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).

Giving thanks

The house feels empty.  Wednesday through Saturday, my family visited for Thanksgiving.  This morning, with them on the road home, fog hovering sticky in the sky, the cheery burgundy tablecloth in the washing machine, and a stack of lingering dishes I’m trying to ignore proclaiming themselves from the sink, our little home was stark and cold.  I could say that the memories of the holiday will keep me warm, but that would only be true in a metaphorical sense.  What I really want is another baked apple.

90. Baked Apples: Combine chopped pecans and chopped dried fruit (raisins, dates, figs, cranberries all work) and toss with maple syrup and a sprinkle of cinnamon, allspice or nutmeg or all three. Fill the cavities of cored apples with the fruits and nuts, dot each with butter, put into a baking dish and roast about 30 minutes, until tender. Better with vanilla ice cream.”

We had a few small apples from our local Farmers’ Market waiting for attention in the fruit bowl, so I set about collecting partners for them to make a dessert for two.

2 small apples

¼ cup chopped pecans

¼ tsp pumpkin pie spice (I agree with Joy the Baker that we should probably just make our own, but if you, like me, purchased some in a moment of confused weakness, this seems a harmless way to put it to use)

1-2 TB each:

chopped dried figs (I used black Mission, my current favorite)

craisins

golden raisins

3 TB maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Core the apples, keeping the bottoms intact if you can.  If you can’t, just wrap the bottom quarter or so in aluminum foil and set them in a baking dish.  This will keep the filling from escaping.

In a small bowl, combine the nuts, fruit, and spice(s).  Drizzle in the maple syrup and stir gently to combine – you want even stickiness throughout.

Using a small spoon, or your fingers, insert as much filling as you can into the cored apples.  You will notice that this quantity makes about twice as much as you need for 2 small apples.  That’s okay.  The leftovers are a fantastic topping for oatmeal the next morning.

Once full, stow your apples in the oven for 30 minutes, or until they are tender when pierced with a knife.  Liberate, evacuate to a dessert plate, and pair with vanilla ice cream.

These were a lovely dessert.  They felt light, because they were primarily fruit, but were still sweet enough to satisfy that after-dinner craving.  The apples still had some resistance, but were warmed through and starting to collapse into themselves.  The ice cream was a perfect accompaniment – I wouldn’t want this dessert without it.  I might ideally have chosen an apple with more tartness to contrast against the sweetness of the syrup and dried fruit, but in such a case, especially if the apple were on the large size, I would advocate a longer baking time.  If the fruit and nuts protruding from the top of the apple start to brown too much, give them a tinfoil hat to hide beneath.

 

“84. Sage Crackers: Pulse 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ cup Parmesan and 4 tablespoons cold butter in a food processor. Add ¼ cup cream and 1 tablespoon finely chopped sage.  When just combined, roll as thinly as possible, score into squares, sprinkle with salt and bake at 400 degrees until golden.  Let cool, then break into pieces.”

I’ve always liked a nice cheese-and-crackers platter as an appetizer option, and these seemed like a good option to lead into the big Thanksgiving meal: relatively easy to make, but impressive – who wouldn’t be staggered by the effort of making homemade crackers even with a homemade feast to produce as well?

Bittman’s directions and quantities here are pretty specific, so I just followed his directions.  I omitted the salt, because Parmesan carries so much of its own tangy hit, and my parents are not big salt eaters.  It should also be noted that pulsing this mixture until just combined does not create a rollable dough, unless my idea of “just combined” is different from Bittman’s.  However, turning out the just-clinging crumbs onto a floured board and kneading for only a minute or two does produce a nice textured ball of dough that can be rolled out with minimal sticking.

I’d recommend aiming for a shape as close to a rectangle as possible.  Further, roll that rectangle to the size of your biggest cookie sheet.  That way you can carefully transport onto the greased or parchment-lined sheet tray by draping the dough loosely over the rolling pin.  Score it very gently into rectangles or squares of your chosen size (cut halfway through the dough with a knife, not all the way through), and into the oven with it!

When I checked these 20 minutes later, they were a little more golden than I wanted.  They were, in fact, heading toward a burnished bronze (is that not the kindest way ever of saying they were all-but-burned?).

After the cracker sheet had cooled for a few minutes, I broke it along the scored lines into neat (mostly) rectangles and we passed around a few samples.  The outside edges, which were thinner, had a slightly over-toasted flavor we didn’t love.  The inside rectangles, though, were crisp and flavorful, with a flaky – almost chalky – texture reminiscent at once of pie crust and shortbread.  My dad in particular, who enjoys this texture, thought they were great.

And now the confession: my final Bittman for this week is a bit of a cheat.  But I’m okay with that, because I also think it was a bit of a cheat for him, though in the best and most useful way.

“101. Buy some cheese. Unwrap it and put it on a plate with some walnuts and fruit; let come to room temperature. Serve with good bread.”

This is the final numerical entry of the list, and that means it’s in the dessert category.  While I accept that some people prefer a cheese course to dessert, I’m not sure I consider this an acceptable option for Thanksgiving.  It is, however, acceptable as an appetizer idea, as I mentioned above.  So that’s what I did.  In addition to the sage parmesan crackers above, I made my favorite craisin rosemary biscotti-style crackers with white bean and almond dip, and set them all out with some creamy Stilton, a nice rich chevre, and a wedge of Manchego obtained from a stand at the Farmers’ Market where we finally decided we’d had too many samples to feel right about not purchasing.  Surrounding these, I added dried apple rings, black Mission figs, and a fresh Granny Smith cut into slim slices.  The walnuts, which I was ready to add as well after a brief toasting, were subjected instead to accidental scorching, and had to be sacrificed.  We will speak of them no further.

What can you say about a cheese platter, besides that it was delicious?  We adored the Manchego, and soft crumbles of Stilton paired well with the fresh apples.  I tried fig and goat cheese together, and now I think chevre-stuffed-figs sounds like an amazing experiment.  We decimated the platter in little over ten minutes, but thankfully were not too stuffed to take full advantage of the turkey dinner that followed.

With Thanksgiving handled, that leaves only five weeks of 2012, and only twelve Bittman selections to go!  New Year’s Eve is on a Monday, but that still counts as this year if I need to jam in a few final selections, right?

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…