It is a week into March and most of us aren’t seeing signs of spring yet. But locally, our unjustly-mild winters make me happy and I don’t mind how long they last, plus: baking, I mean, that keeps on being a fun way to warm the house. I’m here for you guys with a secret weapon.
I kind of make blue-ribbon cinnamon rolls, y’all.
When I was a kid we were involved in 4-H, from art and sewing to chicken-raising. At the county fair each summer, I took part in demonstrations in which we would cook a dish from start to finish, serve it to an adjudicator (on an accurately-set table, please), and receive a placing. One year, I was twelve or so, I decided my entry would be cinnamon rolls, because I LOVED cinnamon rolls and had made them at home to good reviews from the family. It was one of the first yeast doughs my mom taught me to make. (She also taught me the clever trick to cutting the dough with thread as to avoid smashing it — in the directions below.)
But the cinnamon rolls required proofing and I was given only one hour for my demonstration, so I had to bring the ingredients with me to the fairgrounds to show how the dough was made; plus a batch of dough at first rise to demonstrate rolling and filling it; plus a batch of rolls fully risen for baking and serving. Each batch, which I started very early that morning at home on a warm day, had to be my best-ever (’cause I wanted to win!).
And since the demo kitchen was merely a stainless steel shell, I had to pack along every measuring cup, wooden spoon, cinnamon spice and drop of milk that I needed, and if I forgot something I knew I would be completely out of luck. My mom helped me lug what seemed like a camping-weekend’s worth of supplies in baskets and boxes from the parking space and into the not-air conditioned 4-H building through the scorching August temperatures.
I’m a perfectionist so, I did get nervous. Not helping was the mirror above the work space and stove for the adjudicator to better watch my every move (we were even judged on our handwashing and ingredient-measuring skills — ha! — I never measure, now), nor the guide-book of rules to consider all the while, nor the local newspaper photographer all up in my business while I kneaded this dough. I mean, my nerves! When the hour was over I was sweatier than when I began.
That year, my cinnamon rolls won and we were selected to go to State.
I bailed, man!
Way too much work to go through all that again in the same summer. I told my mom I couldn’t face it, and she let me gracefully concede. That was a lot of cinnamon rolls that summer and I much prefer them during cooler seasons! I know I did different dishes in other years at the demonstrations, but I can’t remember any of them but those rolls.
But when I saw these pumpkin beauties on Deb’s site and made them, I was dumbfounded. They were so good! I am not at all over pumpkin — as long as it’s chilly, grey or drizzly outside, I’m cooking with it — and her post took this familiar treat I loved and turned it on its head. I’m hooked. I’ve made them a dozen times.
The addition of pumpkin and sidekicks cinnamon/nutmeg, ginger, and my favorite cardamom make these rolls even more comforting and richly flavored than their (now-considered) pasty-white counterparts. These are drop-dead delicious and I want to eat them every day. A cream cheese glaze doesn’t hurt either, perched atop each tender roll like a creamy cloud. Each curly bite of sugar-swadled dough I pull from a roll has been nesting between another layer or ten of cinnamon and sugar and spices for a time in the oven, baking to golden brown perfection on top with delightfully colorful interiors. Gosh. How did I never think of this before?
The dough is gorgeous and simple to work with — I got out my rolling pin, but I never used it. A few moments of stretching and patting had this shaped into a lovely rectangle with little effort. It’s foolproof and simple, requiring only a little hands-off time for proofing and then that unbearable wait for them to come out of the oven while the air fills with visions of swirled, spiced treats. Winter can stay a little longer, in my world, at least.
Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
recipe adaptation from Smitten Kitchen via Baked Elements by Matt Lewis
yields 16 – 18 rolls
- 1/2 cup butter, divided (1/4 cup melted for dough, plus 1/4 cup softened for filling)
- 1/2 cup warm milk of your choice
- 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (or one envelope)
- 3 1/2 cups flour
- 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp table salt
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp ground cardamom (optional but recommended)
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 2/3 cup pumpkin puree
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- pinch of salt
- 2 TBSP ground cinnamon
- 4 ounces(1/2 block) cream cheese, room temperature
- 2 TBSP milk of your choice
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- Vanilla extract, a drop or two
Sprinkle yeast over warm milk (I do this right in the measuring cup) and let it sit for 5 – 7 minutes until foamy.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine flour, sugars, salt and spices. Add melted butter, yeast-milk mixture, pumpkin and egg and combine again on low. Swap paddle attachment for dough hook and knead on low for about 5 minutes.
Scrape dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. (The dough will be a bit wet and sticky; this is right.) Let rise for 1 hour in a warm place until about doubled.
Meanwhile, prepare two cake pans (8-inch or 9-inch) or one 9 x 13 baking dish by greasing with a little butter. For extra assurance you can cut parchment to fit the bottom of the pan(s), and grease the top of that too.
You can prepare the glaze and keep it at room temperature (covered tightly until the rolls are baked and cooled: beat cream cheese until fluffy and light (I use my electric mixer again), then add powdered sugar and vanilla. With mixer running, drizzle in milk until you get the consistency you prefer, either thick enough to frost or thin enough to drizzle over rolls.
On a well-floured surface, turn out dough and roll (or stretch and pat) into roughly an 11 x 16-inch rectangle. Spread softened 1/4 cup butter over dough and sprinkle evenly with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Beginning with the long side, roll dough tightly and gently, sealing long end by pinching a bit with your fingers. To cut, scoot a section of thread under the log to the center and cross ends over each other and pull tightly to sinch and cut log in half. Repeat with each section, cutting in half with thread until you have 16 even pieces (I find this smashes the dough much less than using a knife, though cutting with a knife still gets the job done).
Divide rolls evenly into prepared pans, and I like to gather any lost cinnamon-sugar mixture and sprinkle it into the bottom of the pan before I place the last roll over it (that’s the extra-good roll!). Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and allow to rise for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how warm your kitchen is, until puffed. (When I made this photographed batch I had to turn on the oven for 60 seconds, turn it off, and leave them inside at about 100 degrees to rise because the house was too chilly.)
Deb’s note: “If you’re doing this ahead of time, you can now put them in the fridge overnight. In the morning, leave them out for an hour to warm up and finish rising.” (I haven’t tried this myself.)
Bake at 350F for 25 minutes or until golden brown on top and smelling ridiculously wonderful. Let cool before glazing or frosting, or, if you can’t wait, pull pieces off a hot roll and dip ‘em in the glaze. Enjoy!