Cozy Pumpkin-Cinnamon Rolls for Lazy Weekend Breakfasts

Adieu for now to our beloved chocolate cinnamon babka…. as much as we have enjoyed justifying all that chocolate on our brunch table, the feeling of fall in the air has turned our cravings in another direction.  The sun’s autumnal slant and the rustle of dry leaves along our walk to school have got us dreaming about sweet pumpkin and big pinches of cinnamon and nutmeg. These pumpkin-ed up cinnamon rolls cozily knit our favorite fall flavors  together and add a decadent glug of icing for good measure.  I know these so totally do not qualify in the “healthy eats” category, but we think they’re just the thing real when gray skies call out for cozy weekend family breakfasts in your pajamas.

This recipe requires a running start ….so for anyone with visions of cinnamon rolls on Saturday morning, you’re going to need to get to work Friday. Luckily for you, it’s only Thursday… there’s still time!!!!

The two dough rises take some time — so no instant gratification here — but none of the steps are too hard and the “hands on” time is definitely not hardcore. And somehow in the end the fact that you have to wait while the yeast does it’s thing maybe, just maybe, makes these taste even better in the end. A little anticipation becomes it’s own kind of “secret ingredient”. We could all use an excuse to slow down and practice a little patience, right? Especially if there’s cinnamon and icing waiting around the corner.

This recipe is like the poster child of blogosphere recipes, coming to you via recipe I spied on the ever-popular Smitten Kitchen who tweaked it from a recipe from the “Baked Elements” cookbook.  Smitten Kitchen has an even more detailed write up which you should check out as well as some pictures so gorgeous they will make you get up from your computer right now and run to the store to grab the ingredients for this recipe.  In following Smitten Kitchen’s version of the recipe, I did come up with a few modifications that were more to my liking, like halving the recipe because there is such thing as too much of good thing. How could any family possibly eat two pans of cinnamon rolls especially when they are really only at their most awesome when they’re still warm from the oven.  A re-heated cinnamon roll doesn’t do any where near as good a job at convincing me it’s worth all those sugary calories. I also swapped in half the flour with whole wheat, increased the spices and and made a few other adjustments here and there. For a less guilty version, you might try using our favorite spiced apple-pear butter, instead of the icing.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

(by way of Smitten Kitchen, by way of the Baked Elements cookbook)


  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/8 cup for the dough, the rest for brushing when you assemble the rolls)
  • 1/4 cup milk, warmed to 120 degrees or about the same temperature as a baby’s bottle
  • 1  1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (half of a 0.25 ounce packet)
  • 1  cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/8 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/8 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/3 cup pureed pumpkin (canned works great)
  • 1 egg


  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch kosher salt


  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  1. Activate the yeast by adding it to the warm milk. Give it a quick stir and then let it sit about 5 minutes. It should smell “yeasty” and look clumpy and foamy, that’s how you’ll know it’s alive and kicking. The yeast will not be happy if the milk is too hot (you can kill it), or too cold (won’t activate).
  2. Melt the butter in a sauce pan. I recommend taking Smitten Kitchen’s advice to cook it for a minute or so past when it melts so that it turns a light brown. Be careful not to let it get too dark, so pour the browned butter into a cool bowl once it’s as brown as you like.
  3. In a bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, combine all the dough ingredients (flours, sugars, spices, salt, yeast/milk mixture, and 1/8 cup of the browned butter — save the rest for brushing on the dough later).  Knead for 5 minutes with a dough hook. [You can do this by hand if you don’t have a stand mixer]. NOTE: the dough will be pretty sticky.
  4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm part of your kitchen for 1 hour during which time it will puff up and double in size.
  5. Meanwhile prepare a baking pan (9″ round or 8″ square). Cut a circle of parchment to fit the bottom of the pan, then butter the sides and parchment lightly (or use cooking spray).
  6.  After the dough has risen for one hour and has puffed up, flour your rolling out area well. Use your hand to flatten the dough and sprinkle a little flour on top and roll it out  into a rectangle about  8 1/2″ x 11″ (or the size of a sheet of paper). Use enough flour to keep it from sticking.
  7. Mix the filling ingredients, then brush your dough rectangle first with the remaining browned butter, then the filling. Roll it jellyroll style along it’s longer edge, then cut it into 1″ rounds. Use a sharp knife and light pressure to avoid smushing the rounds. Place the rolls into the prepared pan.
  8. If making right away, let them rise in the pan for 30-45 minutes before baking at 350 F degrees for 25-30 minutes. If making the day ahead, cover with plastic after putting the rounds in the pan and refrigerate overnight. Give them 45 minutes to an hour to rise before baking them from a refrigerated state.


