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The Batter Thickens: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

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This post comes to you two weeks delayed. Originally, I was disappointed with how the pictures turned out, so I decided not to post about them. But yesterday when I was scanning back through them, I liked them better than I did initially. (Do you find this ever happens to you with creative things? Like, sometimes I write something and I think it's pretty awful but then when I go back and read over it a while later I think, "Hey, this actually isn't half bad.") So, cue Thanksgiving Break Flashback!

We've actually made these rolls once before, for our dad's birthday breakfast back in October. The whole rising process didn't quite go flawlessly, but they were still so scrumptious that we decided we wanted to give them another try! It's a good sign when even when a recipe doesn't turn out perfectly, it's still delicious.

The yeasting was more successful this time, though still not perfect. But they're pretty bodacious anyway, no?

I think working with yeast is just one of those things that start to go more smoothly with practice. So don't let the daunting prospect of yeast deter you! Just think of it as a learning experience. Also a less-than-perfection-can-still-be-exceptional experience. A spicy cinnamon, warm, soft dough, melty cream cheese frosting experience. An "mmm, delicious" experience.

I think you can tell what a hit these were by how few were left by the time we'd cleared the breakfast table.



Though we didn't eat them on Thanksgiving morning - we were saving ourselves for the feeding frenzy that would be our early afternoon dinner buffet - they would make an excellent holiday breakfast. The pumpkin + cinnamon + cream cheese flavors are very much a festive combination, even once Pumpkin Season is pushing its expiration date.

Unlike some other "Pumpkin Spice" cinnamon roll recipes, the pumpkin flavor here is not shy. The pumpkin is stirred right into the dough, resulting in a undeniably pumpkin-y roll, set off by the classic cinnamon roll accoutrements of a generous cinnamon sugar filling and gooey cream cheese frosting. The stickier your hands and face are after you're done downing your second roll, the better.

I think a lot of people are intimidated by homemade cinnamon rolls, due to the whole yeasting/rising thing and the general time commitment. If these were regular old cinnamon rolls, I'd say save yourself the trouble and just go Pillsbury. But you're not going to find the unique flavor of these pumpkin rolls in any grocery store just-bake-and-serve package. In this case, the trouble and time investment is more than worth it, yeasting disasters included. I promise.

- Molly

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
From The Smitten Kitchen

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup whole milk, warmed
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon pumpkin spice
2/3 cups pumpkin puree
1 large egg
Oil for coating rising bowl

3/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons milk
2 cups powdered sugar

Make your dough: Melt your butter, and hey, if you’re melting it in a little saucepan, you might as well brown it for extra flavor. Once the butter has melted, keep cooking it over medium heat for a few additional minutes. It will become hissy and sizzle a lot, then take on a nutty flavor as golden bits form at the bottom of the pot. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Combine your warmed milk and yeast in a small bowl and set aside. After five to seven minutes, it should be a bit foamy. If it’s not, you might have some bad yeast and should start again with a newer packet.

In the bottom of the bowl of an electric mixer combine flour, sugars, salt and spices. Add just 1/4 cup (or two-thirds of; leave the rest for assembly) of your melted/browned butter and stir to combine. Add yeast-milk mixture, pumpkin and egg and mix combined. Switch mixer to a dough hook and run it for 5 minutes on low.

Scrape mixture into a large oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for 1 hour in a draft-free place; it should just about double. While it is rising, line the bottom of two 9-inch round cake pans (8-inch round should work too, as does an 8-inch square) with parchment paper and butter the sides of the pan and the paper.

Assemble buns: Scoop dough onto a very well floured surface and flour the top of it well. With a rolling pin, roll the dough to an approximately 16×11-inch rectangle. Brush reserved melted/browned butter over dough. Stir together remaining filling ingredients and sprinkle mixture evenly over dough. (It's going to look like you're putting a lot of sugar in your rolls. And you are, not gonna beat around the bush. But go with it. I skimped, and I regretted it later. They just weren't as cinnamon-y as they could have been. So throw caution to the winds; either way, you're indulging. So just use it all!)

Starting on a longer side, roll the dough into a tight spiral. It’s going to make a mess because the dough is crazy soft and some stuff spills off the ends; don’t sweat it. It will all be delicious in the end.
With a sharp serrated knife, using absolutely no pressure whatsoever (only the weight of the blade should land on the dough) gently saw your log with a back-forth motion into approximately 1-inch sections. When a soft dough like this is rolled, it tends to grow longer, which means that you’ll have the option to either make more buns (say, 18 instead of 16) or just cut them a little larger (in generous inches).

Divide buns between two prepared pans. You can sprinkle any sugar that fell off onto the counter over them. Cover each pan with plastic wrap and let rise for another 45 minutes. 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.

15 minutes before you’re ready to bake them, heat the oven to 350°F. Meanwhile, you can make the glaze. Beat your cream cheese until it is light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Drizzle in milk until you get the consistency you’re looking for, either thick enough to ice or thin enough to drizzle.

Finish your buns: Remove the plastic and bake buns for 25 minutes, until puffed and golden and the aroma is like a snickerdoodle. Transfer pans to wire cooling racks and drizzle/schmear with cream cheese glaze, then have at them.


  1. I made these over Thanksgiving as well! Sooooo good! :)

  2. the yeast is not rising. i tried for two days. three times. the yeast hasnt expired or anything. ive used it to make bread recently. what am i doing wrong?

    1. I would make sure the milk isn't too hot, just warm to the touch. And sprinkle the yeast over the top, don't stir, and just wait. If that doesn't work, I'm not sure what could be going wrong. If all else fails, get new yeast and try again, because yeast can be very tricky and small things can make the whole process get thrown off.

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