Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Cinnamon Rolls, Guilt Free

It's been interesting to see my fav veg blogs post recipes for beautiful Christmas cookies. I am so glad they are posting them, because I haven't made a single cookie. Not one during this Christmas season.

It took me a while to figure out what was wrong with me...Ash, why aren't you making any cookies?! And then I realized, Oh, (picture the Fiddler on The Roof, and Tevia shouting) TRADITION!

All growing up it was our family tradition to have cinnamon rolls for Christmas breakfast. One of my favorite parts of Christmas, for sure. When we got to be a little older, and realized just how much work my parents went to in order to make Christmas the biggest event of the year, my oldest sister and I took over on Christmas cinnamon-roll-making-duty.

Then, we all got lazy, and decided to turn to Rhodes. Ah, Rhodes Cinnamon Rolls from the frozen foods section. Yummy stuff.

I usually ate about three or four of them...Once I start eating something delicious, I really cant seem to stop. When I got old enough to realize what I was doing to myself, and recognized that they made me feel sick, I also started realizing how guilty I felt after eating so many cinnamon rolls.

Seriously, how do you feel after sitting down to a Cinnabon cinnamon roll at the mall, and consuming the entire confection?

Like running a marathon?

Like shouting for joy?

Right. Me either. I feel like a big fat bump on a log. Someone ROLL me down the hall because I just ate a year's worth of fat and junk in five minutes. But then, despite how I feel physically, I really feel like I wouldn't mind eating another one. Yeah, that's me.

Every time I eat one of these delicious, marvelous, oil and dairy free cinnamon rolls, they taste so good to me, that my cinnamon-roll-eating guilt returns.

I start quizzing myself.

Okay, I should feel guilty because...let's see these have no oil in butter, no eggs, no cream, no dairy...and they are made with whole grain flours...I know there has got to be something in these warm, ooey, gooey, SIN-namon rolls that I should feel guilty about!

I'm healing. How about you? Learning to not feel guilty because I enjoy my food.

Healthy desserts.

After all, I'm pretty sure Christmas is supposed to be all about joy.

Christmas Cinnamon Rolls
Adapted from Seven Secrets Cookbook


One Loaf Bread (The Dough)

This bread recipe is the right amount for one loaf, and works in most bread machines. This recipe can be used to make bread, pita pockets, pizza crust, and in our case, cinnamon rolls. Oil and dairy free never tasted so good!

As to which types of flour you choose, I have made these with half unbleached all-purpose, and half white whole wheat, all white whole wheat, and with completely all-purpose flour. Each version raised well and tasted great. If you are going for a healthy breakfast, choose either half whole wheat and white, or all white whole wheat. If you are going for a very dessert-y, copycat Cinnabon mall experience, use only unbleached, all-purpose flour.

Use either date paste, or brown rice syrup and sugar filling, depending on your preference. I also provide two different types of icings, or you can simply pour maple syrup on top of your roll for a more " cinnamon roll pancake" type of breakfast experience. My kids and I prefer the brown rice syrup filling, with the cream cheese icing.

1 1/4 cups warm water
2 tablespoons applesauce
2 tablespoons honey (or agave nectar)
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole wheat bread flour (I find that white whole wheat flour works best)
1 tablespoon gluten flour
1 tablespoon dough conditioner (optional, I didn't have any)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast


1.Place ingredients in bread machine container according to manufacturer's instructions. Once the bread maker has completed it's full cycle, roll the dough out into a long rectangle. Apply a thin layer of filling (see below, either date spread, or brown rice syrup mixture) over the surface, leaving 1/4 inch along one long edge free of spread.

2. Sprinkle entire surface liberally with cinnamon. Optionally, you can also sprinkle it with raisins, or other dried fruits and/or chopped nuts of your choice. We like it best without anything added except the filling. Roll up the long way like a jelly roll, and pinch the seam closed.

3. Cut 1-inch rolls by cutting all the way through with a sharp knife or kitchen shears. Place rolls with cut side up on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, shaping into a circle. Let rise, covered with a damp towel, in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled.

4. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Lightly brush tops with pure maple syrup or cream cheese frosting while hot (optional). Cool on a wire rack, then place in covered container until ready to eat. These taste best when warm. If they have cooled, simply place in the microwave for about 15-20 seconds to reheat, and soften. Enjoy a guilt-free, sinless cinnamon roll! (Or if you are like me, enjoy two or three!)

