The Roll That Dared to Be a Star

This post originally appeared on Paper Lantern Writers’ blog, September 2021

Bread has been a staple food since Neolithic times. They ate unleavened bread until yeast was used in Egypt about 4000 BC. From then until the present, bread has had a place at the dinner table. It’s even held a place in historical fiction like The Baker’s Secret, by Stephen P. Kiernan. Today, though, I want to talk about the unassuming little bread roll on your Thanksgiving table. It’s always there, but never hailed as the most important item in the meal. Until now.

My family has a lot of traditions that involve food. We always celebrated the first day of school with a milkshake made from my father’s recipe. Cakes for birthdays, turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and chocolate bunnies for Easter are all pretty normal traditions. At Christmas, I have to make maple fudge and mint parfait bars. Until recently, Thanksgiving had no special treat that everyone in the family looked forward to.

At almost every holiday meal, I put a basket of dinner rolls on the table. In 1854, the Parker House Hotel began serving its signature dinner roll. I certainly haven’t had them on my table that long. Sometimes I even substitute King’s Hawaiian rolls. It wasn’t until 2018 that my Thanksgiving dinner roll became my most-requested recipe.

Prior to the holiday, my son shared a popup Facebook recipe with me, saying, “Yum. You should make these” I promised I would. Then in the middle of November I had knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. By Thanksgiving I could stand on it, but only for short periods of time. I certainly couldn’t cook all day to make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. For the first time, we went to my nephew’s house and his fiance cooked the holiday meal. I didn’t want to disappoint my son so asked him to help me make the Cream Cheese-Stuffed Pumpkin Dinner Rolls. We sat at the kitchen table together, wrapping string around dough balls to make pumpkin shapes. It is still one of my best memories from that year. Delicious rolls and good memories make a holiday tradition. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do. 

Cream Cheese-Stuffed Pumpkin Dinner Rolls

These adorable pumpkin dinner rolls are semi-sweet and filled with rich cream cheese.

  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, scalded and allowed to cool to 110 degrees
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, cut into 1/2-ounce blocks and chilled
  • 20 pecan halves, sliced into thirds vertically
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  1. In a small bowl, place yeast, 110-degree milk and granulated sugar. Allow the yeast to bloom for about 10 minutes until frothy.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add yeast, brown sugar, butter, salt, spices, eggs, pumpkin puree and flour. Mix with the paddle attachment until well combined. Switch to the dough hook and knead dough for about 8 to 10 minutes, until it is smooth and soft.
  3. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover it with linen and allow it to rest for about an hour, or until it has doubled in size.
  4. Divide the dough into 16 pieces. Fill each dough ball with a cube of cream cheese. Wrap each dough ball in kitchen twine, wrapping the twine around the dough ball to create a pumpkin shape. (Take care not to wrap the dough too tightly because it will become larger when it proofs and bakes.) Cover the pumpkin-shaped dough balls loosely and set them aside to proof for between 1 and 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough is puffy and has doubled in size. Create an indentation in the top of each pumpkin where the pecan stem will sit after the rolls have baked.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the rolls for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven when baked through and golden brown; brush with melted butter. Allow rolls to cool for a few minutes, then remove the twine and place a pecan stem on top of each. Serve warm.

Linda Ulleseit is the award-winning author of The Aloha Spirit and Under the Almond Trees.

To interact with her and other historical fiction authors and readers, join PLW’s Facebook group SHINE.

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