Something kind of terrifying is going on around here, and it started in the back of the closet. I found shoes there, old shoes, shoes that did not fit. They had to go. Thus far, this is the snoring-est horror story yet, but wait, the discontent simmers: Half the closet followed, all of the plastic hangers that drove me batty were replaced with nonslip ones, sweaters were color-sorted, dresses were arranged by season and my husband’s closet is on notice too.
It gets worse: What began as a vague declaration that “this coffee table needs to be replaced” turned into an entire living room overhaul, from a fresh paint job to a new sofa, chairs, and yes, tables too. The throw pillows are looking nervous, as well they should. The kitchen cabinets got purged and everything that remained went into airtight glass jars. With labels. It’s like Aunt Pinterest came to town in there. Lest you think my three year-old has escaped my high straightenance bender, I bought every single pair of his pants in two sizes this fall, in case he goes on another wild growth spurt right around the time the universe runs out of pants; I picked up his Halloween costume on Labor Day weekend, and then, the shelves in his room just didn’t feel right to me and it turned out they were missing colorful baskets to hold his toys.
You see, you can’t go on book tour if your son’s toys aren’t yet in colorful baskets; somewhere it is written. While measuring for baskets, I happened upon his sock drawer and his socks were so flimsy, so thin, and I panicked like only a mother could: they’d never keep my baby’s toes warm if I wasn’t here. So I bought him fourteen pairs of warm socks. And you know, even then — even then! — it hadn’t occurred to me that the something bigger was happening, something resembling all of the nesting I didn’t do when I actually was about to have a baby (instead, I baked brownies).
But the parallels between writing a book and having a baby are surprisingly numerous. In both, there are high hopes. In both, things are harder than one might have expected. There are points near the end when you will exclaim in exasperation, FORGET THIS I CHANGED MY MIND but really, it will be too late. And in my case, whenever someone has asked me when I’m having another kid I just look at them like they have two heads: Don’t you know I’m having a cookbook in October? Clocking in 2.8 pounds and 336 pages, she’s a beaut!
I realize I probably sound just a little bit like I’ve lost my mind. My cooking has reflected it too. There’s a urgency, a gravitas to everything. I can’t just make banana bread; it has to be hearty and healthy. I can’t make any baked pasta dish; it too needs to be a balancing act of indulgence and nutrition. Even pasta must be matched ounce for ounce in broccoli and noodles these days.
Obviously, an intervention was in order and I don’t just mean on our bookcases, but you’d better believe that will happen too. Fortunately, a
stork package flew in, and in it was the newest cookbook from the darling crew behind the Baked bakery flew in and in it, life is as it should be: stunningly designed, organized to a hilt and bursting forth with an almost unbearable level of deliciousness. Sorted by their favorite ingredients, Baked Elements gives equal billing to everything delicious in this world: peanut butter, malt, caramel, cheese, citrus, booze, cinnamon and chocolate, but it wasn’t long until I honed on the pumpkin cinnamon rolls. Because while I was elbow-deep in a pile of disorganized gift bags (how did we ever live like this before? I bet you’re asking, too), October arrived and it demands things like scarves and leaves and cider and a kitchen full of cinnamon spice. It doesn’t matter what frights you’ve been up to: I think everyone needs to stop what they’re doing to make time for these this weekend. Everyone around you will delight in them, and not just out of relief that you finally put the label-maker down.
One year ago: Pear, Cranberry and Gingersnap Crumble
Two years ago: Mushroom Lasagna
Three years ago: Quiche Lorraine
Four years ago: Best Challah and Mom’s Apple Cake
Five years ago: Peter Reinhart’s Bagels and Peanut Butter Brownies
Six years ago: Pumpernickel Bread
Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
Adapted from Baked Elements
Okay, I changed a lot: the moisture level (I needed less), the instructions (streamlined them in some places, added details in others), the yield (I wanted more), the flour (I think AP works fine here), the spices (just a little fiddling), the baking pan size (I didn’t have the one requested, and wanted to make more buns than suggested) and the glaze (less sugar, more glaze to accommodate more buns). I’m sorry. I just can’t help myself. But the biggest thing I probably changed is the kind of yeast you use. Instant yeast was called for and while it has its charms (no proofing), it gets on my nerves because it’s so very slow (a packet of it seems to take at least twice the time to rise as a packet of active dry). And when I want pumpkin cinnamon rolls, I want them right then or as soon after as possible. I hope you don’t mind.
The result is definitely a sweet bun. If you’re more sugar cautious, you could definitely dial back the dough’s and filling’s sugar by 1/4 cup. Then again, these are pumpkin cinnamon rolls, so maybe a little extra indulgence is in order.
These are a great thing to make ahead of time. You could assemble them tonight, let them rise in the fridge and finish on the counter in the morning (I instruct when, below) and bake them before you head out for whatever harvest festival/hayride/fall bliss you’ve got lined up this weekend.
Want to make your own pumpkin puree? Here’s how!
Yield: 16 to 18 buns
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, to be divided
1/2 cup (120 ml) whole milk, warmed (but not over 116 degrees)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (from 1 .25-ounce or 7 gram envelope yeast)
3 1/2 cups (440 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out
1/4 cup (packed) (50 grams) light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon (6 grams) table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cups (160 grams) pumpkin puree, canned or homemade
1 large egg
Oil for coating rising bowl
3/4 cup (packed, 145 grams) light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons (5 grams) ground cinnamon
4 ounces (115 grams) cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons (30 ml) milk or buttermilk
2 cups (240 grams) powdered sugar, sifted
Few drops vanilla extract (optional)
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. 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.
Here’s how to cut cinnamon rolls without squishing their pretty spirals: 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
brings all the boys to your yard is like a snickerdoodle. Transfer pans to wire cooling racks and drizzle/schmear with cream cheese glaze, then have at them.