Saturday, December 31, 2016

A simple salad from the pantry—and a versatile vinaigrette

As the year draws to a close, I thought I would share the simple salad that we had for dinner last night....and in so doing, revisit some of the reasons that I write For Love of the Table.  The salad wasn't fancy....or "chef-y"...  It was just good food that I made at home with what I had on hand.  In the early days of my blog, I posted a lot more things like this...maybe I should do a little more of that in the coming year.  My goal with For Love of the Table has always been to encourage people to cook at home.  Among other things, I want to post simple ideas along with technique driven posts (see "basic techniques") that will help people add to their basic cooking skills so that on a busy night before making the decision to go out, they can look in their pantry and say, "I've got this". 

If you have salad greens...and a basic vinaigrette in your fridge (or the makings in your pantry) probably have everything on hand to make a satisfying main course salad.  Our salad was a mix of arugula (what was left after I made a batch of arugula pesto) and baby lettuces (a good item to keep on hand).  Any fresh greens you have on hand will do.   

I roasted a few fingerling potatoes (about 4 oz. per person) because I like the substance of something starchy.  But if I hadn't had these I would have toasted some nice fat slices of a hearty bread (something I always keep in my freezer). 

Blanched or roasted vegetables are a good addition.  You could roast carrots (another basic pantry item)...or blanch a few florets of broccoli...or a handful of green beans.  Roasted beets can be a refrigerator staple and are wonderful in salads.  We happened to have the remains of one of those bags of the little haricot verts that have become so popular in recent I blanched a few of these (2 1/2 to 3 oz. per person is about right). 

For some protein, add a wedge of cheese...a hard cooked or poached egg...maybe some sausage or bacon...or the remains of a roast, steak or chop of some kind.  Even canned tuna...dressed with olive oil, a few dried herbs and some salt and pepper is nice.  I always have sausage in my freezer...usually Italian, but more recently I have also been keeping Aidells Smoked Chicken Sausage (I like the roasted garlic and Gruyère cheese) I added that.  The Aidells is nice in that it is already cooked and only needs to be heated through.  I must have been extra hungry, because I added a hard cooked egg along with the sausage.

If you follow my blog regularly, you know I like nuts of all all kinds of food it won't be a surprise to hear that I added some toasted walnuts to my salad.  Pistachios or pecans (or another favorite nut) would have been good too.  Other nice additions can include olives and dried fruits.

You can throw all the ingredients in a bowl and toss them in your vinaigrette for a true tossed salad...or dress everything separately and arrange each thing on individual plates or a big platter for more of a composed salad.  For our salad I spread the warm roasted potatoes on the plates, tossed the greens with the haricots verts (cooled just slightly), walnuts and vinaigrette and piled this on top of the potatoes.   I then tucked the wedges of egg and chunks of sausage in and around the salad.

Any vinaigrette you like is fine for an impromptu salad like this.  You don't even need to make a vinaigrette:  instead, you could add some shaved shallots or minced scallions to the salad and then dress with a drizzle of olive oil and some vinegar (or lemon) to taste.  The most important thing is to make sure that each item is well seasoned...including the greens.  Salt gets a bad rap, but as I know I have said before, you probably aren't getting too much if you are salting fresh/unprocessed ingredients in foods that you have cooked yourself. 

In the fall and winter months I like to keep a tangy Dijon vinaigrette on hand.  I am including the recipe at the end of the post because it is so basic and versatile, but you don't really need a recipe.  Just mince a small to medium sized shallot and place it in a small bowl.  Add enough red wine vinegar to just cover the shallot along with a good pinch of salt and let sit for a few minutes (the vinegar will soften the harshness of the shallot). Add a blob of Dijon mustard (depending on how much you like mustard, anywhere from half to equal the amount of vinegar you used).  Whisk until smooth.  Add olive oil to balance the taste to your liking (add in a thin stream while whisking constantly).  An amount of olive oil equal to about four times the amount of vinegar you used will be about right.  The exact amount will depend on how much Dijon you used and on how tangy you like your vinaigrette.  Taste it on a lettuce leaf or on another element of your salad to make sure that you have the balance where you like it.  Homemade vinaigrettes like this one keep just fine in the refrigerator for several weeks.  Just pull it out of the fridge when you start getting dinner ready so that it will warm up a bit.  Shake well or re-whisk before using.

