Holiday Preparations + RECIPE: Sweet Rolls with Winter Squash, Pecan & Salted Caramel

Hi everyone! How were your Thanksgivings? Is that old news by now? Have you already moved on to decorating and Christmas things? I’m in that perfect in-between land where I’m still glowing from all the good Thanksgiving food and all the wine and all the fall gratitude that comes with being a farmer (read all about my farmer feelings on fall and gratitude over at Edible Madison), but I’m also in full holiday spirit.

It’s been extra fun decorating our new home for the first time. We’re moving slowly with the decorations, adding Christmas lights here and hanging stockings there. I don’t want to go too fast and rush through it. I want a little bit of Christmas each and every day. No Grinches here. Obviously.

We have the artificial tree set up in my downstairs office. Our asshole cat may have already knocked it over, but no ornaments were broken and it has been re-stabilized so I guess we can consider this a win. We have the cute little construction paper houses we made for Christmas last year propped up on top of one of the kitchen cabinets like the cutest DIY Christmas village you’ve ever seen and I’m burning gingerbread candles by the dozen.

My Bing Crosby holiday Pandora station has made more than a handful of appearances at dinnertime and I just started making popcorn garlands for the first time and seriously, I cannot stop despite the fact that I’m stabbing myself in the thumb every couple of minutes.

All in all, it’s been a great start to the holiday season! Way too much good food, dweeby little craft projects to keep me busy, and just enough time left at the end of the day to talk about farm plans with my Carrot in a less frenzied state of mind than during the farming season. Oh, and lot of sweets. Like a really obnoxious amount of baked goods.

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Case in point, these sweet rolls! I have made these sweet rolls twice over the past couple of weeks. The first time, you know, just to see if the recipe was any good. (IT WAS!). Then I whipped up a second batch to bring to Thanksgiving. I love bringing sweet rolls to whoever happens to be hosting Thanksgiving. It is the perfect kind gesture when there’s already enough wine at the table. I know firsthand how hard it is to remember to feed yourself when preparing for a big meal. You get so wrapped up in the food of later that you completely forget to feed yourself in the now. It’s rough. Plus, these are healthy because they’ve got a vegetable in them.

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My Carrot’s parents baked these up the night before Thanksgiving because we were concerned about Thursday morning oven space. Half the pan was demolished by morning. Yeah, they are that good. Like all the best parts of the holidays baked into one pan of warm morning goodness. There’s salted caramel, pecans, cinnamon, ground ginger, a delicate fluffy dough and a touch of your favorite winter squash.

 

I suggest you bring a pan of these to any holiday that has a morning or brunch component. They can rise for the second time on the drive to wherever you are going. Perfect holiday treat? I think so. Bonus points if you also bring a bag of your favorite seasonal coffee to share.

All my holiday-inspired love,
Leek

P.S. Cats like them too.

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SWEET ROLLS WITH WINTER SQUASH, PECAN & SALTED CARAMEL
Adapted from The New Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook
If you are planning to make these ahead of time, you have a couple options.
You can stop right after you get the sweet rolls into the pan. You are supposed to let them rise for a second time, but instead you can wrap them in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge until ready to bake. They will rise slowly in the fridge. Remove the plastic wrap and bake them straight out of the fridge. They may just take 5-10 minutes longer.
You can also bake them to completion in advance, but be sure to invert the pan onto a platter and scrape out all the caramel and nut topping before allowing to cool and wrapping in plastic wrap or foil. Warm each roll individually in the toaster over or microwave before eating.

1 cup warm water
2-1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (or 1 package)
Pinch sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup favorite winter squash puree* (see note below)
1/4 cup brown sugar (light or dark is fine)
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
Glaze & Filling:
1-1/2 cups halved (or chopped) pecans
6 tablespoons butter, divided
1-1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar (light or dark is fine), divided
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons favorite winter squash puree, optional
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch or two ground nutmeg

*In the fall, I take winter squash that is about to go bad, cut it up, boil it in some milk until soft and then puree it in my food processor until smooth and freeze it in bags. If you have some winter squash that you want to do this with and use in the recipe, great! If you think that’s WAY too much work and don’t have any already made puree on hand, feel free to just used unsweetened 100% pure canned pumpkin.

  1. In a measuring cup, combine warm water (warm to the touch but not hot) with yeast and sugar. Use a fork or whisk to combine well. You don’t want any dry yeast floating on top. Let the mixture sit for five minutes.
  2. In the large bowl of a stand mixer, combine eggs, squash puree, brown sugar, butter and salt with yeast mixture. Beat well until smooth. Add flour and stir for about a minute until all flour is incorporated. Cover with a towel and leave in a warm spot to rise until doubled. At minimum this will take an hour, and is more likely to take 90 minutes or a little more. Good time to make some popcorn garlands.
  3. After the dough has been rising for about an hour, begin on the topping. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (If your bowl of dough isn’t already on the oven, place it there now. The preheating of the oven will help finish the dough rising process a little more quickly). Place the pecans on a baking sheet and toast for 5 minutes. Set pecans aside and turn off the oven.
  4. In a large cast-iron skillet, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium high heat. Add 3/4 cup of the brown sugar, maple syrup and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for ten minutes. Remove from heat and sprinkle pecans onto the glaze (it’s best not to stir them in).
  5. In a small bowl combine remaining melted butter with squash puree (if using) and stir until smooth. In a second small bowl, combine remaining brown sugar with spices and stir to combine.
  6. Once the dough is risen, sprinkle counter with at least a half cup of flour. Remove dough from bowl using a spatula. The dough will be pretty soft and sticky. Sprinkle flour on top of dough and knead a few times (it took me 1-2 minutes) until dough stop sticking to your hands and stiffens slightly. Let rest for 5 minutes.
  7. Roll out dough into a 10 x 15-inch rectangle. Pour squash butter onto dough evenly and spread to the edges with your hands or a spatula. You want squash butter covering every inch of the surface. Sprinkle sugar and spice mixture over the dough evenly so that it also covers every inch. Roll the dough towards yourself and then cut the log into 8-12 pieces, whatever feels right and will fit best in your pan. I did 10 rolls. They fit well in the pan, but were massive for eating.
  8. Place rolls in cast-iron skillet on top of caramel pecan mixture. Cover the skillet with plastic wrap or a tea towel and let rise for an hour or until doubled in size. Again, after about 45 minutes, feel free to place the pan on the stove and begin preheating your oven to jump start the rising process.
  9. Bake the rolls for 35 minutes until well-browned on top and baked through. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and then invert onto a serving platter. Scrape any remaining caramel or nuts from the pan while the mixture is still warm. And then enjoy all the holiday warmth and goodness!

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