A Vegan Baker Conquers Her Fear of Cinnamon Rolls

April  5, 2017

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! 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.

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.

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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.)

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.

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.

Do you have any baking fears you'd like to conquer? Let us know in the comments!

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Gena is a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food blogger. She's the author of three cookbooks, including Power Plates (2017) and Food52 Vegan (2015). She enjoys cooking vegetables, making bread, and challenging herself with vegan baking projects.


Denise June 21, 2017
I feared yeast too! Until I conquered vegan hot cross buns this year. Very exciting! I thank Gwen at Delightful Adventures. I happened upon her website while missing the hot cross buns from my pre-vegan days that I'd loved so much.
bhilz April 5, 2017
Your experience with yeast sounds so much like mine! I've spent years honing my baking skills with cakes, bars, pies, etc., yet after one or two mishaps with yeast found myself throwing up my hands with anything involving yeast and kneading. It's so nice to hear about a similar experience and how you overcame it! You've definitely inspired me to try making some yeasted rolls soon.
Deedledum April 5, 2017
@ bhilz: I had the same heebie-jeebies about yeasted anything until I tried the original Lahey version of no-knead bread. It's so easy (even though it takes a day), that after a couple of tries I was confident enough to move on to other breads. Maybe you could start with something like that.