Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pumpkin buns with salted caramel sauce

       Let's talk about autumn. I know it's December. Believe me, nobody knows that better than me right now. Unless you're living in an igloo in Nunavut or something. I can see my breath in my living room and I have to periodically stop house-cleaning to warm my hands in the toaster oven. It's cold, man.
       Autumn ... right. I'll focus. If you're a college student, autumn has special significance to you. I'm not talking about trick-or-treating. I'm not talking about haunted corn mazes. No, October (and part of November) is the time in which people leave enormous amounts of food just sitting around on their doorsteps, inviting hungry college students to come over and steal it.

       That's right, folks they're the one holiday decoration that double conveniently as a food source. (I'm not counting Easter eggs.) My roommate and her boyfriend recently brought home two 20-lb. behemoths and starting cooking them down into purée for the freezer. I came home partway through the process and decided to skedaddle to the nearest coffee shop for an evening of quiet NaNoveling. When I came back three hours later, the pumpkins were half processed, the fearless cooks had collapsed in the living room, and my roommate informed me that I was free to do whatever I liked with the remaining pumpkin.

       As my roommate cooked down her part of the pumpkin, she used multiple kettles and large amounts of boiling water and a cleaver. The kitchen looked like the control room of a U-boat during Die Glückliche Zeit. All the windows in the house were steamed up. By the end, she had two large bags of pumpkin purée to show for her labours, as well as two loaves of pumpkin bread and a potful of Thai pumpkin soup.
       Now. I'm not proud of this. It reveals me as the lazy slob I am. But did I use multiple kettles and large amounts of boiling water? Did I even consider the cleaver?
       Yes, I did ...
       ... consider the cleaver. I'll have you know that I picked it up and considered using it for about five seconds. I might even have tested its sharpness on one side of the pumpkin to a depth of half a centimeter.
       Then I picked up the chef's knife, cut the pumpkin into nondescript chunks, sprayed the chunks with Pam, covered them with plastic wrap, and microwaved them for fifteen minutes. I used two forks to peel the cooked pieces and mash them up. Then I called it good. I currently have six measly cups of purée in the freezer, and despite my best intentions, most of it will probably stay there until Judgment Day.
       Seriously, how lazy am I? If this were Colorado in the 1870s, my roommate would have her log cabin already chinked and ready for winter, and I would still be standing around going, "... wait, what? Snow? Here?"

       There's something to be said for puréeing a pumpkin, though. It gives a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Some people buy their pumpkin pies ready-made. Some people buy their purée from Libby. Others do it all from scratch, and I say that's worth something. I may have a sieve for a brain when it comes to the Calvin cycle. I may disappoint certain professors on a semi-daily basis. I may be rubbish at homemade cookies. But by George, if you need a pumpkin puréed, I ... am ... that ... hero.
       In honour of Christmas, here's three recipes for you. One is the aforementioned pumpkin purée, which technically is more of a procedure than a recipe. One is some pumpkin sweet rolls I made for the high occasion of a final exam. And the last is the salted caramel sauce I whipped up for said rolls when I really should have been studying the difference between T-helper cells and cytotoxic T-lymphocytes.
       Sadly, caramel sauce was not covered on the General Biology final exam.
       Even more sadly, T-lymphocytes were.
       Fortunately, my career does not depend on the difference between an A- and an A, so I'm not terribly chuffed at the 0.013-point drop in my GPA. Considering that the final exam was the first test for which I got more than 3 hours of sleep the night before, things could have been a lot worse.
       Caramel, as it turns out, is a funny thing. I dumped the sugar into the saucepan as per the directions, then stood there stirring it for a while, feeling thoroughly idiotic. It made no sense heating sugar with no liquid and expecting it to melt of its own volition? Ridiculous. I left it to ruminate for a few seconds while I got my biology notebook and camera, and when I came back, lo and behold, it was MELTING, really and truly melting, like a certain Wicked Witch.* Sanctified bovine. I will never doubt again.


Pumpkin purée
(thunk up in my own noggin)
  • Whole pumpkin (as big or as little as you want)
  • Cooking spray
  1. Wash outside of pumpkin thoroughly. Cut open, either as you would for a jack-o'-lantern or across the middle. Scoop out seeds and stringy bits.
  2. Cut pumpkin into pieces a little bigger than a pack of cards. Pile in microwave-safe dish and spray with cooking spray. Cover with plastic wrap. Microwave for 1518 minutes.
  3. Remove plastic wrap and peel pumpkin pieces using two forks. Throw away peels* and mash pumpkin flesh until smooth.
  4. Roll back edges of sandwich bags. Measure out one cup of purée per sandwich bag. Seal bags thoroughly and freeze, or use purée fresh. I got six cups of purée from about five pounds of pumpkin, but clearly this could vary.

Pumpkin buns 
(adapted from this recipe on 
  • 2¼ tsp. dry active yeast
  • ¼ warm water
  • 1 T. sugar
  • ½ c. pumpkin purée
  • ½ c. milk
  • ¼ c. butter, melted
  • 1¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • ~3 c. flour
  • 3 T. white sugar
  • 3 T. brown sugar
  • 1½ tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ c. butter, browned and cooled
  1. Dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water in large bowl. Let stand 5 minutes.
  2. Add pumpkin purée, butter, milk, nutmeg, and salt, and combine thoroughly.
  3. Add flour slowly until a kneadable dough forms. Knead dough until smooth and elastic (i.e., until it passes the windowpane test, which you can read more about here).
  4. Put dough in greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and tea towel, and let rise in warm environment for an hour.
  5. Punch down dough and roll out into large, thin rectangle. In small bowl, combine white sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Cover dough with browned butter and sugar mix.
  6. Roll dough into log, starting with small edge. Cut into 12 or 13 rolls, each about 1½" thick. Place in greased casserole pan.
  7. Bake at 375°F for 2025 minutes.

    Salted caramel sauce
    (taken from this recipe on Smitten Kitchen) 
    • 1 c. white sugar
    • 6 T. salted butter
    • ½ c. milk (the original recipe calls for heavy cream, or half-and-half if you're on a health kick; I only had heretical low-fat, so I used that. Sorry, France. I'll be better prepared next time.)
    1. Place sugar in large saucepan. Stir over medium heat until melted. Cook until dark bronze.
    2. Add butter and stir until melted.
    3. Add milk, reduce heat, and stir like mad until combined in one beautiful gloopy (yes, that's the technical term) sauce.
    4. Pour over warm pumpkin rolls (or ice cream, or brownies, or asparagus) at leisure. If pouring over rolls, use knife to separate rolls in pan slightly to allow caramel to saturate more fully.
    *Sorry, fellow Wicked fans. It pains me too, but I'm siding with the Baum canon on this one.


        1. Pureed pumpkin (plus a little cinnamon and nutmeg) makes a nice addition to oatmeal. (And why not add a little applesauce too? And peanut butter -- mustn't forget the peanut butter.)

          And have you considered pumpkin muffins?