what’s necessary for vegan baking. For ages I’ve maintained that coconut oil (and other vegetable oils) work nicely for quick breads and for pie crust, but that vegan buttery spread is a necessary replacement for butter in more “delicate” recipes. (Into the “delicate” category I grouped cake, pastry, cookies, and nearly all recipes that weren’t loaves or muffins.)

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I still think that there are recipes for which a buttery spread does the job best. This includes vegan buttercream frosting, shortbread, some cookies, and some cake—in other words, recipes in which butter is traditionally a constitutive ingredient. But cinnamon rolls don’t usually contain a huge proportion of butter, and the same is true for a lot of other breakfast breads. For this recipe, coconut oil works just perfectly, imparting buttery flavor and perfectly tender-yet-firm-at-the-edges texture.

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Making the rolls has been a good reminder to stay flexible, to challenge my own rigid ideas about what I can do and how I should be doing it. A friend of mine, who is a highly accomplished vegan baker, says that she doesn’t accept the traditional wisdom that one shouldn’t bother veganizing a recipe that calls for more than two eggs. These recipes are just an invitation, she insists, to think about new and creative ways of achieving texture and rise. I agree, and now I’m giving thought to other breakfast breads that will work nicely with coconut oil and fearlessness.

I think brioche might be next. Stay tuned.

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Vegan Cinnamon Pecan Rolls

C04d249c ce6c 4b53 a221 55abd824bca0  gena hamshaw by james ransom Gena Hamshaw
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Makes 11-12 rolls

For the dough:

  • 3 cups 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cane sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup soy or almond milk
  • 5 tablespoons coconut oil

For the filling and glaze:

  • 2-3 tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup or agave
  • optional vegan egg wash
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons soy or almond milk
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Do you have any baking fears you'd like to conquer? Let us know in the comments!


Tags: vegan, cinnamon rolls