making new traditions with cinnamon rolls

In my family, Thanksgiving mornings have always been quick, light bites first thing when you wake, as the scent of roasting turkey barely begins to float through the kitchen. In our pajamas, we eat cereal, cups of coffee, maybe a piece of toast. But, anticipating, we stop there. It’s no different than any other kind of delayed gratification, just like working this week means a paycheck next or not buying yourself new clothes—not even the creamy white coat with the 3/4 sleeves—means more money in your savings account or a little extra to spend on Christmas gifts.

That’s all well and good, most years. When the turkey is a sure thing, when the stock market is strong, by all means put off pleasure. Look ahead to the later reward.

But what about when the long-term benefit seems a little, well, unsure? This year, for example, the economy is in flux. Also, I’d be responsible for getting the Thanksgiving meal on the table. While very different situations, putting all my faith in the chances of the meal going well could be as foolish as putting all my money into one Big Company.

Always one to hedge my bets, this year I made a Thanksgiving back-up plan. Even if I burnt the turkey or the stuffing lacked flavor, at least I’d know no one went hungry. Contrary to tradition, I’d make a breakfast tasty enough to distract my family without overstuffing them, buying me extra cooking time.

Enter pumpkin cinnamon rolls. These tender pillows can be made before you go to bed and left covered in the draft-free, unheated oven overnight. In the morning, remove the towel to find fluffy, fat circles of dough, rich with ribbons of cinnamon, ready to be baked.

pumpkin cinnamon rolls

Fresh from the oven, these rolls emerge plump and golden, decorated with dark cinnamon stripes and bubbling over with browned butter. Let them cool a bit, then top with caramel frosting, a homemade blend of butter, sugars, milk and vanilla that softens on the warm, pumpkin-colored dough and dissolves into its crust. The entire kitchen will be aglow with warm cinnamon and yeast, drawing sleeping family members with curiousity. And be prepared: these go quickly. I found myself, waiting on onions for the stuffing to cook, reaching for another bite of breakfast with a free hand, pulling at one end of the cinnamon roll and breaking it off into a curved, sugary piece, crystallized at the top with icing.

iced pumpkin cinnamon rolls

By the time the turkey was half-cooked, three rolls were left. By the time the turkey was done, one.

Oh, and also, that whole rule about not eating in order to have room for the meal? Total rubbish. By the time the meal was hot, dished up and plated, we were more than ready. Truly, this whole experience is enough to make me throw caution to the wind and insist on instant gratification in all of life or, at least, possibly, with a new pair of jeans.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
Adapted from Isabelle Boucher

1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup warm water
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups canned pumpkin
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and cardamom
3 Tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon cinnamon

Icing Ingredients:
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 Tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
Dash of salt
1/2 to 3/4 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

NIGHT BEFORE: Dissolve yeast in 1/4-cup of warm water in a small bowl; let stand for 5 minutes. Mixture should be foamy if your yeast is still good (and if it isn’t, toss it out and start over with fresh; if it helps at all, I did stir mine just a bit to get the foam to come).

In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups flour, pumpkin, milk, melted butter, sugar, salt and spices; stir in yeast mixture and continue stirring until evenly mixed. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Begin kneading; as you go, add the remaining 3/4 cup of flour, a bit at a time, until the dough is soft and elastic (it should feel a bit tacky, but shouldn’t stick to your hands).

Place the dough in a large bowl that has been lightly oiled, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm draft-free place for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, prepare the cinnamon filling by stirring together the softened butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract and cinnamon in a small bowl until smooth. Set aside.

Punch dough down; cover and let rest for 5 minutes. Roll the dough into a 12 x 10 rectangle on a floured surface. Spread the cinnamon mixture in a thin layer over the dough.

Roll up the rectangle tightly, starting with a long edge, pressing firmly to get rid of any air pockets; pinch seam and ends to seal. Cut roll into 12 (1-inch) slices. Place slices in a lightly buttered 13 x 9 rectangle pan. Cover with a towel and place in an unheated oven overnight.

IN THE MORNING: Remove pan from oven and remove towel. Preheat oven to 375°. Bake rolls for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool for 15 minutes before drizzling with caramel icing.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Lan

    you are too cute! having a Plan B in cooking is important but i was thinking more along the lines of take out.

    honey, despite the economy and the state of this world, treat yourself to that coat and/or jeans… i went a little crazy myself, even tho i survived a layoff…

  2. Joanna

    I am so making those tonight. I’ll have to bring them to work though right away because I would seriously eat them all. Living alone is risky. :)

  3. katie

    How do you think they would taste with a cream cheese frosting instead? They sound fun -but I don’t know if Tim would like the carmel frosting? Just curious.

  4. Nick

    The pumpkin idea is awesome! This definitely inspired me to pull out a cinnamon roll recipe for Xmas Eve.

    Looks delicious.

  5. My First Kitchen

    I never woulda thunk it. What a great idea. I’m with you though. I think I had toast for breakfast – half a piece. We are serious about our eating. I don’t think my husband had anything until the turkey was carved. Then we all put on our stretchy pants and didn’t get off the couch for a few hours. I love Thanksgiving.

  6. amy

    i think i could make a dent in those rolls AND the turkey. genius twist on a traditional treat!

  7. Rachel

    cooooool. i made pumpkin rolls (basically the dough you made) for dinner that day!!

    neato. i’d love to try it in cinnamon roll fashion!!

  8. Shannalee

    Have I said lately how much I love comments? I love comments.

    Lan: Big hug. You’re the girl to go shopping with, clearly. Good perspective. As far as the coat and jeans, I don’t know. There’s still a part of me that thinks I should wait… and then, maybe the waiting means I don’t want them enough. Maybe I’d rather have instant gratification on some more sugar or flour or butter, to bake more things that I also don’t need, lol. Tough decisions, these are.

    Joanna: Oooh can’t wait to hear how you like them! (And living alone nothing–I ate THREE before I knew what happened, and that was with three other people nearby.)

    Katie: I think cream cheese frosting would be delightful on these. Although… does Tim not like caramel or not like super-sweet icing? Because even though this is called “caramel frosting,” it’s more like sugary icing. Kind of a misnomer, now that I think of it.

    Nick: For Christmas! Brilliant!

    MFK: LOL about the stretchy pants. I do that every night. :)

    Amy: Oh believe me, dent we did!

    Rachel: I saw your pics of the pumpkin rolls! We are so sympatico, practically cooking together states away.

  9. Joanna

    So good. They were labeled amazing by several. I’m going to make these for my fam when I go home for Christmas. We always make cinnamon rolls, but I think these are going to be an improvement. :)

  10. Joie de vivre

    The most rockin’ appetizer if ever I’ve seen one.

  11. Shannalee

    Joanna: Amazing is a compliment we can be proud of. :) Glad they were a hit!

    Joie de vivre: Why, thank you! :)

  12. Nealy

    I bought the ingredients to make these some time this week … but first, I must perfect the doughnuts.

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