I had a few of the elements leftover...
They made a nice lunch salad with some cheese and bread...
I hope everyone has a safe and festive New Years Eve celebration....and a peaceful start to 2017.    If you like to cook...or if you want to cook more for yourself and your family and friends...I hope you will visit For Love of the Table often and that when you do that you find all kinds of delicious things here that bring satisfaction to you as a cook...and pleasure to those who gather around your table.   

Happy New Year.

Basic Dijon Vinaigrette

2 T. red wine vinegar
1 large shallot, finely diced (about 3 to 4 T.)
1/2 to 2/3 c. olive oil
2 T. Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper, to taste

Place the vinegar and shallots in a small bowl and set aside for a few minutes.  Season the vinegar and shallots with a good pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper.  Add the mustard and whisk until smooth.  Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup of the olive oil in a thin stream.  Taste and correct the seasoning, adding more olive oil if the vinaigrette is too sharp for your taste.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Family Holiday Food Traditions...and a Christmas Eve Wreath Bread

When it comes to holiday foods, my family is all about tradition.   Year after year, the same foods appear on our tables and in our homes throughout the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season.  When I first began cooking for a living...going to school, cooking in an exciting restaurant kitchen...this bothered me a lot.  I found it to be constraining...and a bit boring.  I wanted to prepare exotic and different foods from other traditions.  Unfortunately, my desires didn't mesh very well with those of my family. 

But of course, the holidays really are about family: remembering the things that connect us to each other and to those who are no longer physically present.  Food...and the traditions that surround it...are a beautiful and symbolic part of this.  Every year we serve a sweet Wassail on Christmas Eve at a simple family gathering in my home.   Everyone expects it.  To be honest, I don't like it very much.  But my father loved it...and he loved Christmas.  So I am happy to make it every year because it reminds me of him and the joy he found in the holiday season.  And now, a new generation has apparently acquired a taste for it:  I found out a few years ago that my niece loves it.  So... the tradition will continue.

I have of course introduced a few new food traditions of my own into the mix.  The holiday wreath coffeecake I make now for Christmas breakfast was something I started making a few years ago...and it has gone over well.  It is, I think, here to stay.  Other traditional family foods have received a bit of a makeover: artisanal bread (instead of Wonder bread) in my Grandmother's sage dressing....homemade sour cherry compote (instead of canned pie filling) in a favorite family coffeecake....   But some recipes really didn't need to be changed at all.  They were already delicious...and part of the things I have loved about our family's holiday traditions.  The recipe I'm sharing today is one of these.  

I don't know at what point a particular dish had to first appear on our table in order for it to become a settled family tradition...but it probably had to be sometime before all of the kids had graduated from college.  (I think a lot of traditions are rooted in the fact that we all want to be kids again at Christmas...)  The bread I'm posting today appeared in Better Homes & Gardens magazine in December of 1982, so it's on the fringe in terms of time frame (two of the four of us were in college at that time).  But I'm glad it made the cut—it's a tradition that I happen to like. 

I have not changed this loaf from the original (other than to stream line the method a bit).  Simple, festive and delicious as is—it is similar to the soft and slightly sweet homemade dinner rolls that everyone loves to have on their tables at the holidays.  It is the perfect accompaniment to the bowl of Cream of Wild Rice Soup that we always have for our Christmas Eve dinner (a tradition dating from our Minnesota days in the mid-70's). 

In recent years I guess you could say that I have gone from tolerating these family food traditions to enjoying them.  I am blessed that my work provides a creative outlet for me as I prepare a wide variety of interesting and different things for my clients.  In the hurry and rush of the season, it is frankly a relief to not have to think about what I'll prepare for dinner on Christmas Eve.   And then, sitting down to that simple and familiar bowl of soup with bread (before the rest of the family arrives for the Wassail and other traditional holiday treats), I get to have a quiet moment to truly enjoy the current season...and at the same time savor the memories of the many Christmases that have passed.