For the Filling:

Note from Ashlee: This spread is great because it adds body and flavor without oils or fats. It tastes the best if the cinnamon rolls are going to be eaten the same day they are baked, or when the cinnamon rolls are very warm. Once the cinnamon rolls cool, the date paste tends to get chunky. Reheating helps, but the date filling tastes the best when fresh from the oven. Make sure you only spread a thin layer, as this will prevent the paste from getting chunky the day after baking.

Date Spread


2 1/2 cups pitted dates, or date pieces
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt


Bring all ingredients to a boil in a covered saucepan. Mash or process in food processor to make a thick paste. Or blend in a blender, adding a little extra water if needed, to blend until thick and smooth. (After spreading a very thin layer of the date paste, be sure to sprinkle generously with cinnamon before rolling the dough into a "jelly roll" to enjoy that cinnamon taste!)

Brown Rice Syrup and Brown Sugar Spread

Note from Ashlee: This filling is my own invention, and my personal preference as a fat free filling for cinnamon rolls. The hardest part is preventing it from becoming too runny; when that happens, all the filling oozes out of the dough. However, if that happens, the majority of the flavor remains on and around the roll during baking, and still tastes wonderful. I like this filling especially because it tastes great reheated, and retains it's flavor and texture the next day. Even at room temperature. Brown rice syrup is also a much cheaper and a faster alternative to using 2.5 cups of boiled and mashed dates!


1/4 cup brown rice syrup
2-4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon applesauce
2 teaspoons cinnamon


In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients with a fork, until well incorporated. If the mixture is too thick and too difficult to stir, consider adding an additional one teaspoon of applesauce. However, also remember that the mixture will soften on the dough. You don't want it to become runny or the filling will ooze out of the inside of the cinnamon roll when the dough is being rolled. If you want it to be thicker, add additional 2 tablespoons of brown sugar.

Spread a layer over the rolled out dough, leaving a remaining 1/4 inch of the dough dry. The dry portion of the dough makes it possible for the cinnamon rolls to seal shut when rolling the dough into a "jelly roll."

Cream Cheese Frosting:

1/4 cup nondairy cream cheese (I use Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese brand)
1/2-1 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
non-dairy milk, as needed

Whip cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract until they become light and fluffy. If it becomes too thick, add nondairy milk, a teaspoon at a time, until it is thinned to desired consistency. If it is too thin, add more powdered sugar.

Pour generously over cinnamon rolls while they are still warm!

Maple Icing:
From Lindsay S. Nixons, "Happy Herbivore."

1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, whipping to combine. Add more maple syrup for a thinner icing, or more sugar for a thicker icing.


I have tried to make oil free yeast breads before, and it has turned out abysmally. I thought for sure the dough would not rise. I basically was preparing myself for massive failure.

I was so happy when it actually rose! I had to run into the next room to show Paul that it wasn't a complete doozy of a recipe.

You can see here, how the filling was a tad too runny and came out a little bit because I added too much applesauce.

If this happens, just scoop up the filling and pour it on top of the cinnamon roll after it has been placed on the cookie sheet. To prevent this from happening, be careful not to add too much applesauce to the brown rice syrup and Brown Sugar Filling. Or, use the date spread, which is not runny at all.

I was equally as ecstatic when I discovered that they raised beautifully again, the second time, as rolls.

They baked to perfection. Cinnabon in my kitchen...

I've since made these cinnamon rolls several more times, and my children heartily gobble them up, asking for seconds. (PROJECT VEGAN KIDS!)

The whole wheat versions bake up just as nicely, and feel healthier when eating them.

The icing, is, well, the icing on the cake! It is so good! (And might I add, pretty too?)


What is your very favorite Christmas treat that brings back happy memories from childhood? Have you had any success (or fears!) in trying to re-make it into a healthier version?

Any Christmas/Holiday recipe you would like to see transformed into a whole food here on this blog?


  1. Wow Ashlee, this recipe looks amazing! Maybe someday when I have a kitchen of my own I will make these!

    1. Thanks, Aimee! I told Mom about these and she was worried about the gluten. I have no idea how to make gluten free cinnamon rolls without oil. I think in order to go gluten free that you have to use oil.

      I was hoping to make these for everybody for Christmas, but I didn't bring my breadmaker. Maybe Mom knows how to make them without a breadmaker? I am not skilled in the breadmaking department (it is probably something I should work on) but maybe Mom can help me and we can still have cinnamon rolls on Christmas day!

      See ya soon!

