According to the calendar we’re really close, exactly one week to go! I hope you all are prepared for winter squash and apple recipes, because I am officially in full-on Fall mode.
With a little coaxing and slight of hand, I roasted my first pumpkin of the season in my life-sized easy bake oven. As it turns out, not only is the temperature wildly variable when left to its own devices, it’s also heavily dependent on the temperature of the room. At 91 degrees (about 86 inside), we had an unseasonably warm snap on Wednesday, and my oven was running only 25 degrees cold. Friday morning, when the temperature had dropped back down to 55 outside and about 60 inside, my oven was a full 75 degrees colder than what I set it to. Thank goodness I have a thermometer, or baking would be an absolute nightmare. As it stands, I’m able to make slight adjustments based on my oven’s mood swings.
Because I’m always up for a challenge, the broad-swinging temperature range has not deterred me from baking the following items: muffins, a whole chicken, three types of squash, roast vegetables and cinnamon rolls. The last one, the cinnamon rolls, were destined for this post, so I tried them three times, just to be sure I could keep the temperature constant and repeatable. But first, that pumpkin.
Canned pumpkin is great for quick recipe needs, but much like roasting a whole chicken, starting from scratch with a whole pumpkin gets you so much more than just the puree. If you’re careful, and with a little patience, one five pound pumpkin will yield plenty of sweet puree, as well as tasty pumpkin seeds, and my new favorite: sweet pumpkin juice. Yes, just like in Harry Potter. Have I convinced you yet?
To begin, pre-heat your oven to 425. Starting near the bottom of the pumpkin, begin to slice it in half until you cut the whole pumpkin up to the stem. To remove the stem insert your knife into the top three times to make the start of a hexagonal cut.
Repeat on the other side of the stem to completely remove it, then scrape out the the stringy insides (save those seeds!).
Because my oven is so small, I had to do this on two pie plates, but one 9″x13″ roasting pan should be big enough to fit both halves. Place the pumpkin cut side down on a roasting pan lightly sprayed with cooking oil. Add a bit of water to the bottom of the pan to create steam in the oven, then roast for 1-1.5 hours, or until the flesh of the pumpkin is soft and you can pierce the pumpkin easily with a fork. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh into a large bowl and discard the skin of the pumpkin. Puree the pumpkin in batches in a blender, or using an immersion blender. The resulting pumpkin puree has a much higher water content than what comes out of a can, so before you can use this in a recipe, you should drain it a bit first.
Using a fine-mesh sieve, use a spoon to mix around the pumpkin puree and let the excess juice drain away. Save this!
With my five pound pumpkin I got about one pint of pumpkin juice. In a coming post, I’ll show you exactly what you can do with it, but for the moment, let’s get back to those cinnamon rolls.
Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Maple Bourbon Glaze
Although I’ve never seen this exact flavor combination before making it myself, so many things about them just felt right. My love of the Fall season necessitates at least one winter squash per meal, from now until November. Since moving to Vermont, I have found every maple food variant you can think of, including booze (more on that later), and really, who doesn’t love a good bourbon? The first time I made these, I used straight bourbon to make the glaze and the alcohol hit you like a kick to the face. This would be fine under any other alcoholic circumstances, but not something I was thrilled about when biting into a warm cinnamon roll. By boiling off some of the alcohol first, you get all the lovely malty flavor of bourbon, without overwhelming sense of frat-house basement with every bite.
For the filling, I used a whipped pumpkin butter because it helps intensify the pumpkin flavor and because if I can turn something into a pumpkin-version of itself, by Jove, I will do it.
2 Tbsp active dry yeast (or two envelopes of packaged yeast)
1/2 cup hot tap water
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 scant tsp kosher salt
1 cup roasted pumpkin puree (if using canned pumpkin, reduce this to 3/4 cup)
1/3 cup scalded milk (if using canned pumpkin, increase this to 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup canola or other vegetable oil
4 1/2-5 1/2 cups of bread flour***
1 packed cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
***The type of flour you use is very important to achieve the final product. The difference between bread flour vs all purpose or pastry flour is in their gluten potential. Each of these flours has a different protein content that will be transformed into gluten when you work the dough. Pastry flour has the lowest protein content and will not form enough gluten to build the doughy infrastructure needed for soft, springy rolls. You can use all-purpose flour for this, but for maximum rise and the softest rolls possible, go for the high-gluten bread flour.
