Holiday Cinnamon Rolls {gluten + dairy-free + vegan}

At the beginning of advent, William and I had an after-dinner discussion on holiday traditions and the ones that are most important to each of us. One of mine is baking and making gifts of the season to share. My grandma’s Apple Cake, my great grandmother’s Cinnamon Roll Cookies, the stereotypical fruitcake and mince tarts packed with dried fruit and spices that seemingly only me and my dad like. And cinnamon rolls, a new tradition in the past few years. For me, baking during the holidays is more about the joy it brings to others than really wanting or needing to eat all the foods myself. I grew up in an active, ranching family whose busy season happens to be in the winter (“spring” calving usually starts around Christmas, and regardless, animals always need fed first), so some sweet treats after being outside for hours in the cold and dark are always welcome.

After being mostly removed from that lifestyle for more than a decade, I still love to bake and send treats in the mail when I’m not visiting my parents. That’ll be the case this year. And of course, I still bake for myself and William as well. What I’ve found over the years is that most of us have a disjointed relationship to the treats that often come with the holiday season. They bring nostalgic feelings of happy memories, fill the house with comforting scents, and generally taste amazing. And then comes the guilt. We really shouldn’t. It’ll mess with our ‘diet’ or our ‘active lifestyle’ or our ‘new improved body’ we’ve worked so hard for. Or, the high sugar and inflammatory ingredients will hamper our healing process. I’ve been there on all accounts: the guilt, the feeling of needing to control my body, and in recent years, the awareness of hampering my healing.

But the other thing that severely hampers healing is stress. And stressing about every morsel that enters our mouth severely interferes with healing – of any type. We’re going to delve more into intuitive eating and what that really means (intuition versus cravings) here in the coming weeks, but first, let’s pause for the holiday season. Make, bake, and enjoy your favorite treats if you’d like, be mindful about what you really want and enjoy them with all your senses. Continue to chew your food. And generally let go of the guilt.

And if your body is in some stage of healing and you still would enjoy Cinnamon Rolls, these ones are just a bit more nourishing than most, yet still leave room for being slightly decadent, celebratory and delicious.

Happy solstice, yule, Christmas, and holiday season. I hope you enjoy in whatever way you can, and above all, remember to take care of you.

Holiday Cinnamon Rolls {gluten-free + vegan}, makes 4
A few notes on method and ingredients:
– The trick to really good GF bread and pastry is a binder and the best one(s) are a combination of ground chia or flax and psyllium seed husks. Both can usually be found in natural food stores or ordered from herbal companies online.
I’ve only made these with my gluten-free flour mix so any store bought mixes will have different textures/results. Measure flour by weight if you’re substituting. For the frosting, the hemp seeds are optional but provide a little flavor contrast. Just add in the same amount of additional cashews if you’d rather. I’ve tried all types of sugar in these, both in the filling and in the frosting. While I’ve given options, the first one listed is my favorite and first recommendation.
– These can be prepped ahead of time. Prepare them in the evening, and then place the rolls in their pan in the fridge during the rise time overnight. In the morning, let them warm up on the counter while pre-heating the oven. The baking time will likely need to be longer.

Wet Ingredients:
6.5 oz. / 185 ml / 13 Tbs. non-dairy milk
1 1/8 tsp. dry active yeast
1 Tbs. ground chia seeds 
1 Tbs. psyllium seed husk
2 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
½ Tbsp. apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)

Dry ingredients:
170 g / 6 oz. / 1 ½ cups gluten-free all-purpose blend
¾ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. cardamom, optional

Holiday Spice Filling:
6 Tbs. brown sugar or coconut sugar
¼ tsp. each cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice OR 1 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of sea salt
1 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted

Frosting:
¼ cup cashews, soaked
2 Tbs. hemp seeds
2 Tbs. non-dairy milk
1 Tbs. brown rice syrup, honey, or maple syrup
1 tsp. coconut oil
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
a pinch of salt

