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).

Swing

Summer into fall into summer.  Salads and grilled vegetables into casseroles dabbled with cream into fresh raw dips.  Luxurious stretches into curled legs under blankets into stressed grading sessions into sampling new half-fizzed white wine.

Sometimes this is called Indian Summer.  I like to think of it as Swing Season.

Two Bittmans for you this week.

77. Trim and dice fresh tomatillos; peel and julienne jicama (or daikon or kohlrabi). For dressing, combine lemon and lime juices, olive oil and chopped cilantro. Pour over salad, top with toasted sesame seeds.

This sounded like a good late summer/early fall salad.  I found tomatillos at the grocery store, but no jicama, no daikon, and no kohlrabi.  And then we went to our Farmers’ Market, and I found all three!  Huge daikons, alien baseball sized kohlrabis and, hidden between stacks of beets and the tiniest fingerling potatoes I’ve ever seen, a pile of grubby little tubers with vine-y stems still attached.  Eureka, jicama!  Back at home, I assembled the troops:

1 TB toasted sesame seeds

2 small jicama

6 medium tomatillos

(really, the number of jicama and tomatillos isn’t super important as long as the quantities are roughly equal once you’ve cut them up.  Start with maybe 1 cup of each, see what you think, and then add more if that’s what makes you happy)

2 TB chopped cilantro

1 lemon

1 lime

Olive oil

Salt

I’ve tasted jicama, but it has been a long time.  And I’ve certainly had tomatillos, but mostly only after they were roasted and processed into salsa.  I wasn’t sure how they would be raw.  This – a lovely fresh slaw/salsa/salad hybrid – sounded so bright and tart and lovely that I wasn’t too nervous.

Before anything else, I toasted the sesame seeds and set them aside.  They give off such a lovely roasty scent when they are just browned and starting to release some oils.

I peeled, then sliced the jicama into rounds.  Then I stacked up the rounds and made thin slices across until my two little aliens were a pile of matchsticks across my board.  Into the bowl with you.

Next I quartered and diced the tomatillo.  Because they are still underripe when green (apparently they can turn purple and get very sweet when they ripen, but I’ve never seen them in that state), their skins were quite resilient – it took some pressure to get my knife through them.  Carefully chunked into miniscule cubes, they joined the white confetti in my bowl.

A quick squeeze of lemon and lime, a whisking pour of olive oil, and a handful of chopped cilantro feathers later, and the dressing was done.  And then a sprinkle of salt, and it was perfect.  It was a little more than needed to moisten the salad, but it’s hard to know how much juice citrus will have secreted away inside it, so it’s always going to be a guessing game.

I mounded the white and green on my plate, then added a generous scoop of Mexican rice and a quartered cheddar cheese quesadilla.  Simple simple.  At this point, you should ideally sprinkle the sesame seeds you so carefully toasted atop the salad, but I forgot until after I’d already subjected it to a photo shoot.

I was surprised and pleased by the flavor of this dish.  I can’t imagine eating it as a Thanksgiving side dish, but it was a bright burst of summer on a day that began in drizzly autumnal terms.  Jicama is crisp and juicy with the barest hint of starchiness, and its flavor reminds me most closely of an Asian pear.  The tomatillos were very tart, but the pairing tamed them.  Imagine a granny smith apple crossed with an underripe tomato and you’re approaching the brightness we experienced.

This was good as a salad, though its tartness necessitates a small portion.  It was also good heaped atop our quesadillas, like a raw salsa.  It contrasted nicely against the melted cheddar and the just crisped corn tortillas.  But where it would really shine, N. and I agreed, would be as a kind of mirepoix for guacamole.  Dicing the jicama instead of leaving it in strips and folding the whole salad gently into chunks of ripe, buttery avocado would make for the perfect chip dip.  Tart, creamy, crunchy, with the right kind of salty sourness from the dressing, and all you’d need was a frosted Corona and a pool to dip your toes into.  Summer.

But things never end there.  At least we hope not!  Days of sweating and hiding inside and waiting till after sunset to go out always, inevitably (even if it’s taking FOREVER, Los Angeles…) relax and cool and crystallize into Autumn.

