Whatever you’re doing right now, put it down– you need to make Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls immediately. This is one of the recipes that I was most excited to make when Baked Elements was released two years ago, but inexplicably, I haven’t had a chance to make them until now. (Little did I know what I’ve been missing out on– I would’ve rearranged my priorities accordingly.) This is Baked Sunday Mornings‘ second-to-last recipe before wrapping up the entire book, and the last from the Pumpkin chapter; it’s been a wonderful sugar-and-butter-slathered journey! Shortly after the book came out, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen made an adapted version, the link for which BAKED shared on Facebook, claiming that Deb made them even better. So I promptly printed out the blog post and tucked it into my book as a bookmarker, not knowing at the time how long it would be before I made the recipe! Those two sheets of paper have settled in-between every single page of my book (getting doused in butter, water, and god-knows-what-else), and now finally, I’m putting them to use. Deb had magical ideas such as using brown butter and practical suggestions such as using less sugar in the glaze. I have to admit that I have such a girl-crush on her, on account of her brilliant recipes and writing, and her general relatability. (I was so hoping to randomly run into her on the street in New York earlier this month, being that stalking is generally frowned upon…)
Deb’s goal with her adaptation was to reduce the moisture level and sweetness, get the yeast acting more quickly, and increase the yield of cinnamon buns. She also tinkered with the flour and spices and made some changes to the method, including melting the butter… and as long as you’re melting butter, you might as well brown the butter, right?? (This should serve as a general life rule to all of us, methinks.) I ended up making a hybrid of the two versions.
From BAKED’s version, I kept the bread flour (Deb says all-purpose is fine, but I like the higher gluten content and chewiness of bread flour), left the spices alone, and kept the yield at 10 cinnamon buns so they were taller. I also unintentionally kept the instant yeast; Deb suggests switching to active dry yeast because it rises faster, even though you have to activate the yeast in warm liquid before adding it to the mixer bowl. I tried twice to do this, but for some reason, two different brand-new yeast packets did not foam up in the warmed milk, despite using a thermometer and all. At that point, I gave up and reverted to instant yeast, and it was absolutely lovely, so I would continue to stick with the originally prescribed instant yeast in the future.
From the Smitten Kitchen version, I (obviously) took melted/browned butter, as well as a slightly reduced quantity of milk (from ⅔ cup to ½ cup). She wanted a less wet cinnamon roll, and I wasn’t totally sure what that meant, so I went with her milk suggestion, but kept the original quantity of butter, albeit melted in both the dough and the filling. She also suggests using the dough hook attachment on your stand mixer, which I switched to after paddling around the ingredients to combine them. She also added a touch of vanilla to the cream cheese glaze, which, like brown butter, is a generally advisable thing to do; I opted to add about ⅛ teaspoon vanilla bean paste.
If making brown butter (and I say ‘if’ as a formality), put your butter cubes in a skillet and melt them down over medium heat until foaming. Keep cooking the butter after the foam subsides and until little browned bits start forming on the bottom of the pan. Watch the butter closely at this point, as it can go from toasty to burnt in seconds. I like to let mine go until just shy of burnt– a handsome dark shade, something resembling a brown ale. Pour it into a measuring cup with a spout and let it cool slightly.
Whichever version you make, start by combining the flour, white and dark brown sugars, instant yeast (leave this out for now if using active dry yeast), and spices in the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the butter and mix it up; I was surprised that the melted brown butter completely disappeared into the flour mixture– all that was visibly left were some crumbly bits (possibly my butter had cooled quite a lot by this point as I was fiddling with the not-so-active dry yeast, and solidified on contact), but this was inconsequential. Oh– the recipe calls for 6 tablespoons of butter in the dough, plus another 2 each in the filling and assembly. I melted the whole 1 ¼ stick down together, yielding exactly ½ cup melted butter. I poured a little over ¼ cup into the mixer bowl, then split the rest between the filling and assembly later.
Deb dumps in the milk (with yeast, in her case), egg, and pumpkin all at once, mixes it, then switches to the dough hook here. I did so too, because she knows shit, so I listen to her. I mixed the dough for about 4 minutes on low speed, and I was delighted with the bright orange sticky dough that resulted!
You’ll now transfer the dough carefully to an oiled bowl and cover it with plastic for the first of two rises. BAKED says 30 minutes to rest; Deb says 1 hour for doubled size. After 30 minutes, my dough was slightly larger, but I let it go a little longer while I cleaned up and prepped the filling. (Combine the white and light brown sugars, spices, and melted butter. Deb omits the butter here, but I kept it… because BUTTER.) It was a nice, smooth mass that looked fairly easy to work with. I was anticipating a soft, sticky (read = finicky) dough, based on both versions of the recipe, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that my dough was really easy to handle and roll. Where I struggled was rolling it out into an even rectangle, but this tends to be the case when I roll out dough– I guess I was absent that day in school.
Anyway, once your dough is rolled out more or less evenly, brush it with melted butter, leaving a ¼-inch border all the way around. Sprinkle the crumbly filling thickly over the dough and press it down lightly. (It looked at first like I had too much, but it was fine.) You’ll then roll up the dough from the long side into a tight log; again, I was surprised at how easy the dough was to handle.
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, cut the log into slices about 2 inches thick. You should have a gorgeous brown sugar spiral inside! (This revelation is always so satisfying for some reason.) The recipe says to place the rolls in a 10-inch round pan, which I do not have. Neither does Deb apparently; she wanted more rolls, so she cut them thinner and used 2 round 9-inch pans. I wanted fewer, taller cinnamon rolls, so I used 2 round 6-inch pans. Place the rolls, cut side up, in the pan(s), brush with the last of the melted butter (I loved the speckled look of the brown butter here), and allow them to rest until almost doubled in size. Mine took about an hour, a little longer than estimated in the book. It was cool to watch them gradually fill up every inch of the pans!
The recommended baking time is 25-30 minutes, until the cinnamon rolls are browned on top. At 25 minutes, the tops were golden and puffed, so I pulled them to avoid drying out the rolls… but when I flipped them out of the pans a few minutes later, I was disappointed to find that the inside was doughy goo, particularly one pan, though the exteriors were pillowy soft and beautiful. (I could hear Gordon Ramsey on Kitchen Nightmares yelling, “It’s raaaawwwwww!”) Super-bummed, party of 1…
The cream cheese glaze was simple, easy, and the perfect consistency just as written, though I did add the vanilla bean paste. I drizzled it over the cinnamon rolls, dripping lusciously over the sides…. mmmm. Though I was sad, I packed them up to take to work, in the hopes that they would firm up overnight. Happily, the rolls did, in fact, firm up by the morning and were edible! I’m not sure if they just needed those extra 5 minutes in the oven, or if I should have cut down the butter as Deb suggested. (I’ll probably try the former first, as reducing butter should only be considered under emergency conditions.) While they were a touch doughy for me, my tasters raved about them, goo and all!
I will unquestionably make these again, hopefully soon. They would be the perfect Thanksgiving Day breakfast, while hanging around lazily in the kitchen as dinner preparations are getting underway. In fact, any ol’ Fall morning will do! The cinnamon rolls have the perfect balance of pumpkin, spices, and tangy cream cheese glaze, and the dough that was baked properly was all kinds of soft and fluffy. Although I’m still tinkering with it a bit, I do believe this is one of my favorite recipes from Baked Elements.
Since you’re going to make these right now, head over to Baked Sunday Mornings, where you can find the Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls recipe, and take a look at the other bakers’ yummy rolls too. Happy pumpkin season to one and all! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2014.