Bake these Peppermint Hot Cocoa Buns for the holidays! Start with a simple dough, fill with chocolate and candy canes, then spread cream cheese frosting on top.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a winter person. The cold always seeps into my bones, leaving me shivering no matter how many layers I wear. Sure, snow is pretty (when it’s fresh), yet I prefer sunshine and warm weather. Winter’s only redeeming qualities are cozy sweaters, peppermint and hot chocolate.
Before I got hooked on coffee, I drank hot cocoa every morning before school, and sometimes a second mug after. Even after making it countless times, I can’t always get the powder to dissolve and distribute evenly. My friends and I still debate whether you should pour the packet into your cup before or after heating the milk. One person even said you should do half before and half after. I’m not sure if I think that’s brilliant or a cop out.
But what if you didn’t have to worry about clumps of undissolved powder? Would your winter self be forever grateful for the constant cocoa perfection?
Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes.
Ergo, we’re taking things out of the mug and into the pan with these peppermint hot cocoa buns. A winter-drink-turned-dessert, if you will. We’re also going to ditch the hot cocoa packets and use real cocoa powder and chopped chocolate instead. Mixed with candy canes, it’s better than Hershey’s peppermint kisses. Bold statement, but I stand by it.
Until making these apple cinnamon buns, I only associated yeast with challah and pizza crust. However, non-bread baking always meant pulling out the baking powder and baking soda. Both great in their own right, although less intriguing to watch. Next time you activate yeast, take a moment to watch so that you’ll understand my fascination with it. Seeing the foamy layer grow in minutes makes me appreciate the science, even though I don’t totally comprehend the chemistry.
After activating the yeast, these buns are a simple mixture of classic ingredients. Butter, milk, sugar, an egg, flour, and cocoa powder. Your stand mixer can sit this one out. Trust me. Your hands are all you need to knead. That and a jar to whack your candy canes with, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Just like last time, you need to be patient while the dough rises— twice. Otherwise your buns won’t have that fluffy height absolutely essential for sinking your teeth into. I watch The Great British Baking Show to pass what feels like an interminably long wait. Mary Berry is a force to be reckoned with. You’ll love her.
By the end of an episode it’ll be time to punch down your dough and roll it out. Ready for my favorite part? The FILLING. Richness from melted butter. Complexity from dark brown sugar and cocoa powder. Gooeyness from chopped dark chocolate. Crunch from crushed peppermint candy canes. I bought these candy canes because they don’t use red40 (remember, no artificial food coloring in my kitchen).
It might seem like the perfect treat already. And it’s true, these peppermint hot cocoa buns are pretty high up there. Do me a flavor, though. Wait until you swirl on that cream cheese frosting before taking a bite. It’s decadent, and you know it, so clap your hands.
As they say, ’tis the season.
- FOR THE BUNS:
- 1 pkg (2¼ tsp) active dry yeast
- ½ cup warm water
- ¾ cups soy milk
- 6 tbsp unsalted vegan butter*, cubed
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, room temp
- ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 3¼ cups all-purpose flour + 1 tbsp, divided
- 1 tsp fine kosher salt
- FOR THE FILLING:
- 3 tbsp unsalted vegan butter, melted
- ⅓ cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 3 oz 60-72% dark chocolate, finely chopped
- ½ cup crushed peppermint candy canes
- FOR THE FROSTING:
- ¼ cup vegan cream cheese*, softened
- 2 tbsp unsalted vegan butter, softened
- ⅛ tsp peppermint extract
- 1 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
- crushed peppermint candy canes, for topping (optional)
- Sift together the 3¼ cups flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, combine the yeast, water, and 1 tsp of sugar. Set aside to activate for 10 minutes. The yeast should double.
- Meanwhile, heat the milk and butter in a small pot over a low flame. DO NOT BOIL. Once the butter melts, remove from the flame and whisk in the sugar until dissolved. Let cool slightly. Add the egg and yeast to the butter mixture, whisking until smooth.
- Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet. Mix with a spoon or silicone spatula until a soft dough forms. Then turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead with your hands until smooth and elastic, 7-8 minutes. The dough will be on the sticky side, but if it's too sticky then add 1 tablespoon flour at a time.
- Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- To make the filling, combine the brown sugar, cocoa powder, chopped chocolate, and candy canes in a bowl. Grease a ??? jelly roll pan and set aside.
- Punch down the dough and roll it into a ¼-inch thick rectangle, around 20x12-inches. Brush with the melted butter, then evenly distribute the filling, leaving about ⅓-inch border. Starting with a long edge, roll dough tightly, place seam-side down, and slice off each end. Cut into 20 even slices. Put the buns in the prepared pan, cut-side down. Cover and let rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 30-45 minutes.
- Before the buns have fully risen, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Bake for 15-18 minutes, so that the buns are set but still spring back to the touch. Let cool for 5 minutes.**
- While the buns are in the oven, prepare the frosting. Beat together the cream cheese, butter, and peppermint extract. Sift in the confectioner's sugar, continuing to beat until smooth.
- Spread the frosting over the hot cocoa buns while warm. Top with more crushed candy canes.
- Best served warm. Store covered tightly in the fridge for 4-5 days.
** Err on the side of underbaking your buns, rather than leaving them in the oven too long, making them tough and dry. Because you're working with chocolate dough, there's no way to really tell if it's golden on the edges.