  • Beat together cream cheese, powdered sugar and milk until smooth. If you want to be fancy about it, sift the powdered sugar before adding it to the bowl to get rid of any lumps. While it has no impact on the flavor, the lumps aren’t so pretty and they’re nearly impossible to get rid of them later.
  • Add a little more powdered sugar or milk to thin or thicken the glaze as needed. Spoon the glaze over the warm cinnamon rolls and devour!

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

We just completed our first ever A Little Yumminess Around the World summer camp with our friends at 18 Reasons where we cooked, ate and crafted our way across India, Japan, the Middle East, Scandinavia and Mexico with a great bunch of 6-8 year olds. One thing that I was reminded of is that you can never go wrong with cookies…. or chocolate. While the kids had a blast cooking everything from Indian paratha, Japanese onigiri, Swedish knäckebröd, and Middle Eastern meze we got an extra big thumbs up for these Mexican hot chocolate cookies. While they come from a not-so authentic source, Martha Stewart, they do combine chocolate and chile — two important and quintessentially Mexican ingredients.

You might experience some skepticism from little ones about the inclusion of chile powder in the cinnamon-sugar topping for these cookies, but the effect is subtle — rich and smokey rather than spicy. The combination is really fabulous and I think chile will be making an appearance on our cinnamon-sugar toast from now on. If you have a reluctant spice-eater, this is actually a great way to get them cooking with chile powder because I guarantee that they wont be able to resist the final product.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

(adapted form Martha Stewart, makes about 2 dozen)

What you need

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1  egg

for the cinnamon-chile sugar

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon chile powder (or more to taste)

How to make them

  1. Sift the dry ingredients together (flour, cream of tartar, salt, cocoa powder, baking soda).
  2. With an electric mixer, beat the butter until fluffy (about 2 minutes), then add sugar and egg and beat another 2 minutes. [Forgot to let your butter come to room temperature? try this handy trick.]
  3. On low speed mix the cocoa-flour mixture into the butter. Add it in small increments, about 1/4 cup at a time, so the flour doesn’t fly out of the bowl as you mix.
  4. Once the dough is well combined, remove it from the bowl, wrap it in plastic and let it chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, up to several days (you can also form the dough into a log and freeze it for slice and bake-type cookies).
  5. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Mix the ingredients for the chile-cinnamon sugar. Taste the cinnamon-chile sugar and see if you are happy with the balance of flavors.
  6. Roll the chilled dough into 1 1/2″ balls, then roll in chile-cinnamon sugar.
  7. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Start with 10 minutes, then check for done-ness every 2 minutes. The middle will be set and top will be cracked. The cookies will be crisp on the edges and soft/chewy in the center.

Notes for baking with kids

  • These are good tasks for small bakers: measuring and sifting the dry ingredients, cracking an egg into a separate small bowl before adding to dough, taking turns with the mixer.
  • We shaped the dough into a flattened rectangle about an inch and a half thick before wrapping it in plastic and chilling. This made it easy to portion the chilled dough into equal sized squares so the kids could focus on shaping the squares into balls and rolling them in cinnamon-chile-sugar. You could also form the dough into a log for easy portioning.

