October 14, 2012

VEGAN CHOPPED: Fall in your Face Sticky Buns (Butternut-Popcorn Flour Buns with Rosemary-Cinnamon-Apricot Filling and Apricot-Rosemary Caramel)

UPDATE: I won the "Favorite Baked Good" award in the Vegan Chopped Brunch Challenge! I could not be more excited! Many thanks to Isa and everyone who's stopped by the blog - this is awesome.

Fall in your Face Sticky Buns

So, first off, my apologies for abandoning the blog for a shame-inducing 76 days. Oy. That's what summer's-end vacations followed by a new job does to me, apparently. But I'm back! And I brought presents - I've got several catch-up posts in the works and today we're making STICKY BUNS!

Sweet lord, do I love sticky buns. My mom used to make killer pecan rolls as a Christmas morning brunch treat, thus beginning my obsession. But even without a nostalgic trigger, how can you NOT love a sticky bun? It's a cinnamon roll that's been smothered in effing caramel sauce and roasty-toasty nuts. They beg to be eaten in a messy, finger-licking manner between slurps of hot coffee. They must be eaten in the presence of family or friends... you know, people who love you in your less-than-glamorous moments. Because sticky buns aren't meant to be eaten in polite bites, they are meant to be inhaled. So prepare yourself for a moment of glorious, uninhibited gluttony. We're making sticky buns.

Vegan Chopped Ingredients Basket

These buns are brought to you by the third round of Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Vegan Chopped Competition. The first two rounds were for an entree and dessert, keeping in the standard Chopped routine, but this round Isa is mixing it up with BRUNCH! This Vegan Chopped challenge is to craft an extraordinary brunch item using the following four ingredients: butternut squash, popcorn, fresh rosemary, and apricot preserves. I was actually pretty pumped when I saw this basket, since apricot and rosemary is one of my all-time favorite combinations (I make a kick-ass Apricot-Rosemary Pan Sauce that will make a blog appearance in the future). I wanted to make a single brunch item that married together all the required ingredients into an autumnal flavor profile - something that tasted like fall in your face. Sticky buns were the answer. Apricot-rosemary caramel and roasted squash seeds would become the topping, butternut squash would flavor the tender popcorn flour (!!!) dough, which would be brimming with apricot-rosemary-cinnamon filling.

I can hear you wondering about the rosemary and cinnamon combination. But it really, really works. Cinnamon and rosemary are equally assertive flavors that pair surprisingly well together, almost melding into an entirely new flavor when mixed - earthy, pungent, spicy, resinous, and sweet. Does this have something to do with the fact that both are tree-harvested ingredients (cinnamon is bark, rosemary is pine needles)? Maybe. Regardless, they make a killer combo for sticky bun filling, especially paired with the gooeyness of apricot preserves. Yum.

What's that? You also wonder what the heck I'm talking about when I say "popcorn flour"? It's crazy-simple, really. I learned about popcorn flour when I worked at a bakery in Ann Arbor and we started making foccacia with a mixture of wheat and house-made popcorn flour. Popcorn flour is an old-school "during hard times" ingredient that was typically used to lessen amounts of higher-cost wheat flour in recipes (used in a one-to-three ratio with wheat flour), but it's really a great ingredient regardless. Cutting wheat flour with popcorn flour results in a super fluffy, airy baked good. Which makes sense, because the flour itself looks and feels like finely ground tasty styrofoam. To make popcorn flour, pop 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels (I put the kernels in a brown paper bag and pop them in the microwave), let cool, and grind in a food processor for 5 minutes. Sift the flour in a sieve - whatever makes its way through is your popcorn flour.

Homemade Popcorn Flour
So, to review: we're making sticky buns for an imaginary competitive brunch. Said sticky buns will taste like autumn jumped into your face. Let's do this.

Fall in your Face Sticky Buns
(inspired by Don't Eat Off the Sidewalk's recipe for Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls, which was adapted from Cooking Light)


2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup butternut squash puree
1/4 cup nondairy milk
2 tablespoons nondairy butter, melted
1 tablespoon natural cane sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup popcorn flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
additional all-purpose flour for kneading
oil to grease rising bowl


3 tablespoons apricot preserves
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons popcorn flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary


seeds from one large butternut squash, cleaned and rinsed
1/3 cup raw pecans, chopped
salt and oil
1/2 cup apricot preserves
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup nondairy butter, softened
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

You'll be using the butternut squash in two ways: the flesh will become a puree that flavors the dough, and the seeds will be roasted and added to the caramel-nut topping. While your oven is preheating to 400 degrees, prep the squash.  Slice the squash in half length-wise and scoop out the seeds. Separate the squash goop (that's a technical term) from the seeds, give them a nice rinse, and toss with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of salt in a small baking dish. Bake the seeds for 10 minutes before adding the chopped pecans into the mix (add a bit more salt, too), and bake 10-15 more minutes until golden (remember to toss the mix around every 5 minutes or so for an even toasting).

Roasted Butternut Squash Seeds and Pecans
 While seeds are in the oven, drizzle the interior of one half of the squash with oil and place cut-side down into a rimmed baking dish filled  1/2 inch water. Roast until flesh is soft (I poke it with a fork to check), 45-60 minutes. When cool enough to handle, scoop flesh out and puree in a food processor until smooth. Measure out 3/4 cup of puree for the dough, reserve remaining puree for another use.

In a small bowl, stir together the yeast and water. While the yeast blooms (5 minutes), add the flours, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl and whisk to combine. In a standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, mix together the squash puree, milk, melted butter, and sugar. Add bloomed yeast and water mixture and mix briefly to combine. Replace the whisk attachment with the dough hook and add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, using the stand mixer's low setting to knead the dough for 10 minutes. During the 10-minute kneading time, add a spoonful of flour and scrape down the sides as needed until the dough is smooth, elastic, and slightly sticky to the touch (I added 6 spoonfuls of flour to mine). Grease the bottom and sides of a large bowl with a drizzle of oil and transfer the dough to the bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover bowl with a dish cloth and let rise in a warm (85 degrees or so) place free of drafts until doubled in size (about 45 minutes). I stuck the bowl in my turned-off oven, which was still a bit warm from roasting the squash earlier in the afternoon. While dough rises, prep your filling and topping (just stir each set of ingredients together in small bowls and set aside in refrigerator until needed).

Once dough is doubled in size, punch down, cover, and let rest for 5 minutes. Roll your rested dough into a 10x12 inch rectangle on a floured surface. Spread filling on dough (leaving 1 inch on sides) and roll dough into a log, pinching seam to seal. Cut log into 12 1-inch rolls.
Dough spread with Rosemary-Cinnamon-Apricot Fillng
Smear the bottom of a round 9-inch baking pan with the topping mixture, then tuck the rolls into the pan. Cover and let rise for 25 minutes or until doubled in size (During this time, preheat your oven to 375 degrees). Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown, then run a knife around the sides of the pan and turn out the hot buns onto a plate, drizzling tops with any caramel-y goodness left in the pan. Let cool for a few minutes, then go to town.

Sticky Buns turned out onto plate

Sticky Bun and Coffee


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! After eating 3 buns I forced myself to give the rest of the batch to coworkers because my willpower around these things is non-existent. :)

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks! I thought your entry was super creative. :)

  3. I this should have won the "makes me want to eat my computer screen award"!

    1. Thanks! Your scotch eggs were IMPRESSIVE. Congrats on your award!

  4. this is dazzling. what a fantastic idea!