To prepare the dough, start by scalding the milk. In a heavy bottom pan, heat over med-high until steam begins to rise and the milk begins to simmer a bit. Immediately remove from the heat and allow to cool until warm to the touch. While the milk is cooling, placing the yeast in a small bowl and add hot water. The water should not be boiling, but closer to 100-115 degrees, which is the average temperature of hot water coming out of the tap. If your water is too heavily chlorinated to consume without filtering it first, heat the water on a stove or in microwave until it it hot to the touch, but doesn’t burn when you drop a bit on the underside of your wrist. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of sugar over the mix and let this sit in a warm place for 5-10 minutes to double in size and become bubbly. That’s how you know your yeast is alive and active.
To make life easier, I did the first several steps in a standing mixer, but with a little more physical effort, this could easily be done by hand or with a hand mixer.
In the bowl of the standing mixer, use the whisk attachment to blend together the the eggs, sugar, pumpkin, milk and oil until smooth. Add the yeast mixture and whisk to incorporate.
If using a standing mixer, switch to the dough hook. If beating by hand, switch to a wooden spoon. Start by incorporating 3 cups of the bread flour, then add more flour, ~3/4 cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl.
The dough will be soft and sticky, so you’ll have to use a liberal dusting of all-purpose flour to keep the dough from sticking to everything it touches while you knead.
Knead the dough for about 8-10 minutes (or two to three Mumford and Sons songs), adding flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and the work surface. You know you are there when you press the dough lightly with your finger and it springs back to fill in the dent.
If you’re not familiar with working with dough, it’s not always easy to tell when you’ve kneaded it enough. The best way I can describe the texture of the dough is that it feels like one of those memory foam pillows. It’s kind of firm, but has a soft give when you press on it and easily regains its shape after you remove your hand.
Now that you’ve beaten the dough and taken its lunch money, you have to let it rest and recover. Place the dough in a large, lightly greased bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. I am partial to the reusable plastic food bonnets that look a lot like little shower caps. With standard plastic wrap, I’ve found that doesn’t always cling properly to the bowl and I end up wasting a lot. With these, the elastic band ensures a tight, custom fit, and I get to reuse them until I accidentally poke a hole in them.
Let this rise, until doubled in size, in a warm area (I sat mine on top of a warm oven as it was cooling off from roasting the pumpkin).
While the dough is busy doing its thing, prepare the pumpkin butter.
Whipped Pumpkin Butter
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature (softened)
1/2 cup pumpkin puree.
Combine both ingredients in a bowl and whisk until well incorporated and the texture is light and fluffy.
This recipe makes twice what you’ll need for the cinnamon rolls, but I wanted a little extra to spread on my toast and scones. if you’re using it for spreading on other things, sprinkle a little cinnamon into the mix and you have a delightful whipped topping that stands on it’s own.
Now when your cinnamon roll dough looks like this, you are ready to continue:
Turn this dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently stretch it into a large rectangle.
Spread 1/2 cup of the whipped pumpkin butter from corner to corner, then whisk together all of the filling ingredients and sprinkle the sugar into an even layer over the dough.
Roll lengthwise into a tight tube. It helps to start at the bottom left corner, rather than the center, to get a tight, even roll, without losing all the filling or having it clump together in random spots. Pinch the ends and the edges of the roll to prevent the filling from falling out as you cut it.
With a large, sharp knife, cut the roll into 14 pieces. It helps to run the knife under hot water, then carefully wipe it dry before each cut. If you try to cut it all in one go, the knife will be a sticky mess and drag the dough, spilling the precious, sweet contents of your roll.
Split the rolls between two, 9-inch round pans, placing one of the end pieces in the middle, and surrounding it with six more rolls.
Allow this to rest for 40 minutes in a warm place, until doubled in size. While the rolls are going through the second rise, pre-heat the oven to 350 and prepare the glaze.
2 oz (two shots) bourbon
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 cup powdered sugar.
In a small pot, simmer the bourbon over medium high heat until the smell of alcohol disappears and the volume is reduced to 1/2 ounce, or 1/2 shot.
In a small bowl, Add the sugar, then drizzle with the hot, reduced bourbon and a tablespoon of pure maple syrup. Whisk until smooth, then set aside.
Once your rolls look like this, they’re ready to go in the oven.
Bake the rolls for approximately 25 minutes, or until the edges are golden.
After you pull the rolls from the oven, let stand for about 5 minutes then turn out onto a plate to keep the sugar from hardening in the pan (making it very difficult to remove) and serve with the icing.
These beauties are delicious with a hot cup of coffee and thanks to all of the test runs, I’ll be eating them for breakfast for the next few weeks. Not that I’m complaining.