Merry Christmas.

Christmas Wreath Bread

3/4 c. (180 g.) milk
3 T. (41 g) unsalted butter, sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 1/4 t. instant or active dry yeast
3 T. (38 g) sugar
3/4 t. salt
1 large egg
2 1/2 to 3 c. (285 to 340 g) all-purpose flour
Milk for brushing
1/3 c. pecan halves

Scald the milk.  Place the butter in a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Pour the hot milk over the butter.  By the time the butter melts the temperature of the milk should be about 105° to 115° F.—if not, let it sit until it is. Add the yeast.  Stir until dissolved.  Whisk in the sugar, salt and egg.  Add a cup of the flour and whisk until smooth. Stir in another 1 1/2 cups of flour, adding as much of the remaining half cup necessary to obtain a soft, shaggy dough. 

Turn out, scraping the bowl well, onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding only as much of the remaining flour as you need to manage the dough—it will remain a bit sticky, but will eventually become smooth and elastic.  This will take about 7 to 10 minutes.

Place the dough in a buttered bowl and turn to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot.  Let rise until doubled in bulk—about an hour to an hour and a half.  

Knock back the risen dough, turn out onto your work surface and divide into three equal balls.  

Cover with a towel and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes.  Roll each ball into a 24-inch rope....using very small amount of flour only if necessary to keep the ropes from sticking unmanageably. 

Grease the outside of a 6 oz. custard cup and invert on the center of a parchment lined baking sheet.  Braid the ropes loosely 

and wrap around the custard cup, pinching the ends together to seal and form a continuous braid.  

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled—the loaf will look puffy and swollen 

and if you touch it gently with your fingertip, the indentation will remain—about an hour.  Carefully brush the loaf with milk and tuck the pecan halves decoratively into the crevices of the braid.  Bake in a 375° oven until golden brown—if you tap on the loaf it will sound hollow—20 minutes or so.  Transfer to a wire rack.  When the loaf is cool enough to handle, lift it off of the custard cup and serve.

(Recipe adapted from Better Homes & Gardens, December 1982)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Chocolate Caramel Bars

Occasionally I will decide that a recipe I love...that I have been making for years...needs to be changed.  I actually think it would be odd if this didn't happen now and then.  I'm always learning new techniques...and picking up new ideas—and I want to apply these things to old favorites.  Sometimes a revision is called for simply because my tastes have changed.  The fact that I revamp a recipe doesn't necessarily mean the old/original version was just means I've found a way to make it even better.

I share all this because the cookie I am posting today—Chocolate Caramel Bars—has been part of a Christmas cookie class that I have been teaching for 10 years.  I taught it again last week...and included the "old" version in the class.  I had decided to try my hand at reworking the recipe the weekend before the class and just didn't have it ready in time.  But it is ready now. 

If you have the old version, you already know they are seriously delicious.  (Early on, these cookies were christened "Danger Bars" by a friend.  Rich as they are, it is difficult to limit yourself to one...or two...)  You might wonder how they could possibly be better.  Well...  this version has more caramel (just a bit...).  And...  the caramel is slightly softer (but still slices neatly and cleanly).   

The softness comes from the addition of a touch of honey, which adds to the flavor as well (making them reminiscent of my favorite recipe for caramels).  The crust is still chewy...but not at all hard....  They are just what I wanted when I set out to revise the recipe:  a cookie bar in which all the good things about the old are even better.

For those of you who have never had my Christmas cookie class:  If you like caramel...and chocolate...and nuts...and crunchy-chewy oatmeal crumble, you will love this cookie.  It is almost more of a candy bar than a cookie.  And like the original it is dangerously and addictively delicious (only more so...).  A batch makes a great gift (they are sturdy enough to ship).  If you make them, I think you will find they are wonderful the day they are made...and even better the day after.  In fact, they just seem to keep getting better with age.  How long these cookies will keep I really can't say...  They never seem to hang around for long.

