Sweet Potato Buns

Living in the most multi-cultural city in the world certainly has some advantages.  Most obviously, we are blessed with the myriad perspectives of different people from all corners of the globe who come together in Toronto to work, live and play.  Strolling along Bloor and Yonge, you can take in a panoply of clothing, gliding past like an Ethnic Pride Parade: batik peasant blouses, corduroy slim jeans, soft knit pashminas, plaid flannel shirts, embroidered cotton skirts and well-worn cowboy boots all make an appearance.Your ears are tickled by the latter-day Babel of tongues from all countries. And, more than anything else, you’re treated to a variety of foods from cuisines near and far.

When I first moved to Toronto to attend university, my friend Sterlin was a resident in medical school.  The student apartment building in which she lived was on a street that abutted a row of restaurants and shops representing several countries: an East Asian grocery, a Mexican restaurant, a Japanese café, a Chinese bakery. On my way between Sterlin’s place and my classes, I’d pop into the bakery and always leave with a little paper bag full of buns.

Intially, of course, I had no idea what was in any of the mysterious baked goods that graced the shelves, hiding on their parchment squares behind glass cases. There were massive biscuit-like cookies with multi-layered pastry that cracked in a spray of flaked when you bit into them; smaller, shortbread-like biscuits filled with thick, tarry red bean paste; coconut-crusted lemon tarts, their fillings impossibly neon and jiggly; laquered egg buns with a tangle of caramelized onions on top; and my favorite, the puffed, domed, impossibly white steamed buns, their centers containing everything from lotus bean paste to shrimp to mixed vegetables.

Partway between bread and pastry, the steamed buns were tender and slightly chewy inside with only a hint of sweetness and a thin, elastic skin that formed as they steamed, like the skin you find on old-fashioned cooked puddings.  I loved to peel it off first, then tear into the cakelike bun underneath (especially when the center housed the soft, gooey lotus seed paste).

When I first attempted these sweet potato buns, they were meant to be breakfast scones.  Somehow, the proprotion of sweet potato to flours was higher than I imagined, and the result was a more cakelike baked good.  Not quite a roll and not quite a scone, yet still exquisitely appealing, they reminded me of my Chinese steamed buns of yore. You will find these breads to be moist, tender, and somehow. . . puffed.  They’re great with a slathering of coconut butter or (my latest obsession) homemade chocolate cashini butter.  And if I could manage to encase a lotus seed center inside one of these buns, it would be the quintessential Torontonian treat–one that spans cultures from East to West.

And speaking of East to West. . . that’s where I’m headed, tomorrow!! I’m flying to the stunning city of Monterey, California to attend the Dole Salad Summit, a blogging event hosted by Dole. They’re flying 20 of us  to the event, for three days of fun, sun, and salad-tastings! We’ll also visit various sites in the Cannery Row area, the Dole growing fields and processing plant, and 17-Mile Drive.  How dreamy does that sound?! Im hoping to blog from the event if possible, so come back in a day or two to see what we’re all up to!  Gonna get me some Salad’tude courtesy of the great folks at Dole! 😀

[Full disclosure: Dole is covering the cost of travel, hotel, and food while I’m on the trip.]

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Other buns and scones on DDD:

© Ricki Heller

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  1. Deirdre says

    I had no idea you were in To. I’ve been following you for about 9 months. Thanks for some great recipes. I will try these when I return from the far north.
    Cheers, and I hope you have a blast in Monterray…great place.

  2. Looks like an amazing recipe Ricki! Enjoy the California coast. Eat some salad and come back soon to share all your stories.


  3. Ricki, these buns look phenomenally good! You know I’m already a fan of sweet potato rolls/biscuits. 😉 And how awesome on being one of the bloggers to go to the Dole Salad Summit! Enjoy every bit of that event, my dear! 🙂 Can’t wait to hear more as you blog on the run, so to speak!


  4. Beautiful! I miss the deep-fried, bean paste-filled, rice flour balls rolled in sesame seeds. I suppose I could probably recreate those at home. But, thankfully, I lack a deep fryer. 🙂 Dangerous, otherwise.

    Isn’t it funny how those odd-to-us textures become something we crave?

  5. Ricki, I love the look of these! If I wasn’t on my way to the gym, I would be in the kitchen making them now…but marking them for later!

  6. these sound great, Ricki! have fun at the summit!

  7. Ricki, these look and sound so amazing! What an awesome alternative to the classic dinner roll. Anything with sweet potato and cinnamon is a win in my book. Thanks for sharing – can’t wait to make them! xo

  8. Hi Ricki,

    These are awesome! Ever since Shirley made her sweet potato biscuits I’ve been experimenting with sweet potato oatmeal cookies. Nothing to write home about yet. But what I’ve found is the sweet potatoes are incredibly SWEET in baked goods, creamy and quite substantial.