  1. Warm up the non-dairy milk until lukewarm or at 100 degrees F / 38 degrees C. Whisk in the yeast and allow to froth up for 10 minutes. Add the chia seeds, psyllium, oil and vinegar. Whisk together and set aside so it can thicken a little.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Dump the wet ingredients into the middle of the flour mix and stir with a wooden spoon. Your dough will begin to look scrappy. When this happens, set aside the wooden spoon and start kneading the dough in the bowl with your hands. Knead it lightly until it gets manageable and somewhat smooth.
  3. Roll out the dough on your counter or large cutting board that’s lightly floured. The dough should be easy to roll and not too sticky. Roll it into a large rectangle, a little more than  ¼ inch /3 mm. Combine the spice and sugar filling in a small bowl and spread it out evenly on top of the dough.
  4. Tightly roll the dough up from the short side so you have 4 1 ½-2-inch rolls. Line a small 6-inch or similar cake pan with parchment paper, and then place the rolls inside, cut-side up. Cover lightly with a tea towel, and allow to rise for 1 hour in a warm, non-drafty space in your kitchen. These should rise enough to be touching each other in the pan now. They will not double in size.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake for 15-25 minutes or until the edges have firmed up. (Check after 15 minutes but my oven usually needs the full 25). Place the pan on a wire rack to briefly cool down.
  6. While the rolls are cooling slightly, blend together the frosting in a high-speed blender, and then pour and smooth over the cinnamon rolls. Add a light dusting of cinnamon on top if you’d like.
  7. These taste best when eaten warm and straight out of the oven but can be stored (covered) for about three days.

Better than the Bakery GF/DF Blackberry Muffins

During my senior year of high school, my agricultural science class focused on business and economics principles, and in one unit on our future in the workforce, I did some business planning on starting a cake bakery. I don’t know if we were focusing on entrepreneurship specifically, or if I’ve always had a streak of planning to run my own business, but to my way of thinking, I was owning, managing, baking, selling, etc. The whole dang thing. Never mind that I was in agricultural class, not growing or milling wheat or other grains, or just using an example from the then business I had at the time of raising and selling club lambs. Nope. Instead I did an abrupt turn and planned for baking artistic cakes in my future.

To this day, I often joke that if the pay were better and other things didn’t work out, I’d be baking and handing over the goods to other happy people instead. Oh and starting a porridge and brunch restaurant. Which is where my love for baking muffins comes in. If you go ahead and browse the recipe section, you’ll see I’ve published more than a handful of muffin recipes over the years. Along with cake, muffins are one of my favorite baked foods to experiment with.

When it’s up to me, I often tend to go for the heavily spiced, oat-rich, morning glory-type muffins that are stuffed with ingredients like raisins, shredded zucchini or carrots, mashed pumpkin, or other fruit. But not everyone favors that kind of porridge reincarnation. William, for instance, is a plain vanilla cake / vanilla frosting person, and likewise prefers simple berry muffins without the frills and extra ingredients. Since he’s been stopping by a local bakery before work many mornings for exactly that type of muffin, we settled on me making him some that are a little more wholesome and he can grab and take instead.

That’s where these come in. These are blackberry muffins made from milling oats, buckwheat, and almonds in my spice / coffee grinder. But they can easily become blueberry or raspberry-flavored instead, and if you have more of the flours than I do, start with oat, buckwheat, and almond flours for one less step. Either way, they’re an early morning treat that stands up to the bakery muffins with more whole foods, and especially whole-grains and reduced sugar. A big win and less of the side effects of refined sugars and flours, etc.