Chocolate Caramel Bars

(a.k.a. Danger Bars)
1 1/4 c. (145 g.) all-purpose flour
1 c. (100 g.) quick oats
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
3/4 c. (170 g.) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c. (150 g.) packed light brown sugar

1 1/2 c. (300 g) sugar
1 1/2 T. unsalted butter
3/4 c. Heavy cream
2 T. (41 g.) honey
1 t. vanilla
1/8 t. salt

1 c. (6 oz.) bittersweet chocolate—either chips or bar chocolate, cut into 1/2-inch squares
1 c. (4 oz.) coarsely broken toasted walnuts

Prepare the Cookie Base:
Combine the flour, oats, baking soda and salt; set aside.

Cream butter and sugar just until smooth.  Stir in the dry ingredients just until the mixture is homogenous and crumbly/clumpy.  Scoop out 1 cup of the “crumbles” (140 g.) and set aside.

Butter a 13x9-inch baking pan—focusing mainly on the sides.  Line the bottom of the pan with a rectangle of parchment (don't butter the parchment).  Press the remaining crumbs of dough into the pan in an even layer.  Bake in a 350° oven until set and golden...about 10 to 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool for at least 10 minutes.

Prepare the caramel
Place the sugar in a heavy medium-sized saucepan.  

Place the pan over medium-high to high heat.  Watch carefully—the sugar will immediately turn to caramel as it melts.  Shake the pan occasionally to prevent the melted sugar from burning and to expose more dry sugar to the heat.  If the sugar begins to smoke, lower the heat a bit.  Eventually there will be a few hard lumps of sugar floating in liquid caramel.  Remove from the heat and stir until all the lumps are dissolved and the caramel is a clear golden amber—returning the pan to the heat briefly if the lumps don’t dissolve.  This whole process will take less than 5 minutes.  

Off the heat, add the butter, stirring until incorporated.  Slowly pour in the cream while stirring with a long-handled wooden spoon (be very careful when adding the cream and butter as the caramel will sputter and boil vigorously).  Add the honey.  Return the pan to the heat and boil over medium-high heat until the caramel reaches 238° (soft ball stage).  

Working quickly, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt.

Immediately pour the hot caramel into a greased, heatproof 2-cup measuring cup.  You should have 1 1/2 cups of caramel.  Let the caramel cool for 10 minutes.  You may use the caramel immediately, or let it sit up to an hour at room temperature (warm the caramel slightly before using if it is no longer pourable).

Build & Finish the Cookie Bars:
Pour the caramel evenly over the cooled crust.  

Scatter the walnuts, chocolate chunks and reserved crumbs of dough evenly over the caramel.  

Return to the oven and bake until the caramel is bubbling—about 20 to 22 minutes.

Allow the bars to cool completely in the pan.  Use a small sharp knife or metal spatula to separate the bars from the sides of the pan.  Invert the bars onto a cookie sheet, remove the parchment and then re-invert them onto a cutting board.  Cut the cookies into bars—anywhere from 32 to 64 depending on the size bar you want.  You will get 32 2x1½-inch bars, 48 1½x1½-inch bars 

or 64 1x1½-inch bars.  Place the bars on 2 or 3 layers of paper towels for at least 15 minutes to absorb excess butter before storing air tight between layers of waxed paper.

(Recipe adapted from recipes in Rose’s Christmas Cookies, by Rose Levy Beranbaum and Midwest Living Magazine, December 1990)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Sweet Potato & Carrot Purée

Every year I have intended to share the recipe for a sweet potato & carrot purée that has been a staple on our fall and winter table for longer than I can remember.  The original version is from Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins first collaborative cookbook, The Silver Palate Cookbook.  I have altered it only slightly.  If you have a food processor, it is easy very easy to make...and delicious with all kinds of fall and winter preparations, from weeknight steaks/chops/cutlets, to weekend roasts or braises/stews.  In short, perfect for almost any occasion...from casual to elegant. 