    I look forward to throwing my cookie idea aside for the time being to whip up some of these buns. We love sweet potatoes; I roast them each week (and save the leftovers for scramble or as a side for the kids’ lunch). We are big fans. I’m disappointed they are illegal on the SCD. I’ll miss them so when I start the diet.

    Well welcome to Northern California! Have a great time while you’re here. We are up the road (North East) about 3 1/2 hours in Davis. Monterey is incredible – so beautiful! Have a safe trip. I look forward to the recap.

    Be Well,

    • Thanks so much, Amber! If we had a few moments to ourselves I’d love to say “hi.” Looks like virtually every moment will be planned.. . .but it should be fun! I’m also a HUGE fan of sweet potatoes!!

  9. Sweet potatoes are one of my all-time favorites. The younger daughter once accused me of being addicted (they had just had a lesson in addictions at elementary school). I have to get my act back together and find time to make these. Have a great time on your trip.

  10. Wow, these look delightful! I could totally go for one. Or three.

  11. Sweet potato heaven! Love the look of these- my sweet potato brownies are always a big hit (people refuse to believe it’s sweet potato in there!) and these look fantastic.

    Have a great, great, great trip to Cali…sigh. Was just there and wondering why I came home to this oceanless city! Can’t wait to read about all the fun.

    • Thanks, Meghan! I feel like you, with all this travel ;-). Should be a great time! (And yes, I LOVE adding sweet potato to my brownies!) 😀

  12. Waw! Your sweet potato buns look absolutly delicious & divine! I love that special flavour a lot! 🙂

    Yummmmmmmmmmmmmm!!! A stunning & easy recipe too, even gf!

  13. It seems like I might not be in stage 3 for awhile but a girl can dream! These look so good! Enjoy the trip. Don’t get too tempted by the pineapple.

    • Ha, ha!! I think pineapple is okay in moderation, as it’s got digestive enzymes built in. 😉 Thanks for the good wishes! 🙂

  14. Ricki — These look FABULOUS!! I’m always on the lookout for good, vegan, gluten free breads, and I can tell by reading thru the recipe that these will be superb!!

    One question on the psyllium husks …. I’m not too sure of their purpose, and I have never purchased those. Would ground up flax seeds work, or is this specific ingredient important for the final product’s texture, etc?

    Thanks again for freely sharing yet another fabulous recipe!!

    • Thanks so much, Brenda! I’ve been playing with psyllium for while now as a sub for flax or chia or xanthan. The texture with the psyllium is a bit different–so I’m not really sure how you’d replace with flax or chia. I’m sure it can be done, but you might find that the final texture is either a bit more crumbly, OR a bit more gummy. I am guessing that xanthan gum would be a better sub here. If you do give it a try with the flax and/or chia, let me know how it turns out!

  15. Sweet potato! Genius! I’m also intrigued by the psyllium husks — not complaints about getting some extra fiber in there though.

  16. These sound lovely – in fact I wish I wasn’t at work so I could just make them – even though I have already earmarked the sweet potato in the fridge for something else!

    I liked hearing about Toronto – actually I had thought that Melbourne was the most multicultural city in the world (well we have more middle eastern than mexican so maybe our mix is slightly different). I also did a double take at your line “massive biscuit-like cookies” because what you call cookies, we often call biscuits. So your post gave me a small smile in highlighting some small differences and a big smile at how much I love your recipes (those are the similarities that matter)

  17. These look so good and now I know what to do with my lonely sweet potato that’s been in the fridge! Thanks for another great recipe!

  18. Nice buns Ricki! 😉 They look like a perfect afternoon snack!
    Have so much fun in California. I love it there!

  19. I’ve been craving something like this. Have a great trip!

  20. Wow Ricki … this is ***THE BEST*** gluten free bread product I’ve had EVER!! (And I’ve had quite a few good ones too, thanks to folks like you and other GF experts!!)

    Thanks to your reply to my comment (above) about the psyllium husks, I used those as called for.

    I was really pleased to see how very quick these were to mix up!! And I had to bake the sweet potato (used the microwave) and also mix up your All-Purpose Gluten Free Flour mix. But these still came together super quick!!


    • Yay! So glad you liked them and they turned out so well! I found them pretty quick to make as well. And your photo looks terrific, too. 🙂

  21. i can’t wait to try this recipe out! thanks for sharing, ricky 🙂

  22. Hi Ricki, although I love sweet potatoes they don’t love me but I’m looking for a gluten free bun that doesn’t have eggs. Do you think it would work if I substituted pumpkin for sweet potato?

    • It should work, Sarah, as long as you make sure it’s well-baked and not too “juicy.” Pumpkin has a higher water content than sweet potato, so you’ll need to account for that (maybe add 2 Tbsp/30 ml more flour if needed). If you give it a try, come back and let us know how they turned out! 🙂

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