Pumpkin Pecan Sweet Rolls – #TwelveLoaves

Food Blog November 2014-0866The time of peace is coming. I can feel it. I need it. This is week 14 of a 16 week semester, and though I had a brief respite from grading this weekend, this week papers begin pouring in again. And this is not to say that my weekend wasn’t busy. It was crammed, jammed, packed, precariously scheduled. It was just busy with other things. But I felt, for just a moment, the peace I’m craving.  I caught myself, about five minutes into dusting the living room, enjoying it.

I’ll wait while that sinks in.

I was enjoying. dusting.

Food Blog November 2014-0809Food Blog November 2014-0812Before you think me a complete freak, let me say this is a highly irregular occurrence. I don’t enjoy dusting. In fact, within ten minutes of noticing this odd feeling of pleasure, I was tired of the activity again. But for those few minutes, there was something so calming, so reassuring, so soft and easy about running a cloth over the bookshelves and the side table and the TV stand. It was a moment that was easy to escape from. It was mentally effortless. I thought, “I need this.” I need this peace, this feeling of being brainless with no guilt.

Food Blog November 2014-0816Food Blog November 2014-0819Fortunately, this time is approaching like a freight train (it would be nicer if it were approaching like fog, or frosting, or some other delicate F word, but we must be honest…). The commercials I try not to pay attention to when I watch television loudly broadcast how many shopping days are left until Christmas. Within my family, texts about gifts have started flying. I may or may not already know exactly what I’m wearing for my family’s Christmas dinner.

Food Blog November 2014-0824Food Blog November 2014-0825Food Blog November 2014-0827Food Blog November 2014-0832Food Blog November 2014-0834But that’s getting ahead of things. That’s the full stop. We do get a funny little moment of pause first, which is what the dusting was for. My parents arrive on Wednesday to celebrate Thanksgiving. It will be the first year my sister doesn’t join us. This is, when I think about it, a stab of selfish sadness. But that only lasts a moment, because instead of winging her way all the way across the country to be with us for one short weekend, she’ll be with her partner and her dog, with his family. This is a joyful thing. She sent me a photo of a batch of pumpkin bread cake pops she made to take along. She said something about “impressing purposes.” She won’t need cake pops to do that.

Food Blog November 2014-0842Food Blog November 2014-0845Food Blog November 2014-0846It does seem like pumpkin is the thing to do these days. I was unsurprised that this month’s Twelve Loaves project calls for that most celebrated of squashes. I typically try to imagine something no one else will have made for the Twelve Loaves challenge, but this month I decided to loosen up. The fact was, I wanted pumpkin sweet rolls. So no matter how many other people chose this too (two so far), I was making them. Originality be damned. Sometimes you just have to make what you’re craving.

Food Blog November 2014-0849For these rolls, I started with my Nana’s sweet roll dough, but used all whole milk instead of water for added richness. I replaced the white sugar with brown, to play with the autumnal feel of the pumpkin, and spiked the dough with all the spices that usually find their way into pumpkin pie. And then, of course, the bright orange vegetal sweetness of pumpkin puree. Once risen and rolled out, I spread it with melted butter, more brown sugar and cinnamon, and a scattering of toasted, chopped pecans. Rolled, sliced, and baked, they puffed into glorious swirls – orange gold, with dark bronze bubbling fissures twisting through them. Pulled apart just like that, they were delicious. Because I didn’t overdo it on the sugary center, they could almost pass as breakfast.

Food Blog November 2014-0854But this is holiday food, and holiday food is so often about excess that I couldn’t help myself. A quick whip of cream cheese with a breath of powdered sugar, a splash of vanilla, and just a touch of heavy cream to loosen it up, and I had a soft, thick frosting to spread over their golden tops.

Food Blog November 2014-0851I left two pans in the department mailroom at work. By the time I left in mid-afternoon, there weren’t even crumbs left.

Food Blog November 2014-0855Making these rolls is an investment. They have a long ingredient list. The dough can be quite sticky. They require two rises. They demand rolling, chopping, toasting, sprinkling, whipping, spreading… but they also require pulling into shreds of sweet chewy dough, and assiduous finger licking. And meditative savoring. And here’s the thing: the holiday season often feels hectic. There is shopping to be done, and traveling to navigate, and wrapping and cooking and impressing family you rarely see, and all of that can feel like too much to squeeze in a complicated baking project.