Two things will insure success with this dish: choosing the right kind of sweet potato...and cooking the carrots properly.  When you purchase your sweet potatoes, look for the moist-fleshed, "yam"-type varieties.  Nationally this will probably be those labeled "Louisiana", Jewel or Garnet.  In the Midwest (where I live), local growers almost without exception grow a wonderful variety known as Beauregard.  All of these varieties have high residual sugar (particularly if they have been cured properly) and are low starch (which is one of the reasons they can be puréed in the food processor without becoming gluey like a white potato).

Cooking the carrots involves a simple two step process.  First, the carrots are boiled (covered) until they are very tender (but not falling apart) in a small amount of water enhanced with sugar and butter.  Once tender, they are uncovered and the heat is increased so that the water can be boiled away.  The carrots are finished when the water is gone, the sugar has begun to caramelize in the pan and the carrots are sizzling in the butter. 

If the carrots are not properly cooked—that is, if they are either not soft enough, or there is water left in the pan—there will be a couple of problems.  First, there will likely be chunks of carrot in the purée.  As long as they are tender, this isn't the end of the world...but the purée will not be as suave and elegant as it is when perfectly smooth.   Secondly, if there is water left, the carrots will not only be water-logged, they will not have been able to caramelize.  Both of these things result in a less concentrated flavor.  Furthermore, if the excess water is added along with the carrots to the sweet potatoes, the purée will be too soft and won't be able to hold very much butter or cream....both of which add a great deal to the final texture and taste.

I love everything about this purée.  It is easy to prepare and requires very little attention during the cooking process...which allows me to focus on other, more involved, preparations.  And, it reheats beautifully...making it perfect for a holiday gathering.  Its sweet flavor profile makes a perfect companion for the slightly bitter green vegetables of winter:  Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale and chard.  Best of all, everyone loves it.  People who like their sweet potatoes to be sweet are are those that think sweet potatoes are already sweet enough on their own.  I hope you will try it...and that it becomes a fall and winter staple on your table too. 

Sweet Potato-Carrot Purée

2 lb. Sweet Potatoes—preferably a moist-fleshed "yam"-type variety like Beauregard, Jewel or Garnet
1 lb. Carrots, topped and tailed, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
4 to 6 T. unsalted butter, divided
1 T. sugar
Salt, Pepper and Nutmeg
1/4 to 1/2 cup hot heavy cream

Prick the sweet potatoes in several spots with a fork or paring knife and transfer to a baking sheet.  Bake in a 375° to 400° oven, until easily pierced with the tip of a knife and the natural sugars have begun to ooze a bit—about 40 to 60 minutes. 

While the sweet potatoes are roasting, place the carrots in a wide, shallow saucepan and add the sugar, 2 T. of butter and a pinch of salt.  Add water to almost cover the carrots.  Cover the pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and cook the carrots (covered) at a rapid simmer until they are very tender—about 20 to 25 minutes.  

Uncover, increase the heat to medium high and boil until the liquid has reduced to a glaze, the sugar begins to caramelize and the carrots are sizzling in the butter—watch carefully when the liquid has evaporated, shaking the pan back and forth to coat the carrots in the buttery glaze. 

When the sweet potatoes are finished baking, cut them open and scoop out the flesh.  Transfer to the food processor along with the carrots and purée until very smooth.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Add butter and process in. Add heavy cream to obtain the consistency you prefer by adding it through the feed tube with the processor running.  Keep warm until ready to serve.   Serves 6 to 8.

Note:  If you are working ahead, cool the sweet potato-carrot purée and store covered in the refrigerator.  Bring to room temperature before reheating.  The purée may be reheated in a stainless steel bowl, set over simmering water (stir occasionally with a heatproof rubber spatula as the purée heats) or in the microwave.  When hot, taste and correct the seasoning and add more butter or cream if necessary.

Printable Version

As a side dish for a family Thanksgiving...

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

An Autumn Freekeh Pilaf

As dinner approached one day this past weekend I realized that all I had in the house in the way of fresh vegetables was a bunch of (beautiful) Red Russian kale from what turned out to be my last visit of the year to the farmers' market.  (I admit some point the offerings at the fall market just become too sparse to motivate me to get out of bed on a cold and dark Saturday morning....)  Besides wanting to use the kale, I also wanted something simple...and not too rich (after all the holiday feasting).  And even though my options seemed limited, I really didn't want to give in and go out to eat.  As I was thinking about all this I happened to run across a blog post from last spring that featured a freekeh pilaf with Red Russian kale.  And as I looked at the recipe, I saw that a few simple changes could turn it into a satisfying, autumnal dish.

