Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pumpkin sourdough monster rolls

We had so much fun making these monstrous dinner rolls with friends! This is a choose-your-own adventure project: You can just set out store-bought dough with a handful of raisins for embellishment, or bread bakers could add pumpkin purée to homemade dough, or those of you with sourdough starter on hand could go all in and make pumpkin sourdough dinner rolls.

Pumpkin sourdough is delicious, but the real treat here is making the rolls together. It's a terrific after-school or rainy day activity. Enjoy some giggly, creative time together in the kitchen, fill your home with the smell of freshly baked bread, and savor your not-so-hard work with dinner.

I'll break this down according to degree of ambition: First, how to make rolls, then how to add pumpkin to homemade dough, and finally how to make your own pumpkin sourdough rolls from scratch.

Shaping monster rolls

Use whatever dough you'd like: store-bought, homemade, the sourdough below. Just tear off hunks of dough and make whatever you wish. I set out some past-their-prime spices for decorations — star anise, cinnamon sticks, whole allspice, and cloves — along with raisins, nuts and seeds, and rosemary sprigs. Dust hands and dough with flour to make it easier to handle, and work right on the baking sheet.

The shaped rolls need to rise a second time before going into the oven. They'll double in size, and as they puff up they'll push out whatever raisins or nuts you've poked into the dough. So push them way in there: The raisins, for example, were almost buried in the dough but came out perfect. Dip a finger in a bowl of water and "paint" the dough to help stick down things like rosemary leaves.

Kids can also use scissors to shape the dough — they're a great tool to makes scales or spikes, for example. But wait until after the second rise, right before the rolls go into the oven. That's how I did the bat: I shaped long triangular wings, and just before baking I snipped the bottom of the wings and stretched the pieces apart.

Bake the rolls according to your recipe or the package instructions.

Adding pumpkin to bread dough

You can pumpkin-ify homemade bread dough easily: Just add a cup or so of pumpkin purée to your favorite recipe. You'll probably need to add flour to compensate for the extra moisture. Fresh or canned pumpkin work equally well, though you're likely to get more color out of canned (be sure to used plain pumpkin, not pumpkin pie purée!).

To make fresh pumpkin purée, cut a sugar pie pumpkin in half, scoop out the strings and seeds, and pierce the shell a few times with a fork. Set the pumpkin halves cut side down on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 90 minutes, until the center is easily pierced with a fork. Let cool, then purée flesh in a food processor or blender. If it's really wet, line a strainer with a kitchen towel or cheesecloth and strain the pumpkin before using it.

Pumpkin sourdough rolls

Weight measurements are provided in parentheses, in case you prefer to weigh ingredients. You might need more or less flour, depending on how wet your pumpkin purée is. You can substitute wheat flour for some of the AP flour — I used equal portions of white flour, white whole wheat, and whole wheat. (Note that wheat flour weighs less: 4 ounces per cup, versus 4 1/4 ounces per cup of white flour.) This yields a sticky dough, so have plenty of flour on hand for shaping the rolls.

1 cup (8 ounces) "fed" sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) lukewarm water
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup (9 1/2 ounces) pumpkin purée
5 to 6 cups (21 1/4 to 25 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
melted butter, optional

Combine all the ingredients except butter. Knead by hand or in a mixer with the dough attachment until smooth. Let rise in an oiled, covered bowl until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.

Shape rolls on baking trays lined with parchment paper or silicone mats. Cover with a towel and let rise again until doubled, about half and hour.

Bake rolls for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees, checking frequently after 15 minutes. Brush the tops with melted butter, if you'd like, for softness and rich color.

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