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.

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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).

Orange Marmalade and Almond Sweet Rolls

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Guys, I’m pretty excited about this one.  It’s a mile marker for me in a couple of ways.  One, it’s a sweet application of yeast dough, which I’ve never tried before.  Two, I’m well into the second month of this project and I haven’t had any true disasters yet or fallen off the horse, which buoys my confidence.  Three, except for temperature and cooking time, which I had no idea about, I didn’t consult the internet a single time for clues about how to make this.  But four, and unquestionably most important, this is an adaptation of one of my Nana’s recipes, and I made it successfully.
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Nana was a cook.  She was an old-fashioned, from home, meat/starch/veg-that-sometimes-came-from-a-can kind of cook.  She was a clean-your-plate-before-you-can-have-dessert and sometimes a there-are-starving-children-out-there kind of cook.  But that was her era.  She raised her three kids on three square meals a day plus cookies.  She taught my two aunts how to cook, she cooked for our Pap almost up until the day he died, and she sent out a yearly box of Christmas cookies until I was almost through college.  My freshman year I remember getting a slip in my mailbox that meant I had a package to pick up, and finding, after returning to my room and tearing at it feverishly, that it was filled with sweets.  Chocolate dipped apricots, cream horns, which we called ladylocks, nut rolls, seven layer bars, pizzelle; these were how Nana sent us her love.  I always meant to send one back to her, when I was “grown up.”  It tugs at me a little that I never did.
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When she heard I was learning how to cook, she gave me my first cookbook: The Complete Guide to Country Cooking, along with a subscription to Taste of Home magazine.  One summer when we came to visit, I offered to help with the menu and she told her friends her granddaughter was going to be her cook for the week.  She said it was good, too.
In 2007, when I was about to get married, I received a large red photo album from my female relatives, featuring favorite recipes from their own kitchens.  Nana couldn’t attend my wedding – she was on oxygen and too weak for the plane ride across the country from Pennsylvania – but she had contributed recipes to this book, and even as I cherished her contributions I never thought I would make most of them myself: I was too inexperienced to try these dishes she had clearly mastered – lemon meringue pie and yeasted sweet dough were beyond my capabilities.
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But when I thought about cooking this past week, I thought about that stretch of dough from my dill bread and in its place saw cinnamon rolls.  They are, after all, filled and constructed in a similar way.    I love cinnamon rolls, but sometimes the dripping gush of cinnamon pooled in pounds of sugared butter is just too sweet for me.  Orange marmalade came into my mind, and with it, almonds.  They seemed like such a nice pairing, and as I wondered how to make them I found myself back in Nana’s section of my big red cookbook, staring at directions that now seemed less intimidating than they did six years ago.
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This is a beautiful, elastic, slightly sweet dough.  It is smooth and rich and expansive, and it makes a glorious roll.  It sighs like a feather pillow when you punch it down.  It wants very little from you – just a massage with melted butter, a liberal smear of marmalade and almonds, and gentle, careful rolling.  Inside, after baking, the orange and almond marry well, since the jammy part of the marmalade pools against the dough, but the zest and the almonds retain texture for the teeth to play with.
I doused one pan with a glaze made from fresh orange juice and powdered sugar, but I think that overdid the sweetness factor a bit too much: the glaze tasted like liquified orange Pez.  Better, I would say, would be a slick of soft cream cheese, perhaps whipped with a little brown sugar if you absolutely must.  But plain, browned, warm out of the oven, and a little sticky with its own sweetness, is just perfect all by itself for breakfast, for dessert, for mid-morning snack.  For any time that is right now, really.  Thanks, Nana.
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Orange Marmalade and Almond Sweet Rolls
Dough:
¼ cup warm water
2 tsp yeast
¼ cup scalded whole milk (heated to just below boiling – 45 seconds in the microwave does the trick)
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
1 egg
¼ cup soft or melted butter
2 ¼ cups flour (you probably won’t need all of it – I ended up using a total of 1 ¾ cups)
Filling:
¼ cup melted butter
1 cup orange marmalade, warmed slightly