The original recipe includes blanched peas.  Of course, I could have pulled frozen peas out of my freezer and made the dish pretty much as written.  But I really did want something more in keeping with the season.  So instead I decided to dice and roast some of the sweet potatoes I always keep on hand during the colder months (winter squash would have worked too).  From there the rest fell into place.  Sweet potatoes (and the recent holiday) put me in mind of I substituted dried cranberries for the golden raisins.  Walnuts seemed an obvious change from the pine nuts (pecans would have been good too).  And finally...I used parsley instead of mint.  Mint would have been great, but the mint in my garden is gone...and I had some beautiful parsley from that last visit to the market.

But it wouldn't have really have mattered if I had had the spring version of this recipe to refer to or not.  Both versions are just dressed up grain pilafs.  If you know how to make a basic grain pilaf, you can make a few judicious choices concerning the actual ingredients (like those I outlined above)...and a dish like this pretty much drops into place. 

The fall version of this pilaf was delicious...I may even like it better than the spring version.  If you like grain pilafs, I encourage you to try it.  But mostly—as with everything I post—I hope today's post will inspire you to cook...even on a night when your ingredients don't seem very promising (which probably happens a lot during this busiest time of the year).  If you apply what you know how to what you already have on might just end up with something that tastes really good.

Leftovers made a delicious lunch...

Freekeh Pilaf with Russian Kale, Sweet Potatoes,
Dried Cranberries & Walnuts

1 medium sweet potato (about 10 oz.), peeled and cut into a 1/2-inch dice

2 1/2 T. olive oil, extra to finish
salt and black pepper
1 bunch Red Russian Kale, tough ribs removed and washed in several changes of water
1 small red onion (4 to 5 oz.), finely diced
1 1/2 T. unsalted butter
2/3 cup (100g) cracked freekeh, rinsed
a generous 1/8 t. ground cinnamon
a generous 1/8 t.. ground allspice
3/4 c. chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
1/4 c. dried cranberries
1 small clove of garlic, minced
pinch of hot pepper flakes
3 to 4 T. roughly cut Italian flat leaf parsley
1/3 c. walnuts, toasted and coarsely crumbled
3 to 4 T. Labneh

Toss the sweet potatoes with a tablespoon of olive oil and salt & pepper to taste.  Spread on a baking sheet and transfer to a preheated 400° oven.  Roast until tender and lightly caramelized, stirring once—about 25 to 30 minutes. Set aside

Drop the kale into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook until tender. Drain and spread on a baking sheet. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess liquid one handful at a time. Roughly chop and set aside.

Melt the butter and 1/2 T. of the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot set over medium heat. Add the onions and stir to coat in the fat. Sweat—stirring occasionally—until the onion is soft and translucent and just beginning to caramelize around the edges...about 5 to 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high and add the drained freekeh along with the spices and a generous pinch of salt. Continue to cook for a minute until the grains are coated in the oil and sizzling in the hot oil. Add the stock or water and bring to a full boil. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cook, covered until the freekeh is tender—20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and scatter the dried cranberries over the surface of the freekeh. Cover and let rest for 5 minutes.

While the freekeh rests, heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a wide sauté pan set over medium heat. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook until the garlic begins to sizzle and is fragrant. Add the kale, season with salt and continue to cook and stir until the kale is hot through. 
Transfer the freekeh and craisins to a large bowl. Add the warm kale followed by the parsley, sweet potatoes and walnuts.  Toss until everything is well combined.  Serve with a dollop of labneh and a drizzle of olive oil if you like. Serves 2 generously as an entrée. 

Note: Recipe is easily multiplied.