35. Pumpkin-Noodle Kugel: Cook a half-pound of egg noodles in salted water until not quite done; drain and put them into a buttered baking dish. Whisk together 4 cups milk, 4 eggs, 1 cup pureed cooked pumpkin (canned is fine), ¼ cup melted butter and a pinch each of cinnamon and salt. Pour over the noodles and sprinkle with bread crumbs (or, for added kitsch, corn flake crumbs). Bake 45 minutes to an hour, or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

I had no idea how to serve this dish.  I’ve heard of kugels, but I’ve never even eaten one, let alone made one.  I wasn’t sure, as usual, what to serve it with, so I asked a few friends and did some research on the good ol’ internet.  At the point that I read Smitten Kitchen’s version (okay, so this one is written by her mom, but seriously, that woman has cooked everything, and all of it sounds and looks outrageously delicious), this sounded more like a dessert than a dinner side dish.  It would be, I decided, dessert and weekend breakfast.  Sweet, autumnal, nicely spiced, and custardy.  “It’s going to be like a rice pudding but with noodles.  And pumpkin,” I told N.  He still wasn’t sure.

8 oz. egg noodles 

4 cups milk

4 eggs

1 cup pumpkin puree (I used Libby’s)

¼ cup melted butter (I put this in, but I’m not sure it was really necessary)

¾ cups sugar

¾ cups golden raisins

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp salt

2 cups corn flakes, well crunched (who am I to pass up added kitsch?!)

It wasn’t until I had collected ingredients that I realized Bittman’s recipe doesn’t call for sugar.  But I was already on the dessert/breakfast kick, and I couldn’t quite envision this as a savory dish, so I dumped in my sugar estimation anyway, along with the golden raisins that aren’t part of the original.

I cooked my noodles for 5 minutes and then let them cool for 10.  They probably needed to be cooked for only 4 minutes, because they keep on cooking not only while they are in the oven, but on the counter as they cool as well.

Yes, I take these photos from the floor. But it’s a nice wood floor, and the light is so good, and I promise Lucy stayed on the other side of the room the whole time…

With the custard whisked together and the noodles evenly spread in a buttered 9×13” glass baking dish, I preheated my oven to 375F and assessed the corn flakes situation.  Whenever an ingredient needs to be crushed, crunched, or pulverized on Chopped, I yell at the chefs for using their hands, knives, or a rolling pin instead of just bringing over the food processor.  But they don’t have to wash all the dishes they make, and I do, so my pretty little scarlet processor stayed on its shelf.  I crushed up the cereal with my hands, feeling a kind of satisfaction as the flakes became bits and then powder.  I topped the noodly custard with a generous layer of crumbs and carefully slid it into the oven.

An hour later, the custard had set and the smell flashed me forward to Thanksgiving.  I’m convinced we as a society don’t really know what pumpkin tastes like, because what we experience is texture and spices.  If this kugel didn’t have a sprinkle of cinnamon in it, I’m not sure I would know it had pumpkin either.

Dinner came and went, the kugel cooled a bit, and I dug out a too-big portion for myself, and neglected to feel any kind of remorse about it.  It was too good for that.  The noodles had melded together as the pumpkin infused liquid cooked, making a solid, scoopable, sliceable custard.  The corn flakes on top were perfect: aggressively crunchy against the soft interior.  I wouldn’t omit the golden raisins either; they were a really nice textural contrast to both the softness of the noodles and the crunchy crumbs, and their complex sweetness added some depth to my dessert casserole.  It was warm, and sweet, and perfectly comforting as I tucked my feet under me on the couch and waiting for the approach of Project Runway (don’t judge, every girl needs a little reality TV now and then).

The leftovers are delicious too, though the dish does lose something in relinquishing its crunch to the microwave.  In another universe where I’m a Southern cook, I could see doing crazy things like frying squares of this in butter and then drizzling hot maple syrup over the top.  But I’ll refrain.  Because from my window, I can see my basil wilting beneath the curiously, cruelly hot-for-mid-October sun: back to summer, so it seems!  And here I was considering making soup…

Swing season indeed.