Blackberry Muffins, makes 6

65 grams / ¾ cup gf-certified oatmeal
65 grams / a little less than 1/2 cup raw buckwheat groats
60 grams / ½ cup raw almonds
8 grams / 1 Tbs. arrowroot flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. sea salt
70 grams / 6 Tbs. organic cane sugar
25 grams / 2 Tbs. coconut oil
1 large egg or a vegan alternative (1 Tbs. ground flax mixed with 3 Tbs. water)
½ tsp. grated lemon zest, optional
1 tsp. lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
170 grams / ¾ cup plain non-dairy yogurt (unsweetened coconut yogurt is best)
150 grams / 1 cup fresh or frozen blackberries

  1. Begin by weighing or measuring out the oats, buckwheat and almonds, and then finely grind them to a flour mixture in a spice / coffee grinder. Alternatively, if you already have light buckwheat flour, oat flour and almond meal, you can skip this step.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and prepare a muffin pan by adding the paper liners, or lightly wipe the insides with oil and dust with flour. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the flours, baking powder and soda, and salt. Then set it aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix the coconut oil and sugar with a spoon until light and fluffy. Then beat in the egg, lemon zest and juice, and vanilla.
  5. Add in about 1/3 of the flour mixture to the sugar and oil and stir. Then add in ¼ cup of yogurt. Stir in another third of flour and another ¼ cup of yogurt, and then add the rest of the flour and the final ¼ cup of yogurt. The batter should be slightly fluffy. Don’t overmix.
  6. Gently stir in the blackberries, and then evenly divide the batter into the six muffins cups.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool them slightly in the pan, before tipping out and eating

Hot Cross Buns {gluten + dairy-free, sourdough option}

As I opened my daily planner this morning, I was reminded that I had originally been slated to be teaching a lesson today about healthy breakfasts and how to tell when one is hungry and full to several kindergarten classes I work(ed) with.

Of all the nutrition and cooking lessons I teach in public schools, that particular one is my favorite. And because the funding source leaves me tied to teaching particular curricula that I often find wanting in terms of what we should actually be teaching our children about nutrition (i.e. developing a healthy relationship to food more than focusing so much on all the food groups), this particular lesson is one I really look forward to. Hunger presents itself in numerous ways beyond just a painful, rumbly tummy, and food and nutrition is far more than just calories in/calories out, macro and micronutrients, and following the ‘right’ plan until whatever prefabricated goal is reached. If I could fill out my entire kindergarten series with this topic of developing a healthy relationship to food alone, I think my students would be far closer to having the basis of a firm foundation in healthy lifelong eating than most of us have ever gotten.


One thing I’m noticing a lot in the last couple weeks as we all go into isolation and quarantine is a few different but similar conversations about food. Panic-buying and hoarding as lack of clear leadership, lack of control over life situations, and messages about what to do change nearly daily. Bingeing or overeating on a kitchen full of food, or stress not-eating as we stay home and navigate a completely different routine. Stress-baking to put at least our hands in motion, and choosing comfort foods when nothing else is comfortable. And then stacking guilt on top of our already stressed and anxious systems as we berate ourselves for not having some willpower or not taking care of ourselves adequately, etc.

One of the questions I like to ask, not to my kindergarteners, but in clinical practice, is ‘what’s that about?’ When our minds go into worry and circular thinking about whether there’s any flour, yeast, eggs (or TP) to be found at the store. When we find ourselves needing a comfort food or snack while working from home when we’re not actually hungry. When we skip a meal or two and are ‘not hungry’ when we’ve clearly not eaten much in the last day or days. When our hands at the grocery reach for ice cream, cookies, chips and crackers, or the ingredients to make something sweet / salty. When we panic at the thought of missing a workout or being sidelined from normal training due to this situation. When we’re anxious. When we wake every night at 3am.

In any or all of these instances, ask yourself, ‘What is that about?’ What’s the underlying feeling, belief, or reason I’m doing this thing? Ask yourself without judgement, and just be okay with whatever answer comes. And if there’s no immediate clear answer, that’s okay too.

