Is it just me, or does the pumpkin gluttony seem destined for an earlier overkill this year? I’m a self-professed pumpkin fanatic. I could eat anything pumpkin year round, not strictly relegating it to the fall months. I’m in love with it as a baking ingredient. However, it seems 2014 has definitely been the year of “pushing the pumpkin”. It began around August and is reaching its zenith, a full month well ahead of Thanksgiving. I will even admit that I’ve gotten a touch tired of it. Still, as I sit here drinking my third cup of coffee today (at 3 pm) on a Sunday afternoon, breathing in the intoxicating aroma emanating from a cake pan full of Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls, I can’t help but remain drawn in by the spell wrought by this fragrant and delicious autumnal squash.
This recipe from Baked Elements was undoubtedly one I was intrigued to dive into when I first perused the book, but I’ve held off until it was assigned through Baked Sunday Mornings this week. I love a good cinnamon roll, but ashamedly admit that I’ve usually caved in to buying those Pillsbury “Poppin’ Fresh Dough” cans that magically pop open at the seam with the slightest press of a spoon. The pre-made, ready-to-bake-off glob of dough contained therein also typically contains a sickly sweet can of faux cream cheese glaze to slather on top of the finished rolls. Let’s face it, yeast kinda scares me. While it’s true that there is something therapeutic about putting your heart and soul into a well made loaf of bread or a beautiful pan of dinner rolls, I tend to avoid it and stick to my pies, tarts, cakes, etc. I leave a lot of the homemade bread baking to my boyfriend, Jake. He’s got more of a knack for it – and definitely more patience for it.
These Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls beautifully paid off with a little persistence, a lot of coffee, and a good measure of patience… for yes, I needed to make the recipe two times. I really try to overcome my perfectionist tendencies, but it’s not always easy. Well – wait a minute – for yours truly, it’s never easy (Jake is an exceptionally strong man to live with and deal with me). And when it comes to turning out delicious baked goods, I’m simply not content to make do with “well, they taste wonderful”. I want them to look pretty too. And photograph beautifully. I really don’t deal in outside appearances in my everyday life, but I suppose I expect quite a bit when it comes to the baked goods I make for my loved ones.
The dough for these rolls comes together pretty easily in a mixer – incorporating bread flour, butter, brown and granulated sugars, yeast (for that rise you’ll eventually desire), pumpkin, whole milk, egg, and most importantly – those wonderful warming spices that meld so harmoniously with pumpkin: cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom. The initial trouble comes with this dough. Be mindful from the start that it is an exceptionally soft and sticky dough. I had to chuckle at Baked’s tip to “remove the dough from the [mixing] bowl, carefully form it into a large ball, smooth the top with your hands, and place it in a clean, lightly greased bowl”. Uh-huh. Right. I simply dumped the whole lot of dough into the greased bowl, using a spatula to scrape it out from the mixing bowl. There was no way that dough was going to form into a nice, smooth ball in my hands. No sir. Cover the ball of dough with plastic wrap and let it sit while you make the delicious filling of melted butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon (even more – these are cinnamon rolls, after all), nutmeg, cloves, and salt.
When it’s time to roll out your dough, here’s what I learned after my initial first (hideous) batch: first, flour your board or counter like crazy. I mean, excuse my language here – but flour the shit out of it. If you do not, this troublesome pumpkin dough is going to glue itself to the surface. Turn the dough out onto the counter (again, that spatula will comein handy – it will plaster itself to your hands; this dough is a monster, I tell ya), and flour the top of it. Again, go for a liberal sprinkling of flour here, as you don’t want it sticking like the dickens to your rolling pin. Another thing I discovered was that it did me no favors to roll it out to the dimensions (10″ x 20″ rectangle) the Baked guys instruct you to. It will be way too thin, and your rolls will collapse. Just roll it out to a good-sized rectangle, and not too thin. Bear in mind that you will want to cut the rolls out, when the entire thing is rolled up, into 1.5-2″ inch pieces, numbering about 10 total. Eyeball it as best you can. Butter the rolled out-dough with melted butter, then, with your hands, spread out the filling and press it into the dough gently with your palms. Roll the whole lot up into a tight ball, turning from the longest side of the rectangle. As I rolled, I used a dry pastry brush to brush off all of the excess flour from underneath the dough. When the dough is completely rolled, cut the log with a sharp knife into 10 rolls and place them in a 10″ cake pan lined with buttered and floured parchment.