  2. I'm totally making these Christmas morning. Some questions: do you think adding a bit of cornstarch/water would thicken that filling so it wouldn't ooze out? Also, I'd like to make ahead and freeze possibly. What step do you recommend doing that? I was thinking after being placed in the pan but before rising.

    It's interesting you have not had success with oil-free yeast breads. I make our bread every week without oil and it always turns out great! People are always surprised when they find out there's no oil or butter. :)

    1. Alisa, you have to tell me your secret!

      How do you make oil free yeast breads and still have them taste good? Do you just replace the oil with applesauce?

      I think that freezing them is a brilliant idea, and I am pretty sure that freezing them before they raise the second time is the best. That's the way Rhodes Rolls freezes them, so I think it's the best way to go. Great idea.

      As for the thickener, I never considered doing that before but I think it might work. I might just have to try it out. I wonder if there are other thickeners that are instant (like guar gum, or instant clear gel?) that if added in small amounts would not change the taste. However, the problem came because the mixture was too thick to stir, but then once thinned out with applesauce, was too thin to stay on the bread.

      I've had the idea stewing around in my brain, that brown rice syrup thickens and hardens after being brought to a boil with some kind of nut butter. I have been wondering if it would work to mix a bit of brown rice sytup with almond butter, bring it to a boil, spreading it on to the dough, letting it cool to harden, and then sprinkling it generously with brown sugar and cinnamon. I have never tried this, and am actually kind of scared to do so, but I think it would be a worthwhile experiment. I will let you know if I try that, however I am out of my own kitchen for the next week, which means I don't have my own tools. The corn starch would only thicken the brown rice and brown sugar spread if it was mixed together cold and then brought to a boil. You could try that, and if it doesn't thicken, you could start again from scratch.

      It only oozes out a little bit, especially if you can get away with not adding any applesauce at all, but it might be hard to spread. I just scrape up the little bit of filling and put it on top of the cinnamon roll, and that seems to work well. I like instant clear gel because it does not require being heated in order to activate it's thickening abilities, like regular corn starch does.

      Lindsay S. Nixon (Happy Herbivore author) uses all applesauce as a filling, and I don't know how she keeps it from oozing out (she probably doesnt, but decided not to mention it with her cinnamon rolls, which look like they don't rise well, and there has been a lot of negative comments left on her roll recipe that state that the rolls won't rise and bake up as hard as rocks, so I don't recommend trying hers.)

      Anyway, let me know if you try any of the above variations of fillings, and if it works out. I have used the date paste once, and it was pretty good. However, I really prefer/like the brown rice syrup mixture better, and I think that when sprinkled with cinnamon, it tastes great. Don't miss the butter at all.

      These are our favorite new dessert! They don't last a day in the house, so I am pretty sure your family will love them. Have fun, and Merry Christmas! (and sorry for my insanely long comment!)

  3. Ashlee, thanks so much. I will make them according to your recipe posted and just try to maybe heat the brown rice mixture a bit so it's easier to spread. Going to make them today! woohoo. Merry Christmas!!!

    1. Merry Christmas, Mark!

      I hope they turned out well for you! ~Ash

  4. Hey Ashlee, I had been wanting to use some of my abundance of dates and was stoked when I saw this recipe. Made them christmas morning and was so happy with the results. I was a little worried about the date filling tasting good enough but they were wonderful. My husband is a huge cinnamon roll fan so I was really taking a risk. He LOVED them. I made the powdered sugar icing and liked them better without the icing. It's funny cause after I ate a couple I started to feel the usual guilt which accompanies splurging. I had to keep remembering I didn't need to feel bad. Old habits die hard! Anyway, thanks again for great recipes. Alicia in Nashville.

    1. I know, the guilt dies way hard.

      Just curious, did the frosting not taste good, or are you just not a frosting person?

      Wondering if I need to make some modifications....

      That's awesome that your husband loved them, YAY!

      Merry Christmas Alicia!

  5. I've used Lindsay's frosting before and I really don't like the taste. For some reason it has a nail polishy flavor to me. My husband thinks it's fine but I can tell my kids don't totally love it. Have you made it with her icing? I have to add way more milk than it says which then leads me to add way more powdered sugar....I don't know, I'm probably doing something wrong.

    1. I like to add the dairy free cream cheese because I think it tastes so much better. Sometimes I add a tad of nondairy butter for my kids' frosting, and then it's richer, and doesn't have the plastic taste.

      I actually really enjoyed these hot out of the oven with maple syrup drizzled over the top. But if you like them plain, I am sure that less sugar is a good thing!

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