It's that time of year again. The leaves are turning, the air has a slight chill to it, trendy men and women are stepping out of their homes in funky boots and cozy scarves. And here I am, holed up in my apartment for the last week perfecting this recipe for these damn pumpkin pie cinnamon rolls.
Yep. It's definitely fall.
My house is a mess right now. Half-full coffee cups are littered all over the countertops, along with a pile of dirty aprons and a sink full of unwashed mixing bowls. I've got the windows open, for now, because even though it's fall, in LA it only feels like fall until about 2pm, when I have to turn the a/c back on. I haven't put socks on in over three weeks, and I don't even remember the last time I bothered to make my bed.
I've been so consumed with this recipe. Forcing myself to wake up early to make the dough, and sit for hours as I allow it to rise. I wrack my brain, wondering if they should be sweeter, or if I'm the only crazy person that would eat plain sugar for breakfast if it wasn't frowned upon. I roll out the dough, filling it to the brim with pureed pumpkin and a blend of spices that's almost perfect, but not quite.
I bake in silence, listening to the sound of the oven as it preheats, the whirring of my stand mixer, and the hum of my refrigerator. I'm anxious, about a few things. Unemployment, my longing for creative fulfillment and also that weird section of my hair that feels like it should be bangs but isn't.
I don't feel like myself. So I pump my house full of the smell of lavender, hoping it will smooth out my rough edges. I knead dough until the heels of my palms are sore, and then I stare at myself in the mirror until my face doesn't look like my own anymore. I'm not restless, but rather confused. I wash dish after dish by hand, because my dishwasher has been broken for awhile now, and I don't want my kitchen to flood again.
I roll the next batch up, slowly tugging at the dough and hoping it won't keep sticking to the mat. I've packed this version so tightly with pumpkin that when I finally roll it up all the way, the filling is flowing out of the seams. I've made one giant roll, like a burrito, that I will cut into six miniature rolls. And when I do finally cut them, I'm disappointed in their construction. But I place them in the baking tin, covering them with saran wrap and giving them another hour to rise up into something presentable.
I bought some wallpaper that looks like painted bricks, and I use that to create a new backdrop for my food photos. I'm hoping it will class up the joint, make my blog look a little nicer. I stare at the dough rising above my fridge. Hoping that this batch finally works because I am so sick of tasting pumpkin that I almost wish it were gingerbread season.
I think I am restless. A mind completely taken over with recipe development. I sit, impatient, as I wait for the rolls to cool. I've found the perfect combination of flavors, the rich pumpkin brought to fullness with some cinnamon and cloves. But they look messy. Not messy in a cute, rustic way, but rather like a child rolled them out with clumsy hands and not quite developed motor skills. They are smooshed and slumped. So I got back to the drawing board.
One night, as my head rests against my pillow and I stare at the ceiling for the umpteeth time, it hits me. "Roll them individually, you idiot", my mind says to me. And I'm out like a light, ready to tackle this new execution first thing in the morning. Only slightly insulted by the tone with which my inner voice chooses to speak to me.
But once the dawn hits, I stand in my kitchen, staring at the collection of familiar ingredients and I decide today isn't the day. Because what if this isn't the trick? And what if I'm doomed to have tasty, but unpresentable cinnamon rolls for the rest of my life. So I head for the couch, and gorge myself on episodes of Westworld until I don't even remember what my pumpkin pie cinnamon rolls are even supposed to taste like anymore.
Two days pass. And then I force myself back into the kitchen, tying the apron behind my back like I'm preparing for war. I feel insane, mostly for letting a recipe take over my life this way, but also because I kind of like it.
It's time. I've layered the filling in the perfect way, leaving some room on the edges and topping it with crumbling pieces of pecans and brown sugar. My instinct tells me to roll up the entire thing, but I slap the thought away before I can act on it. Carefully, I slice the rectangle into thin strips, and roll them out individually. My heart skips a beat as I realize that this time I've finally done it. Perfect little rolls find a home in the muffin tin, and I watch them grow to fit their space, packing themselves in the edges and bursting out of the cups. After cooking, I drizzle a maple icing over the top, and stare at them until my eyes water. Because it feels so good to work this hard and to finally get a good result. Because this is what creative fulfillment feels like, and also because I really do need to call my landlord again about repairing my broken dishwasher.
It that time of year again, it's time for pumpkin pie cinnamon rolls..
Pumpkin Pie Cinnamon Rolls
filling recipe for 6-8 cinnamon rolls, but can be easily doubled or tripled to accommodate larger batches
Small batch cinnamon roll dough (this recipe is my favorite from Oh, Lady Cakes which I doubled to make 6-8 rolls depending on how big I want them in the moment)
-1/3 cup pumpkin puree
-1 Tablespoon maple syrup
-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
-1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
-1/8 teaspoon allspice
-1/8 teaspoon ginger
-dash of ground cloves
- 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon vegan butter, melted
-3/4 cup pecans, chopped
-1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (you can buy a mix at the grocery or make your own!)
-1 1/2 Tablespoons maple syrup
-3/4 cup powdered sugar
-2 1/2 teaspoons plant based milk
-1/4 teaspoon maple extract (or syrup)
-dash of vanilla extract
Prepare dough according to your preferred recipe. While the dough is rising for the first time, prepare the pecans by combining them with maple syrup and pumpkin pie spice. Bake in a 375 degree F oven for about 10-12 minutes. This will make your house smell really awesome.
Prepare the filling by combining the pumpkin puree, maple syrup and spices. Then mix in 1 Tablespoon of brown sugar. Roll out your dough and cover with the melted butter, then thinly spread the pumpkin mixture all over it, and top with the remaining brown sugar and the roasted pecans (leave some behind for topping).
Slice thin strips of dough, and roll them up into cute little swirly rolls. You can place them in a muffin tin (like I did for the photos) or in any baking pan you have lying around that has tall edges. Like a round or square pan. Make sure you've lined the pan with parchment paper, or greased it with vegan butter so the rolls will pop out nicely. Cover the pan with clear plastic wrap and set it somewhere warm to rise for the second time.
Once the rolls have risen, and grown to fit the space they were given, bake in a 375 degree F oven for 10-15 minutes, depending on their size. Fatter rolls will need more time, but you knew that.
While they are cooling, prepare the icing by combining the powdered sugar, milk and flavorings until you have a thin, pourable icing. Drizzle over the top of the rolls and then sprinkle the leftover pecans on top.
On another note, this recipe was inspired by Ashlae of Oh Ladycakes, who might just actually be a cinnamon roll master. That woman makes the most beautiful cinnamon rolls (and other recipes) and presents them in such a wonderful way, please check out a few of my favorite recipes on her blog:
Small Batch Cinnamon Rolls - this post is one of the most beautiful posts I've ever read on a blog.
Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Roll Loaf - Sometimes I just look at a recipe and the execution of it and want to slap myself for not thinking of it. This is one of those recipes.
Coconut Oil Cinnamon Rolls - If you're not into vegan butter this recipe is A+. Also if you are into vegan butter this recipe is still A+.