1 cup sliced almonds
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In the bottom of your mixing bowl, combine the yeast and water and stir gently.  Let it sit for at least 5 minutes so the yeast wakes up a bit.
Meanwhile, heat your milk, then cool it down.  You can hasten the cooling process if you forgot to soften your butter: just drop the still-cold stick right into your warm milk and swirl.  You’ll cool the milk and soften the butter simultaneously.
When the yeast bubbles and smells bready, add the cooled milk, softened or melted butter, sugar, and egg.  Stir to combine.  When the mixture has homogenized a bit, add 1 cup of the flour and the salt and stir again.  You will have a soggy, unworkable mixture.
Continue to add the flour ¼ cup at a time, stirring after each addition (if you are using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment and just keep it on low speed until things come together).  When it starts to look like bread dough – pieces begin to have that floured, torn texture and hold together – and becomes just workable, don’t add any more flour to the mix.  Switch to your dough hook or a well floured board, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
Once kneaded, put your shiny, smooth ball of dough in a lightly greased bowl and roll it over so all sides are moistened by the oil.  Let it rise in a warm place until it doubles – at least an hour and a half.  I like to heat my oven to 200F (my lowest setting) for a few minutes, then turn it off and let it cool for another few minutes before stowing my dough inside.
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When the dough is ready, it will have doubled in size, and the bottom will be covered with puffy little bubbles like the ones that let you know your pancake is ready to flip.  Punch it down by pushing your fist gently into the middle to let the gas escape.  Turn it out onto a floured board and roll gently, forming a rectangle of probably 2 feet by 3 feet.  Maybe 3 by 3, if it seems willing.  It should be ¼ – ½ inch all the way around.  My board was, clearly, a bit on the small side for this undertaking.
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Give your layer of dough a massage with the ¼ cup melted butter, spreading it evenly over the surface until it’s gleaming, but leaving an inch or so margin around the edges.  This will help prevent spillage of the inevitable ooze when you start rolling.
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Spread the warmed marmalade over the buttered dough, again respecting the inch margin.  Warming it up by microwaving it for just 30 seconds or so helps it spread more evenly.  Sprinkle on the sliced almonds and get ready to roll.
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Food Blog February 2013-0675Food Blog February 2013-0677You have to do the rolling in small stages, I found.  Begin at the middle of the longer edge of your dough rectangle and make a few tight rolls, but then move to the edges and help them catch up.  They don’t roll on their own, since the piece of dough you are working with is so big, so your fingers will be busy (and no doubt sticky) flying from side to middle to side again.  Continue this process until you have created a long, tight roll of dough.  Some filling will unavoidably ooze out the ends, but if you’ve left a margin around all sides this should be minimal.  Turn the tube gently so the outer edge faces up, then pinch it gently into the next layer to create a seam so your rolls don’t become unrolls.
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Carefully slice your rolled tube into individual portions.  I ended up with about a dozen squashy, messy, less-than-round offerings.  Deb at Smitten Kitchen suggests using a serrated knife and sawing gently, letting only the weight of the knife move down through the dough, to prevent the squashing I experienced.
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Nestle your rolls filling side up in greased baking trays – I used 9 inch cake pans – and let them rise again for 30 minutes.  This would also be a good time to preheat your oven to 375F.
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Stow your pans in the preheated oven for about 18 minutes, at which point the tops will be golden, the exposed marmalade will be somewhere between dripping and caramelizing, and the edges of each roll will have puffed against each other, some adhering thanks to the sticky filling.
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While they are warm, you can drench them in glaze or icing if you wish, or you can just gently liberate them from their pans and eat them with fork or fingers.  I like to unroll mine as I eat, saving the extra buttery, extra jammy middle bit – which everyone knows is the best part – for absolutely last.
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Most of the photo credit on this one goes to N., who got really into his job as stand-in photographer this week!  Thanks, honey.