Printable Version

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Pumpkin Dinner Rolls...and 'braided' loaf

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.  I had intended to publish this recipe for pumpkin dinner rolls last weekend so that people would still have time to incorporate it into their meal plans if they wanted to...  But my internet has been down....  Fortunately—thanks to  my nephew—it is back up now, and for those who might like to try these rolls for the big meal, there is still just enough time to squeeze them in.  So...  I thought I would go ahead and share this special recipe anyway...before this season of pumpkin spice...and all things entirely past.

I got the idea for these rolls from a recipe for a pumpkin-shaped, pumpkin-flavored, artisanal boule in The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook.  I'm sure the recipe that inspired me produced a delicious and beautiful bread, but I admit I never tried it. As I looked at the recipe...and thought about serving it...I could only think what a shame it would be that once it was sliced no one would know how beautiful it had been to begin with.  I thought it would be much more fun to be able to give each person their own little pumpkin shaped bread.

The rolls I ended up making are soft and slightly sweet...very much in the tradition of the Parker House or Crescent Rolls that show up on tables all across the U.S. during the holiday season.  To make them, I converted my friend Bonnie's cardamom bread dough to a pumpkin dough.  I replaced all of the liquids with pumpkin (which is about 90% water) and followed the lead of the Big Sur Bakery recipe by switching to brown sugar and adding loads of  the spices we have come to associate with pumpkin (cinnamon, ginger, allspice and nutmeg...).  After checking with Bonnie to see if she thought her recipe could support more butter, I increased the butter to add richness and tenderness. 

The final recipe is almost a hybrid of a traditional American dinner roll dough and a simple Brioche dough.  In fact, if you have ever made brioche, you will recognize that my method for adding the butter (whole, as opposed to melted—and after all of the other ingredients have been added) is similar to brioche.

I have never tried to make this dough by really does best in a mixer fitted with the dough hook.  Because of the nature of the pumpkin, at first the dough will seem unmanageably dry....then suddenly, very wet.  Also, the development of the gluten seems to take a bit longer than usual.  I'm not a bread expert, but I would guess this is due to the fibrous nature of the pumpkin (not to mention the larger quantity of butter) inhibiting the formation of gluten strands.  As the dough mixes, stop as often as is necessary during the first stages of mixing to scrape down the sides and encourage the dough to come together around the hook....  And be patient—eventually it really will come together into a smooth and supple mass.

I have structured the recipe so that the dough is made the day before the rolls are to be baked and served.  I find this schedule works much better for holiday meals (not to mention how much more developed the flavor is after an overnight rise in the fridge).  But you can work even further ahead by making the rolls and freezing them.  To thaw them, let them sit on the counter in their air tight wrapping for an hour or so, then transfer them to a baking sheet and cover them with foil for a brief warm up in a moderate oven.   

You can of course form these rolls into any shape you like....a plain round roll...or a clover leaf...or a crescent roll...etc.  But I find the pumpkin shape (basically formed like a Kaiser roll) to be utterly charming.  I think that the little bit of extra time it takes to form them is totally worth it for a special holiday meal.

Finally, as with any basic, slightly sweet soft roll dough, this dough can be formed into all kinds of beautiful loaves and filled buns.  You could make a tea ring (filled with butter, brown sugar, pecans and spices)...or a twisted loaf (similar to my St. Augustine braid)...or cinnamon rolls or sticky buns.  So far, my favorite alternate form is the beautiful coiled and swirled loaf that Bonnie often makes with her cardamom dough.  I have included the instructions for forming this loaf at the end of the recipe...  That way, even if you have another dinner roll recipe that you will be making for your Thanksgiving dinner, you can still make this delicious pumpkin bread to serve as part of one of your holiday weekend breakfast spreads.  

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pumpkin Dinner Rolls

4 to 4 1/4 c. all-purpose flour (454 to 480 g.), divided
1 1/4 t. cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. allspice
2 T. warm water
2 3/4 t. instant or active dry yeast
1 egg
1 c. solid pack pumpkin or fresh pumpkin purée (240 g.)
1 1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. brown sugar (100 g.)
8 T. unsalted butter at a cool room temperature (113 g.)
1 egg beaten with 1 T. water for egg wash
3 to 4 T. pepitas (pumpkin seeds), finely chopped

Place 1 cup (114 g.) of the flour in a small bowl.  Add the spices and whisk to combine.  Set aside.