Food Blog November 2014-0863But I think, if you embark on such a baking project, knowing the time it requires, and sinking into its gentle rising and baking schedule, it provides its own kind of peace. Besides, these are too good not to make. So just make some. Thanksgiving breakfast, maybe. You’ll thank me later.

Food Blog November 2014-0867

Food Blog November 2014-0869

Pumpkin Pecan Sweet Rolls
Makes about 30

For dough:
4 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm milk
1 cup + a pinch brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
½ cup (8 tablespoons or one stick) soft butter
1 cup pumpkin puree, canned or fresh (if canned, be sure it is not pumpkin pie filling)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
6-7 cups all-purpose or bread flour
For filling:
½ cup (8 tablespoons or one stick) melted butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup toasted, chopped pecans
For frosting:
8 ounces room temperature cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream

 

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine yeast, lukewarm milk, and the pinch of brown sugar. Stir, then let sit for 5-10 minutes until the yeast is bubbling and smells like fresh bread.
  • Once the yeast has woken up, add the rest of the sugar, the salt, the eggs, the butter, the pumpkin puree, and the vanilla. Mix on medium-low speed with the paddle attachment to combine.
  • Add 4 cups of the flour and all of the spices, and mix on medium-low again to combine. You will have something like orange cake batter. Add 2 additional cups of flour (this is 6 total) and mix to combine.
  • Switch from the paddle attachment to the dough hook and knead for about 5 minutes, or until a sticky but slightly elastic dough has formed. It will not become a firm ball, but will pull away from the sides of the bowl in stretchy threads. If the dough is not pulling away from the sides of the bowl at all after the first three minutes, begin adding the remaining cup of flour ¼ cup at a time, kneading well in between each addition.
  • When the dough is kneaded, spray the sides of the bowl with a non-stick spray, roll the dough over in it once or twice to coat, then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set it aside to rise until doubled – about 90 minutes.
  • While the dough rises, prepare the filling ingredients – toast and chop the pecans, melt the butter, and get the cinnamon and brown sugar measured out for easy application. While you’re at it, spray pans with non-stick spray. I used two 9-inch and two 8-inch cake pans. Square or rectangular pans would work fine as well.
  • Dump the risen dough onto a well floured board. If it is aggressively sticky, dust the top of the dough with flour as well and knead by hand a few times, until it is easier to work with.
  • With a dough scraper, a pizza cutter, or a sharp knife, cut the dough in half and stow one half back in the bowl. We will work with one half at a time.
  • Using a well floured rolling pin, roll the first half of dough into a thin rectangle (about ¼ inch thick, if you can manage it). The size of this rectangle will depend on how much your dough has risen. Aim for thickness rather than dimensions.
  • Pour half of the butter over your dough and spread it across the surface with your fingers. Leave a border of about ½ inch on all sides.
  • Sprinkle half of the brown sugar and half of the cinnamon over the surface, again respecting the border. Spread for even coverage if needed.
  • Sprinkle half the pecans over the buttered, sugared surface.
  • Now, we roll. Beginning in the middle of the long edge of your dough rectangle, begin to roll up the dough into a long log. Once you have rolled a revolution or two in the center, move your hands toward the edges, rolling them up as well to create an even log. As you reach the end, pull the loose edge of dough firmly against the log you have made and pinch and crimp it into the already rolled dough to create a seal.
  • Using a serrated knife, cut your log into slices 1 to 1-½ inch thick. To do this without squashing the rolls, use almost no pressure as you saw the knife back and forth.
  • Settle the slices with the filling swirl exposed in your prepared pans, and repeat the process with the remaining half of the dough.
  • When all of your rolls are, well, rolled, drape the pans with clean kitchen towels or plastic wrap and let them rise again for 45 minutes.
  • During the last 30 minutes of this second rise, preheat the oven to 350F.
  • After their second rise, the rolls should have noticeably puffed and be pressing against each other. Remove the towels or plastic wrap and stow the pans in the oven for 20-22 minutes, until the rolls are nicely browned and the filling inside is beginning to bubble. Remove and set aside to cool while you make the frosting.
  • In a medium bowl (or, if you’ve been proactive enough to wash your stand mixer bowl, use that), whip the cream cheese until very smooth with a whisk or electric mixers. Add the vanilla, the powdered sugar, and 3 tablespoons of the cream, and mix to combine. You are looking for a texture a touch thicker than condensed milk – too thick to pour, but loose enough to wilt toward the edges of your icing spatula. If it seems too thick, add the final tablespoon of cream and mix again.
  • While the rolls are still warm, spread with the frosting. This makes enough for about one tablespoon per roll. I found individual dollops, then careful spreading over one roll at a time, made for a more attractive result than just globbing on a pile and spreading over all of the rolls at once.
  • Separate rolls using a butter knife or an icing spatula and serve warm (they are fine at room temperature too, but if you refrigerate the leftovers, I recommend warming them up before eating, as the dough gets a little dry when cold).