You’ll definitely want to let your rolls rise a little more in the pan before baking them off (Baked suggests for about 45 minutes). I didn’t notice a tremendous change in size – you may, depending on the strength of your yeast and/or temperature of your kitchen. It’s chillier here today in Wisconsin, and we’ve held off turning on the heat, so that may be why I didn’t get a ton of rise. I also used active dry yeast and not the instant yeast designated in the recipe, which I’m sure had a lot to do with my rolls being denser. Plus, I did not activate my yeast by proofing it in warmed milk… d’oh! (Remember, I did mention I don’t do yeast recipes all that often; it’s painfully obvious from this faux pas.) Still, my rolls puffed up beautifully while baking in the 350-degree oven. While the rolls were baking – and man, it smelled wonderful in the kitchen while they were – I whipped up the glaze, which consists of cream cheese, a bit of buttermilk, and sifted confectioners’ sugar. Let this beat up well in your mixer using the paddle attachment, as it is prone to lumps from the cream cheese, even if you’ve softened it. It’s a delicious glaze, with the perfect amount of tang from the cream cheese and buttermilk to complement the spicy pumpkin rolls. Be aware, though, that it makes a goodly amount. If you want to douse your cinnamon rolls with it (Southern-style, as Jake calls it), go ahead and make that full batch the recipe calls for. I drizzled the tops of my rolls using a whisk dipped in the glaze, and truthfully, having done that, I realized I could have easily halved the glaze recipe. Still, it may be nice to have a little dish of extra glaze on the side when serving these, for extra dipping!
As you can tell from the photos, I had terrific results with my second batch of these. The first batch was horrendous, and I very nearly threw in the towel. I’m glad I woke up this morning, took a deep breath, and gave these a second try. They’re delicious on their own, nicely warm, but absolutely wonderful with a cup of coffee or glass of milk. The buttery cinnamon filling is decadent with the soft pumpkin roll encasing it, and the glossy glaze is a fantastic crowning touch. One final note: though that luscious gooey-ness that results from the cinnamon filling migrating to the bottom of the pan while baking is quite enticing with any cinnamon roll, I found it a good idea to bake these about 5 minutes longer than suggested. My first batch – which, granted, was a mess to begin with – came out with roll bottoms that seemed soggy and under-baked. For my second go-round, I let the rolls bake in the oven slightly longer. While they’re still a touch gooey on the bottom – again, not an altogether bad thing – they hold up nicely, come out of the pan cleanly, and don’t taste too doughy. The bread was nicely baked, but still moist and flavorful, not dry – with that enticing ribbon of cinnamon in the center. The caramelized, buttery clumps of cinnamon and brown sugar at the bottom remind me of the fabulous cinnamon rolls I used to enjoy at a restaurant I worked in during my college years, back home in upstate New York – Kellogg’s Pan-Tree Inn on Canandaigua Lake. When a recipe can turn me nostalgic like that, it’s a winner.
All of this being said, I will probably hold off on making these again anytime soon. They’re good, yes – and this pumpkin fanatic was ecstatic at the thought of incorporating pumpkin into a cinnamon roll – but I personally felt they were not as “simple to put together” as the recipe makes claim in the book. Be prepared to throw a little bit of elbow grease, and a ton of flour, into these. If you decide to give them a try, the pay-off is worth it, so roll these out (excuse the pun) for a special get-together with your friends.
Hard to believe that next week, our Baked Sunday Mornings group closes up baking from Baked Elements! Wasn’t it just yesterday we were all a-buzz with excitement from just getting that book? Time has surely flown, and we’ve had a lot of fun. The great news is – we have another new Baked book to bake from – Baked Occasions – beginning November 9th! I’m still not positive I will be baking along as frequently, but who knows. Given my past track record, you know by now that I can’t stay away for too long…
Okay. No more pumpkin recipes for a while. Promise.