Place the water in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Sprinkle the yeast over the water.  If using active dry yeast, let it sit for a minute or two to soften.  Add the egg, pumpkin, 3 c. (340 g.) of the flour, salt and sugar (in that order).  Using the dough hook mix on low speed (no. 2 to 3) until the ingredients are homogenous (2 to 3 minutes).  Add the flour/spices mixture and continue to mix until absorbed (another 2 to 3 minutes).

Increase the speed to medium and add the butter.  Continue to mix for a minute or two, stopping to scrape down the sides a couple of times, until the butter is absorbed.  Increase the speed to medium high.  If the dough doesn’t begin to gather in a mass on the hook after a minute, gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour (28 g.) until it does...the dough will still be quite sticky and adhering to the sides of the bowl, but it will be engaged with the action of the hook when it has enough flour.  Knead on medium high until the dough is no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl and is smooth, velvety and elastic—about 6 to 8 minutes. (The first time you make this, waiting for the dough to come together will be an act of faith.  But eventually—and suddenly—it will.  If your butter is warm...or very will take much longer.)

Scrape the dough into a buttered bowl and turn to coat.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for an hour to an hour and a half.  The dough will begin to rise, but it may or may not double during this time.  Deflate and place in the refrigerator overnight (for 8 to 24 hours).

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and portion into 24 equal pieces (41 g./1 1/2 oz. each).  

Working with 6 pieces at a time, roll each piece out into a 10 to 12 inch rope, using only enough flour to keep the dough from being unmanageably sticky.  

Form each rope into a pumpkin (basically a Kaiser roll...).  Tie a simple, loose knot, 

looping the two ends back through the center—one from the outside: up, over and down through the center, 

and then the one from the other side: down, under and up through the center (this second one will form the pumpkin's "stem"). 

Place the formed rolls on two parchment-lined baking sheets and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Let rise until doubled in size—about 1 1/4 hours (the rolls are fully risen when an indentation remains when a roll is gently prodded with your finger).  

Carefully brush the rolls with egg wash and sprinkle with the minced pepitas. 

Bake in a preheated 365° oven until golden brown and cooked through—about 15 minutes.  Let cool on a wire rack.  Serve warm.  Makes 2 dozen rolls.

  • If you prefer you may replace all of the spices with 1 T. of pumpkin pie spice. 
  • This dough may be used to make any shape dinner roll as well as cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, braided loaves and tea rings. 

Pumpkin Spice Filled Pumpkin Loaf

1/2 recipe pumpkin roll dough, chilled overnight
1 T. melted butter
1 T. granulated sugar mixed with 1/2 t. pumpkin pie spice
1 egg beaten with 1 T. water for egg wash
1 1/2 to 2 T. minced pepitas
Turbinado sugar

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a thin 12- by 16-inch rectangle, making sure that the long side runs parallel to the edge of the work surface in front of you.  Brush the dough with the melted butter.  Scatter sugar/pumpkin pie spice evenly over the buttered dough, leaving a 1/2-inch strip of dough across the top bare.  

 Starting with the edge nearest you, roll the dough up jellyroll-style.  Pinch the final seam into the dough to seal.  

Using a sharp knife, kitchen scissors or a bench scraper, cut the roll deeply—but not all the way through—at 1-inch intervals. 

Rotate the roll so that the original pinched seam is down.  Twist the cut segments/rolls in alternating directions.  Shorten the loaf a bit by scrunching it together so that the segments are shingled slightly and the entire loaf is closer to 10 to 12 inches in length (rather than the original 16 inches).  

Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about an hour and 15 minutes). Carefully brush with egg wash and scatter the pumpkin seeds and sugar generously over all.

Bake the loaf in a 365° until puffed and golden brown—about 20 to 25 minutes.  Remove from the oven and slide onto a wire rack.  Let cool briefly before slicing.  Serves 10 to 12.