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Saturday, November 1, 2014

November ABC Challenge: Pumpkin Cranberry Pan de Muertos... sort of

Feliz Dia de los Muertos!

I think it was purely coincidental that these spicy, flavorful rolls were assigned during a time when many around the world are enjoying the festive pan de muertos, but I decided to take advantage of the happy coincidence.  Truth be told, I had already made the rolls once, but on realizing the synchronicity, I decided to make them again.

For the first batch, I reduced the recipe by one-quarter, producing 4 rolls, and doubled all the dry spices.  I was making them during the week, so in order to accommodate the rise times I mixed up the dough during my lunch break and let the dough rise in the refrigerator while I went back to the office.  So imagine my dismay when suddenly around 3:30 in the afternoon, for no particular reason, I remembered the butter I'd left sitting on the windowsill to soften!  Crap.  My impression from the directions was that the dough shouldn't be disturbed too much after the first rise -- perhaps that was only to keep from mashing the soft fruit too much.  But it couldn't be helped; I wasn't going to leave out the butter.  Fortunately, I had used homemade dried cranberries, which have no added sugar and therefore dry quite hard, so they didn't mind the manhandling.  Nonetheless, I didn't want to overwork the dough, so I didn't get the butter mixed homogeneously into the dough and the results were rather lumpy.  Let's face it:  they were ugly.

A different sort of "ugly but good".

I didn't like my baking pan options.  I could have used a muffin tin, but I wanted the soft sides created by having them sit together.  (I also wasn't anxious to have to wash a whole muffin tin for four cavities!)  In the end, I simply baked them in the same steel bowl I had mixed and risen them in!

For the pan de muertos, I made a few more minor tweaks to the recipe.  Again, I did a small batch of 4 rolls and doubled the spices.  I didn't feel like fooling with halving an egg, so I used this tiny chicken egg I got from a friend.  How cute is this?

It's much cuter in real life.

This time, I increased the quantity of cranberries, and macerated the fruit in a little rum to try to soften the cranberries, as they had stayed rather compact and chewy the first time.  In the absence of orange zest, I added some orange extract to the dough.  I forgot to add water, but with the additional liquid from the egg, rum, and extract, it didn't need it.  I had intended to use half whole wheat flour but, um, ... I forgot.  (Hey, it was 12:30 at night -- but at least this time I remembered the butter!)

Here's what I used; deviations from the exact 1/4 reduction of the original recipe are in italics:

1 cup + 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/16 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/16 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon dark molasses
3/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon instant yeast
3 tablespoons canned pumpkin or squash
1/2 large egg (or one adorably tiny egg -- um, see note)
3 tablespoons water (if necessary)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
3 4 tablespoons dried cranberries
1 tablespoon diced crystallized ginger
2 tablespoons dark rum (or orange juice)
1/4 teaspoon orange extract

Mix the cranberries, crystallized ginger, and rum in a small container with a lid and keep in a warm place for several hours until the fruit softens and the rum is absorbed, shaking occasionally.  Mix and knead all of the dough ingredients except the fruit and crystallized ginger (adding water only if  the dough is dry or feels tough) until you've made a soft, fairly smooth dough. Pumpkin varies in water content, so add extra water or flour if needed. Right at the end, knead in the fruit and crystallized ginger. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise for 1 1/2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator, until it's almost double in bulk.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased surface, gently deflate it, and divide it into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Place rolls in the lightly greased cups of a standard muffin pan (which will help them maintain their round shape), or onto a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Set aside, covered lightly, to rise for 1 hour, or until the rolls look puffy.

Bake the rolls in a preheated 350°F oven for 25 to 30 minutes (I baked the first batch 23 minutes, and the second 26), until they're lightly browned and the center of one reads 190⁰F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the pans from the oven and turn the rolls out onto a rack to cool.

Just before baking.
Note:  As I've mentioned before, when doing small-batch baking, it's imperative that you measure exactly.  Small variations can have big effects.  I tend to be careless with measuring, and this time it caused a failure.  The tiny egg I used in the second batch was really quite a bit more than 1/2 an egg -- something I didn't realize until I actually looked at them side-by-side.  The dough was somewhat greasy and lacked cohesiveness.  The rolls didn't rise properly and the design melted.  They tasted great, but they were a poor texture, being too dense and heavy.  The first batch was much better.

Conclusion:  I liked these very much!  They
have a strong pumpkin flavor, and with the doubled spices they can definitely stand on their own.  (In fact, they might actually be a bit too flavorful to be a good dinner roll.)  These aren't truly a "sweet roll", but you could increase the sugar and perhaps add a glaze to make them one.  I liked them better served with cream cheese than with butter.  I've been looking for a rich, dense, mildly sweet dinner roll recipe, and this is perfect.  I'll probably be adding walnuts instead of the cranberries and candied ginger most often in the future, and will also try these as plain whole wheat walnut rolls.  This is a keeper!

Original recipe:  Cranberry Pumpkin Rolls via King Arthur Flour


  1. We love your plate!! And the idea to up the spices. I am going to try that next time I make these. Keeper for Thanksgiving for sure.

  2. Doubling the spices was a great idea - they were very subtle in the original amounts. And I'm not sure about the egg, but your little pan de muertos are adorable ;)

    1. Thanks, Zosia. As long as they taste good, who cares what they look like, right? As for the spices, if these were served with dinner I suppose it's a good thing for the spices to be subtle. But I generally ate them alone, so better for them to be more flavorful.

  3. I like your idea of macerating cranberries and ginger in rum. I bet your rolls tasted really fantastic with that and the extra spices. Would love to get my hands on the lovely egg.

    1. Seriously, these eggs are so cute. And fresh! Yes, the rolls were tasty. :)

  4. They're not ugly at all and the egg is very cute =)

  5. I found your account of the butter sitting out really funny. It happens so often that we forget the crucial bits. Contrary to what you say the rolls look good. What an idea to macerate the cranberries in rum! Yum!!

    1. These things never USED to happy to me, Sunita! :- \ But at least nothing TOO disastrous has ever happened. Not yet, anyway.

  6. I just love your experimental spirit! Your loaves look great though. The doubling of the spices really was a great idea and I'm glad I followed suite.

    1. Thanks, Hanaa! It's so rare that I make things more than once, though, that I don't often get around to perfecting anything. Oh well.