A couple weeks ago, Anguel and I hopped on a ferry and rode it over to Vancouver Island for an impromptu weekend trip. The last time we’d visited the island was just over two years ago. Back then, we were on an ambitious mission to hike the 50 mile long West Coast Trail. Due to some overzealous non-refundable travel bookings (thanks Anguel), it was literally 48 hours or bust. Most of the time, I couldn’t tell if the adrenaline was thanks to my fast pace (hah) - or fro the fear that we’d miss our flight the next day. In the end, WE DID IT, despite not being able to walk properly for at least a week afterwards. And if the distance wasn't enough to take my breath away, the scenery definitely did. Everything was so wild and raw. It was Mother Nature at her finest - and we were just along for the ride.
This time, instead of water filters and goretex, we packed books and our camera. The plan was to relax. And other than that, we had no plans at all. As we passed over that small sliver of the Pacific Ocean, it was hard not to think about how much our lifestyle has changed over the past two years. Gone are the days where we sought to cram our weekends and vacations to their breaking points. Now, we sleep in a bit more. We leave ourselves more time to just chill. And if we did the West Coast Trail again - well, next time, we’d probably set aside at least 4 days. You’ve gotta stop and smell the roses, ya know?!
Our dear family friend hosted us at his dreamy beachside home for the night. And he also kindly offered up his fruit trees. We plucked pounds of plums and apples. To say I was in heaven would be an understatement. We ate the plums almost as quickly as we picked them. But the apples? You can bet I stuffed my backpack full with them. And borrowed an extra bag. Those babies were coming home with me.
Homemade cinnamon buns definitely don’t carry the reputation of being “instant”. Nor should they. Sometimes the best stuff takes time. In the spirit of enjoying a cozy weekend in, I mixed up a batch of soft and slightly sweet dough - and then rolled up plenty of cinnamon coated apples inside. As if that wasn’t enough, I poured the most luscious vegan caramel sauce over the entire thing. And baked it until the caramel was warm and bubbling. Oh em gee.
To me, the holy grail is when you can make sinful desserts a bit more wholesome. Because we all know we’re reaching for that second bun when nobody’s looking. With that goal in mind, I made a few healthy swaps in this recipe - without compromising taste (of course).
I usually use spelt flour at home. But sometimes you just need to mimic the effect of white flour, especially in baked goods. Spelt flour, I love you, but not today. Instead, whole wheat flour does the trick. It makes for a lighter, fluffier end result - and it's still a lot more wholesome than white. A combination of coconut sugar and brown rice syrup gives these buns the perfect amount of sweetness - without the toothache. Coconut sugar replaces brown sugar (news flash: did you know that most ‘brown sugar’ is actually white processed sugar that’s had some molasses mixed back in?). And brown rice syrup imparts an almost buttery taste to the rolls, without adding too much sweetness. The results are crazy good.
Caramel Apple Sticky Cinnamon Buns
- 1 cup non-dairy milk (unflavored and unsweetened)
- ⅓ cup coconut sugar
- ¼ cup coconut oil (more for greasing)
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all purpose flour)
- 2 teaspoons dry yeast
Vegan Caramel Sauce
- ⅔ cup non-dairy milk (unflavored and unsweetened)
- 3 tablespoons brown rice syrup
- 3 tablespoons coconut sugar
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 pinch fine sea salt
Apple Cinnamon Filling
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 4 cups chopped apple (3 to 4 apples, see note 1)
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
- 3 tablespoons coconut sugar
- Warm liquids for dough: In a saucepan, add non-dairy milk, coconut sugar, coconut oil and salt. Warm over low heat until the coconut oil is melted. The mixture should be the temperature of lukewarm bathwater (100 to 110˚F / 38 to 43˚C), otherwise let cool until it is.
- Mix dough: In a large bowl, stir together flour and yeast. Pour the warm liquids over the flour and stir until well mixed. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Let dough rise: Lightly grease the large bowl with coconut oil. Return dough to bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled in size (about 1½ hours, see note 2).
- Make caramel sauce: Meanwhile, add non-dairy milk, brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, and lemon juice to a boil. Gently boil, stirring occasionally to scrape down the sides, until mixture has thickened, about 20 minutes. Stir in vanilla and salt. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until the sauce has cooled and thickened.
- Make apple filling: Warm coconut oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat (see note 3). Add apples, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon, and lemon juice. Saute until apples have softened slightly, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Set aside 1 cup of filling for the topping.
- Shape buns: On a lightly floured surface, gently roll dough into 1 (15 x 9-inch) rectangle. Spread brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, and the remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon over the dough. Sprinkle the apple filling (except for the 1 cup reserved for topping) over the dough. Starting on the long side, tightly roll the dough into a log. Cut dough into 10 pieces.
- Let buns rest, preheat oven: Arrange the buns in the skillet (no need to wipe clean). Top with 1 cup reserved apples. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
- Bake: Bake buns until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Drizzle caramel sauce on top, then bake until caramel is bubbling, about 2 minutes. Enjoy warm.
- Apples: Use your favourite apples here. I leave the skin on, but you can peel them if you prefer.
- Technique tip: If you have trouble knowing if your dough has "doubled in size", take a photo of the dough before rising. It'll make it easier to compare back to.
- Skillet: If you don't have a 12-inch skillet, use the biggest one you have. Then, when it comes time to bake the buns, transfer them to a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.
- Storage tip: Cover and refrigerate extras. Bring to room temp before eating, or warm in microwave or oven (at 250°F / 120°C).
- Baking by weight: For the most reliable results, we recommend measuring by weight when baking. Ingredient weights are provided in metric. If you must go by volume (measuring cups), make sure to fluff, spoon, and level the flour to avoid adding too much.