As an adult, having an awareness and lack of judgement at the reason for our actions is incredibly helpful in navigating uncertainty and beginning to form trust in yourself that you are strong and able to deal. For even when we judge our actions and ourselves incessantly, there are always fairly wise reasons for them that we are somehow protecting ourselves against.

Today as I’m writing this, it is also the beginning of Holy Week, a special solemn few days in the Christian calendar before Easter, and given the state of the world right now, the solemn state of things appears to run parallel to it. Hot Cross Buns are also a traditional specialty this time of year, at least in parts of the US, and for sure in the UK and Ireland. It you’ve never enjoyed them, they are a spiced and fruit-filled yeast bread roll, often made quite a bit richer due to extra butter/oil, added sweetener and perhaps an egg. They were traditionally eaten on Good Friday, which is also a traditional day of religious fasting. If you like to delve into the history of food traditions like me, you can learn more about hot cross buns on Good Friday in this short article and its fascinating discussion/comments.

Otherwise, may you work on asking yourself this week, ‘What’s that about?’, and if you’ve the inclination, try baking hot cross buns.


Hot Cross Buns {gluten-free and vegan, sourdough method}, makes 5
This recipe appropriately fits the needs for those avoiding all (or some) of the most common food sensitivities and allergies, and because my nutrition-brain is always on when developing recipes for this space, these are a delicious, slightly enriched and sweetened whole-grain bread option that doesn’t get too far into the super decadent category.
As you’ll note, I’ve created two options to make these, with a sourdough starter, and without. I’ve made and enjoy them both ways, and because I don’t do away with the yeast in the sourdough option or dramatically change the method, they both turn out fairly similar. Instead, I tend to use my sourdough discard for the recipe and reduce the other flours and liquid.
If you’re finding gluten-free flours difficult to source right now, substitutes work well. Sorghum flour subs in well for either brown rice or millet, oat flour made from ground up oatmeal will likely work well in part, and any of the starches (arrowroot, tapioca, potato, or corn) can be used in place of the arrowroot and tapioca combination. As always when baking and especially when using substitutions, it’s always best to measure by weight.
There are a few ways to make the cross on top, either with a bit of icing after baking, by cutting a cross in the dough before baking, or by making a flour and water paste and drizzling it on top before baking. I meant to cut my dough before baking but then forgot, and decided to use a quick couple spoonfuls of cashew, vanilla and honey ‘frosting.’ I haven’t added that in here because I think it’s too fussy and these don’t need a sweet finish. They taste great on their own!

Wet Ingredients:
6 Tbs. non-dairy milk
2 1/2 Tbs. water
1 1/8 tsp. dry active yeast
¼ cup mixed dried fruit (raisins, golden raisins / sultanas, orange peel)
2 Tbs. orange juice or tart cherry juice or water
1 Tbsp. ground flax seeds 
1 Tbsp. psyllium husk (or use ground chia seeds OR flaxseed meal)
2 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
½ Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey or maple syrup

Dry ingredients:
130 grams / ~1 cup gluten-free all purpose flour
(or 13 g buckwheat flour, 19 g tapioca flour, 20 g arrowroot flour, 26 g each sorghum, brown rice, and millet flours)
100 grams / ~ 1 cup gluten-free sourdough starter (equal parts flour and water)
1.5 tsp mixed spice  (1/2 tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. allspice, ¼ tsp. nutmeg, 1/8 tsp. cloves, 1/8 ginger, 1/8 tsp. coriander, 1/8 tsp. cardamom)
¾ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. sea salt