You might also like: Leslie’s Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip and Cranberry Cookies, Devil’s Food Drop Cookies, Laure’s Chocolate and Sea Salt Sables

Preschool Pâte à Choux (Gougeres)

You may have read our recent post about Thorough Bread and Pastry, our new favorite pâtisserie pit stop. It did not escape my notice how much both my kids loved the gougeres (French cheese puffs), especially my littlest foodie. Little guy loves the savory stuff and those little puffs are perfectly sized for wee fingers and don’t crumble away or leave sticky messes like a lot of other treats. They’re also wonderful alongside a glass of champagne for us big kids.

We decided to give them a try at home and bring them for snack day at school, a departure from our usual banana-avocado bread or our favorite raw apple muffins. This might qualify as the chic-est preschool snack ever especially when accompanied by crisp, juicy apples…. but that’s just how we roll.

My favorite 4 year old sous chef and I rolled up our sleeves and gave ourselves a primer on pâte à choux, the light pastry dough used to make profiteroles, éclairs, beignets, and gougeres, and then we set to work. Despite the fancy name these are surprisingly easy and a nice change of pace from the usual sugar-fueled cookie baking projects. Many paths led us to Dorie Greenspan’s excellent recipe from her book “Around My Fench Table” and after trying it, we need look no further. This recipe is just great and needs no tweaks or amendments. You can use any combination of cheeses you like (gouda, gruyere and cheddar are good choices), and I highly recommend piping them onto your baking tray rather then scooping them with small spoons (use can use a large ziplock with the corner cut off). Squeezing dough out of a pastry bag is great fun for little cooks and makes cleaning up a snap. You can mix up a big batch and freeze un-cooked gougeres for another day, too.

For the recipe details, I will point you in the direction of one of our very favorite blogs, The Hungry Dog. Not only will you get the 4-1-1 on Dorie’s recipe, you’ll find tons of other fabulous baking projects and great writing too.

What are your snack day favorites?

gif maker
gif maker

Experimental Baking

Luca always surfaces when I’m in the kitchen baking. As much as I would love an assistant, he usually snubs my projects in favor of his own free-form creations. Can you blame a kid? Mixing, stirring and making strange concoctions never gets old, especially when mom lets you use the food coloring once in a while. I always dread the aftermath but I enjoy seeing him be creative and I’m pretty sure he’s learning some basic principles and techniques in the process.

Recently we’ve started cooking up some of his creations. Mostly bizarre results as you would expect, but surprisingly a few successes too. Now we know what happens to mini marshmallows in a “pancake”. We’ve also gained a more intuitive sense of how ingredients like baking soda work. This kind of highly experimental cooking, especially with someone who is always thinking out of the box, has sparked my own curiosity in ways I didn’t expect. Baking without a recipe has inspired me to touch, taste, smell, and pay closer attention to the details, like the consistency of a dough or batter…. reminding me that there’s a big difference between following and really understanding a recipe.

BTW: If you like experimenting in the kitchen and have an iPhone, you should definitely check Michael Ruhlman’s “Ratio” app. From a review in the LA Times: “The App breaks down 32 commonly used cooking formulas for everything from cakes to sauces and allows you to easily scale up or down and even measure by volume or weight (and either in ounces or grams).”  Working off these classic formulas, it’s easy to get creative and you might just save yourself a few epic failures in the kitchen.

Experimental Brownies (surprisingly edible!)

Mini marshmallows do not improve a “pancake”.

Oops… A Little Trick for Softening Butter In a Jiffy

I always seem forget to take my butter out of the refrigerator before a baking project that calls for softened butter. I’m forever in a hurry which means having zero patience while my butter comes up to temp. This is a handy little trick for getting around that problem. It really works reasonably well… better than zapping butter in the microwave and possibly over-melting it or trying to beat it into submission in its too-chilled state.

  1. Put some very hot water in a ceramic or glass bowl and let it sit for 30 seconds or so to heat the bowl. [A good excuse to heat water for a cup of tea too]
  2. Dump out the water and place the bowl upside down over your stick of cold butter. You can also cut your butter into pieces before putting it under the bowl which will speed up the softening.
  3. Let your butter soften under the warm bowl while you are getting the rest of your ingredients ready for your project. It usually only takes a few minutes to soften the butter to a workable consistency.