Sweet Potato and Brussels Warm Salad

Food Blog November 2014-0792The first time I made this dish, which could be called a roasted side dish or a warm salad, depending on how you’re feeling, I didn’t actually make it. Let me explain. Like everyone (she says, because it makes her feel better), I have a few unfortunate… let’s call them character flaws. I’m clumsy. I drop things. I spill. I trip. Last week right in the middle of a lecture about pronouns and antecedents I bumped into the chalkboard and, in my recovery, stumbled into a wheeled desk chair that promptly rolled several feet across the classroom. My students were gracious enough to laugh at me.

Food Blog November 2014-0782Where my clumsiness can be amusing or endearing or even charming in other areas of life (I disagree, but N. seems to find it so), it occasionally winds up being dangerous in the kitchen. I take precautions: my knives are sharp, I stabilize my cutting boards, and I try not to do too many things at once. But once in a while, a knife slips, my mind wanders, and I wind up bleeding.

Food Blog November 2014-0783Food Blog November 2014-0788This unappetizing truth is what almost did this salad in. The first time I made it, this autumnal tumble of sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, prosciutto, and walnuts, I had baked the prosciutto into saliva-inducing crisps, toasted the walnuts, and cooked off the sweet potatoes. All that remained, aside from a tart dressing I knew would involve whole grain mustard and cider vinegar, was to slice up a mess of brussels sprouts. To save on dishes, because N. hates washing the food processor, I was doing this delicate slicing by hand and, well, my hand slipped. In a matter of seconds, I was outside, sitting on the porch step with my hand in the air and my head between my knees thinking it was too early for the sky to be so dark, and N. was running for a bandage and asking questions about something called an emergency room.

Food Blog November 2014-0789When my head cleared a little, I decided the cut wasn’t bad enough to merit a hospital run, but it was bad enough that I wouldn’t be able to finish dinner. You’re up, N! We tagged out and N., usually a bit shy in the kitchen, did an admirable job slicing the rest of the sprouts, whisking up a sharp, perfectly acidic dressing, and tossing everything together. We ate, I recovered, and I suddenly had a fantastic war story to exchange with my sister when she suffered her own bit of kitchen clumsiness a few weeks later.

Food Blog November 2014-0794The dish stayed in the back of my mind. It was good when we ate it – nice for the day we’d had which, though warm, carried hints of cooler evenings to come – but I kept wanting more. The flavors should be deeper. The rawness of the brussels sprouts was okay, but with toasty edges they would be even better. My fix, as it usually is for things involving vegetables, was to roast everything. This created, I’ll admit, a bowl of cubes and shards that would never pass muster on a Pinterest board worth its salt. However,  it makes up for its homeliness by combining all the fall flavors and textures I was yearning for. It is sweet and earthy and vegetal, with the right amount of saltiness from the prosciutto. The walnuts have a slight, slight bitterness, which contrasts nicely against the sweet potato. And the dressing, tangy and light and packed with tiny mustard seeds that pop between your teeth, soaks down into the vegetables and lifts the whole thing back up into perfect, warm, satisfying fall salad territory.
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Roasted Sweet Potato and Brussels Sprouts “salad”
serves 2 as a main, 3-4 as a side
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks (about 3 cups)
16 ounces brussels sprouts, stem ends and any wilted or yellowing leaves removed, halved or quartered. You want the sweet potatoes and the Brussels sprouts roughly equal in size.
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
5-6 slices prosciutto
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Additional salt and pepper to taste, if desired

