While reaching for the coconut milk, I brushed against a cone of panela
, an unrefined sugar from Latin America that tastes deliciously of molasses, toffee and maple. I decided to grate it to use in the filling in place of brown sugar, and that made me think of rum soaked currants, though I usually eschew dried fruit in my buns. I thought a bit of orange zest, clove and nutmeg would go nicely, so I added them into the filling as well. I whisked some of the extra coconut milk and the strained curranty rum into powdered sugar for a final glaze. If you like toasted coconut and/or pecans, they would be delish sprinkled on top before the glaze sets.
The sweet potato gives the buns a warm golden hue and makes the dough pleasantly springy, while the rich coconut milk keeps it supple and moist. The buns burst with sweet, latin flavors and would make a nice addition to a Mexican themed brunch, after some migas
and frijoles negros
. I imagine you could make these vegan by omitting the egg in the dough and using coconut oil in place of the butter, but I generally consider vegans to be a personal affront and resist doing them any favors.
Panela (sometimes also called pilconcillo) comes in a hard cone wrapped in dried corn husks, and is kind of a bitch to grate; I wouldn’t go to the effort for just anyone. Use the large holes on a box grater. You should be able to find it at any latin american grocery, but lacking panela, you could use dark brown or muscovado sugar and they would still be muy sabrosos.
Sweet Potato Panela ‘Canela’ Buns
with Coconut Milk and Rum Soaked Currants
Makes 12 large buns
Total time: about 3 hours
Sweet potato dough
1 10 oz. sweet potato (garnet or jewel), peeled, cut into 1″ chunks
1 cup canned coconut milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons rapid rise yeast (or 2 teaspoons active dry, or 1 tablespoon fresh)
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 1/2-3 cups all purpose flour
Put the sweet potato chunks in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and put in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat with the paddle until smooth. Slowly add the coconut milk, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the remaining ingredients (make sure the mixture is cool enough not to kill the yeast – it should be just warm to the touch) and mix to combine. Switch to the dough hook and knead on low for 10 minutes, adding flour as needed until the dough is soft but pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Scrape down the bowl as needed. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times by hand to make sure the texture is right. (Hint: if you scrape the bowl clean, you can use it to mix the filling sans washing.) Place in a lightly oiled bowl or container and cover with plastic wrap or a lid. Let rise until doubled in bulk, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
3 tablespoons melted butter, plus 6 tablespoons softened butter
1/2 cup currants
enough dark rum to cover the currants (about 1/4 or 1/2 cup)
1 cup (8 oz.) grated Panela (also called pilconcillo, or use dark brown or muscovado sugar)
2 tablespoons sugar
zest of 1 orange
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
While the dough is rising, get on with the filling. Cover the currants with the rum and set aside to soak. Put the panela and softened butter in the mixer fitted with the paddle, and beat on medium low until smoothish and lightened (it won’t get totally smooth), about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients (except the melted butter) and beat to combine. Set aside.
Brush a 9x12x2″ glass casserole with some of the melted butter. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375º.
When the dough has doubled in bulk, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and gently press out the air bubbles. Pat or roll into a 16×12″ rectangle with a long side facing you. It will be about 1/2″ thick. Use an offset spatula to spread the dough evenly with the filling mixture, leaving a 1/2″ gap on the top, but going all the way to the other edges. Drain the currants well, reserving the rum (of course!), and sprinkle them evenly over the butter mixture. Roll the dough up snugly from the bottom, and pinch the seam closed. Place the log seam side down and cut into 12 equal rounds. (I like to cut the log in half, then cut each half in half, then cut each quarter into thirds. I like to use a sharp chef’s knife and a back-and-forth sawing motion.)
Place the rounds in the prepared pan, 3 by 4, evenly spaced, with the smaller, end pieces in the center. Brush the tops and sides with the remaining melted butter. Let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. The buns are ready to bake when they hold an indentation when poked lightly with your finger, rather than springing back. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until lightly golden on top. Let cool at least half and hour before eating.
3/4 cup (3 oz.) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon coconut milk
1 tablespoon rum soaking liquid
Whisk all together until smooth, thinning with additional drops of rum if necessary. Use a spatula to drizzle over the top of the slightly cooled buns.