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In Pursuit of the Perfect Sticky Bun

The Perfect Sticky Bun

My husband is a connoisseur of sticky buns. You can’t fool him and only perfection will satisfy him. He salivates in his sleep dreaming about them. It’s a sickness really. His has been a life-long quest for The Perfect Sticky Bun. In his pursuit, he found some keepers, eschewed some others, and ultimately settled for a local non-vegan version that had to be special ordered. My husband is not 100% vegan. He’s close, but the sticky bun was one of the few remaining barriers to overcome on the road to Veganville.

Why the love affair with the sticky bun? When done right, the tops are covered with caramelized, sticky-sweet candy-like sugar, and laden with toasted pecan pieces. Inside is a tender, melt-in-your-mouth, not-too-sweet, buttery dough. It’s a marriage made in heaven. A sticky bun done right is one you wouldn’t dare devour without a stack of wet-naps nearby. It’s one you look back on longingly…dreamily…and when the plate is empty, picked clean of any remnants of candy caramel, crumbs or nuts, your heart almost aches. Yes, that’s the kind of sticky bun my husband requires. Click to go right to the recipe.

Many years ago, I found a recipe for sticky buns. It produced, quite literally the most perfect sticky buns ever. Alas, the recipe wasn’t vegan, so only on two special occasions during the year, I would make him the buns he lusted for; Christmas and his birthday. Each year, I’d approach the task with both love and dread in my heart. Butter, eggs, milk…they all involve suffering for animals. Yes, dairy cows and egg-laying hens live painful, tortured lives, but because people don’t associate animal slaughter with these products, it somehow feels okay to eat them. My husband wasn’t even vegetarian when we married, so his transformation to nearly vegan was one I valued and appreciated, even though he was not willing to give up his sticky buns. So, even though I love him and wanted to put that sticky-bun smile on his face, there was a certain amount of dread involved in making these buns. Let’s not forget to mention that with all the butter and eggs, these “heart bombs” weren’t doing him any favors either. My goal was to “veganize” these legendary sticky buns or die trying.
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I didn’t tell him of my plan. That’s a mistake some of us make. We proudly label a dish “vegan” for the non-vegans and unfortunately, it can change the experience completely. Emotional and cultural resistance can get in the way. Expectations that it won’t taste good, or as good as what someone is used to, can get in the way of enjoying something that is truly delicious. A decadent, dark and moist brownie need not be labeled vegan. It is simply…a brownie (a better brownie, of course, but still a brownie). The sticky buns I would make would be simply…sticky buns, until my husband tasted and approved. Then for just a moment, they would be VEGAN sticky buns, to prove my point that vegan food can be just as decadent, delicious, and wonderful as non-vegan food.

Instead of starting from scratch or looking for a vegan recipe, I went back to the recipe I’d used for years. It came from the book, Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More, by Carole Walter. She’s a genius, even if she’s not vegan! My first mistake however, was trying to go from “heart bomb” to “health bomb”. I have probably scared away a few good potential vegans by going too far in that direction with other recipes. In these years, where wisdom feels better than a push-up bra, I’m learning that some things are what they are and that’s ok. Whoever created the first sticky bun surely never intended them to be used to promote health and longevity. This culinary genius probably said, “Hmm, let’s get some butter, egg yolks and sugar and add some flour and make something outrageously delicious. Health be damned!”

So after a few miserable attempts at trying to make a super-healthy version of something that was never intended to be healthy, I went back to square one. Like many dishes I’ve “veganized”, I found that the original recipe needed only a couple of substitutions to make it compassionate. It took a few attempts to narrow down my changes and get it right. Vegan butter replaced real butter. Non-dairy milk replaced regular. Thick coconut cream provided the richness that had come from eggs yolks. Oh, and real maple syrup or vegan honey (yes, they make vegan honey!) replaced honey from our friends, the bees. Everything else remained the same. I didn’t use flax eggs or egg replacer. Didn’t need to.

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The good news is that my husband, the connoisseur, has found the holy grail of sticky buns. On his journey, I’m sure he never dreamed they would be vegan. He is a happy man. The bad news is that, at this point, I’m the only one who makes them and since these sticky buns don’t involve the dread of animal suffering or too many enemies of the heart, my husband’s whimsy drives the sticky bun schedule now. Thanksgiving morning. Snow days. Long weekends. Saturdays in the months that start with “J”.  It’s ok, though. When I’m up before the sun making a batch, I think happily, that this is another Victory for Veganism. Makes it all worthwhile.



Vegan Lifestyle