 

  • Preheat the oven to 450F and line a baking tray with aluminum foil. Pour 1 tablespoon of the olive oil directly onto the foil-lined tray and place the tray in the oven while it is preheating. While you wait for it to warm up, prep the vegetables.
  • Toss the sweet potato chunks and Brussels sprout pieces in a large bowl with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the salt, and the pepper. Once the oven is preheated, transfer the vegetables to a single layer on the foil-lined tray that has been heating up inside. The additional of the oil already on the tray means the exteriors of the vegetables will start cooking immediately.
  • As soon as you place the tray of vegetables into the oven, turn the heat down to 425F. Roast the sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts for 20 minutes, then toss them to promote even browning and roast for an additional 20 minutes.
  • On another foil-lined baking sheet, spread out the prosciutto so the slices do not overlap. During the second 20 minute roasting of the vegetables, add the prosciutto tray to the oven and cook for about 10 minutes, until the slices are almost crisp and lightly bronzed.
  • Remove prosciutto slices to a paper towel to drain and cool, and add the chopped walnuts directly to the tray that previously held the prosciutto. Roast the walnuts for 5-6 minutes, until fragrant and slightly darker in color (keep an eye on them, though; they burn fast).
  • While the ingredients are roasting, make the dressing. In a large bowl (it can be the serving bowl, to save on dishes, if you like), whisk together the mustard, the honey, and the cider vinegar. While whisking, slowly pour in the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired, but remember that the vegetables are already seasoned and the prosciutto is quite salty.
  • When the vegetables are roasted to your liking (I like them golden with slightly crusty edges, and yielding on the inside), remove from the oven and place them directly in the bowl with the dressing. Toss to combine. Crumble or chop up the prosciutto into bite-sized pieces, and add it and the walnuts to the bowl as well. Toss again to integrate, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Roots Latkes

Most kids, upon reviewing what they ate during college, will talk about late night burrito runs. There will be a fair share of ramen noodle stock-up stories, and an assessment of the school’s dining facilities. For a student who has moved off campus, such a topic is likely to provoke a discussion of microwaveable meals. I had my share of those as well, I’ll readily admit, particularly during the month after a stunningly disorienting and unexpected breakup during which I subsisted mainly on Coca-Cola, boxed stuffing mix, Godiva ice cream, and carne asada burritos to-go from a restaurant next door to the grocery store where I was buying the rest of my supplies.

Food Blog November 2014-0694Thankfully, that month or so was an exception. For much of my off-campus college career, I lived with one other girl in a duplex her mom rented to us, and we fed each other. Sometimes it was easy stuff: pancakes, omelets, pasta with jarred red sauce, sometimes something a bit junkier like Oreo milkshakes. But we definitely introduced each other to our classics. One of mine was a modification of an old Ghirardelli oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe. One of hers was a simple, lovely little roasted vegetable dish her family just called “roots.” Roots consisted of, well, roots. Russet potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, and sometimes beets got peeled, cubed, and tossed with salt, pepper, and olive oil. The first time she made it for us, K. said that she wasn’t sure how much olive oil to use, but that her mom said it should be just enough that the raw cubes of vegetables “glistened.” Then we loaded them into large glass casserole dishes and roasted them until they were done.

Food Blog November 2014-0681Roots comprised whole meals for us during those years. Sometimes there would be some kind of green side, but mostly we just sat down (never at the table, always on the couch) with big bowls of autumnal cubes, toasty and brown on the outside, starchy and pillowy soft on the inside, and inhaled them. It was reasonably good for us, it was filling, it was delicious, and best of all, it was cheap. The biggest disadvantage to the whole endeavor was getting a cashier at the grocery store who didn’t recognize “weird” vegetables like rutabagas and parsnips, and would take a long time looking up the codes to ring them up.

Food Blog November 2014-0682Over the years, I’ve made roots more times than I can count. They are a lovely comfort food dish: simple to make, hot and forgiving, and easily changed up depending on what vegetables and herb combinations you like the best. Over time, I’ve eliminated beets from the equation, and opted to add plenty of chopped rosemary to the requisite salt, pepper, and olive oil.