  1. Warm up the non-dairy milk and water together until lukewarm or at about 100 degrees F / 38 degrees C. Whisk in the yeast and allow to froth up for about 10 minutes.
  2. While waiting combine the dried fruit and juice or water. Warm for a few seconds in the microwave and set aside to let the liquid soak in and soften up the fruit. I use about 1 Tbs. finely diced orange peel in this mix to make these extra festive and more traditional.
  3. Add the ground flax, psyllium, oil, vinegar, and honey to the frothy yeast liquid. Whisk together and set aside so it can thicken a little.
  4. In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Dump the wet ingredients and fruit into the middle of the flour mix and stir. Your dough will begin to look scrappy. Keep stirring with your spoon or hands until the ball of dough becomes somewhat smooth.
  5. Put a cloth over your bowl and let rest / rise for one hour.
  6. Next stir the dough well again, and then divide into 5 equal balls. Lay parchment in a small baking pan and then roll or shape each of the dough balls into rolls. Place them on the dish, cover with cloth again, and rise again for 1 hour in a warm, non-drafty space in your kitchen. These should rise enough to be touching each other in the pan, but will not double in size.
  7. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F / 190 C. Bake for 2025 minutes or until the edges have firmed up. Place the pan on a wire rack to briefly cool down.

EXTRA NOTES

1. Tastes best when eaten warm and straight out of the oven.
2. Store in an airtight container and keep for about 3 days.
3. The dough can be made ahead of time. Simply place in the fridge during the second rise time and allow to sit overnight. Baking time might need to be longer.

Hot Cross Buns {gluten-free and vegan, regular non-sourdough method}, makes 5

Wet Ingredients:
6 Tbs. non-dairy milk
6 Tbs. water
1 1/8 tsp. dry active yeast
¼ cup mixed dried fruit (raisins, golden raisins/sultanas, orange peel, etc.)
2 Tbs. orange juice or tart cherry juice or water
1 Tbs. ground flax seeds 
1 Tbs. psyllium husk (or use ground chia seeds OR flaxseed meal)
28 grams / 2 Tbs. coconut oil, melted
½ Tbs. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. honey or maple syrup

Dry ingredients:
180 grams / 1 ½ cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
(or 18 g buckwheat flour, 27 g tapioca flour, 27 g arrowroot flour, 36 g each sorghum, brown rice, and millet flours)
1 1/2 tsp. mixed spice
(1/2 tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. allspice, ¼ tsp. nutmeg, 1/8 tsp. cloves, 1/8 ginger, 1/8 tsp. coriander, 1/8 tsp. cardamom)
¾ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. sea salt

  1. Warm up the non-dairy milk and water together until lukewarm or at about 100 degrees F / 38 degrees C. Whisk in the yeast and allow to froth up for about 10 minutes.
  2. While waiting combine the dried fruit and juice or water. Warm for a few seconds in the microwave and set aside to let the liquid soak in and soften up the fruit. I use about 1 Tbs. finely diced orange peel in this mix to make these extra festive and more traditional.
  3. Add the ground flax, psyllium, oil, vinegar, and honey to the frothy yeast liquid. Whisk together and set aside so it can thicken a little.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Dump the wet ingredients into the middle of the flour mix and stir. Your dough will begin to look scrappy. Keep stirring with your spoon or hands until the ball of dough becomes somewhat smooth.
  5. Put a cloth over your bowl and let rest / rise for one hour.
  6. Next stir the dough well again, and then divide into 5 equal balls. Lay parchment in a small baking pan and then roll or shape each of the dough balls into rolls. Place them on the dish equally apart, cover with cloth again, and rise again for 1 hour in a warm, non-drafty space in your kitchen. These should rise enough to be touching each other in the pan, but will not double in size.
  7. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F / 190 C. Bake for 2025 minutes or until the edges have firmed up. Place the pan on a wire rack to briefly cool down.

EXTRA NOTES

1. Tastes best when eaten warm and straight out of the oven.
2. Store in an airtight container and keep for about 3 days.
3. The dough can be made ahead of time. Simply place in the fridge during the second rise time and allow to sit overnight. Baking time might need to be longer.

If you enjoyed this, I’ve been sharing a few practical resources and video posts over on my E+O Facebook page about how to navigate these times with resiliency and less anxiety / fear. For new nutrition clients, I’m currently offering a package of three consults for half off. Be well.