But recently, I got thinking about roots again and wondered what it would be like to turn these simple cubed, roasted vegetables into a latke. This would increase the ratio of crisp edges to soft interior, always a good thing, and cut down a bit on preparation as well as cooking time – you can just shred everything in a food processor before frying it up, rather than cubing by hand before waiting out the hour or more the original takes in the oven.

Food Blog November 2014-0687This was, as it turned out, exactly the right thing to do. I opted for potato, carrot, parsnip, and rutabaga as my key players. They whiz into a tangle of starchy threads. Half an onion joins the party – it’s part of a standard latke, and it’s a root vegetable too. As a nod to the common practice of serving latkes with applesauce, I added a tart green apple to the vegetable combination and was pleased with the sweet sharpness it contributed. And I preserved my own love of rosemary with a hefty tablespoon in the mix.

A few eggs, a toss with some flour, and salt and pepper to season, and you carefully drop-pour dollops of the sticky mixture into hot vegetable oil, preferably in a nicely seasoned cast iron pan. It sizzles, it browns, you flip it, and within ten minutes from your first addition of batter, you are passing out hot roots latkes to your delighted diners. Or, if you want to serve everything together, you can stow each batch in the oven on a rack in a baking tray to keep them warm and crisp.

Food Blog November 2014-0690What you are left with is a reasonably quick, reasonably easy (both provided you have a food processor with a shredding disk) meal that doesn’t cost much but tastes exactly right for the approach of chillier weather. The flavors are more complex than your standard latke – there’s a mix of sweetness from the addition of the carrot and the apple. The parsnip and rutabaga have a spicy, earthy flavor that reminds me somehow of incense, a feeling pleasantly intensified by the rosemary.

Since I’d already captured the applesauce element by adding apple to the batter, I served these with a dollop of sour cream as a nod to another classic pairing.

Food Blog November 2014-0695

Roots latkes
Makes about a dozen  3-inch latkes
1 yukon gold potato
1 large carrot, peeled
1 large parsnip, peeled
1 medium rutabaga, peeled
1 large tart apple, cored
½ large white or yellow onion, ends and papery skin removed (either color is fine, so long as it’s not a sweet onion)
1 tablespoon minced rosemary
1-½ cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon pepper, or to taste
½-1 cup vegetable oil
Sour cream, for serving (optional)

 

  • Begin heating ½ cup of vegetable oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat – it will take a few minutes, but you are looking for it to just shimmer when swirled around the pan. If you plan to make the whole batch at once and need to keep them warm, preheat the oven to 300F and position a baking sheet with a wire rack on it inside the oven.
  • Fit a food processor with the shredding disk, or address the largest holes on a box grater with care for your knuckles. Cut the vegetables into the size needed to fit comfortably down the feeding chute of the food processor, and carefully feed the potato, carrot, parsnip, rutabaga, apple, and onion through the machine to create long, thin shreds of vegetable.
  • Dump the whole mess into a large bowl and mix them up a bit with your fingers to distribute evenly. You’ll be left with strands of vegetable confetti.
  • Add the rosemary and flour to the vegetable shreds and toss well with your fingers to combine. Then add the eggs and the salt and pepper, and mix well to combine. You could use a spoon or spatula for this, but I just use my fingers. They do a better job ensuring everything is evenly distributed.
  • When the oil is shimmering, plop ¼ – ⅓ cup dollops of the mixture into the oil. In my 10-inch skillet, I can fit three dollops of batter comfortably without touching – don’t crowd them. When they hit the oil, they should sizzle lightly. If the oil spits aggressively, it’s too hot. Turn the heat down or remove the pan from the heat for a minute to cool it down.
  • Sizzle the latkes for 4-5 minutes on the first side, until it is evenly golden-brown and crisp. Flip carefully (oil splatters) and cook for 2-3 minutes on the second side, until it too is brown and crisp. Move to the rack in the oven to keep warm, or directly to a plate for immediate consumption.
  • Repeat until batter is used up. If the oil level gets low or the latkes begin to brown unevenly, add additional vegetable oil to the skillet, giving it time to heat up before adding more batter.
  • Serve with sour cream, if desired, or applesauce, or just an anxious fork.