Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Cinnamon rolls are an option that I find hard to resist on cafe menus! With flavors reminiscent of cozy mornings, the soft layers of sweet bread and ribbons of spiced brown sugar…delicious! I was particularly drawn to a pumpkin cinnamon roll as it seemed the perfect way to start Thanksgiving morning - warm rolls fresh from the oven and layered with a classic cream cheese frosting.
This recipe uses tangzhong, a Chinese bread-making technique, that creates soft, fluffy rolls. The tangzhong method adds one extra step to your traditional recipe, involving making a paste of water and flour, that is later incorporated into the yeasted dough mix. You may notice there is no sugar in the dough - that is a good thing! It allows the water molecules to distribute more evenly, resulting in a beautifully moist bread.
Tangzhong Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
Ingredients for the tangzhong:
2.5 tbsp water
2.5 tbsp milk
5 tsp all purpose flour
Ingredients for the dough:
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp instant yeast
1/8 cup dry milk
2/3 cup milk
3 tbsp butter, unsalted
1/2 cup pumpkin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Ingredients for the filling:
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cocoa powder
Ingredients for the cream cheese frosting:
4 oz cream cheese
2 tbsp milk
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 cup butter, unsalted
1/8 tsp salt
Instructions for the tangzhong:
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the water, milk and flour. Whisk together and cook, stirring, until mixture thickens. This will take 3 to 4 minutes. The mixture will be the consistency of thick pudding. Remove from heat; set aside.
Instructions for the dough:
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, salt, instant yeast, dry milk, and spices. Add the warm milk, eggs, melted butter, pumpkin, and reserved tangzhong paste.
Mix the dough on medium speed until combined. Dough will be dry and form a ball. Cover bowl with a clean towel and let rest 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes mix dough on medium-high speed for 1 to 2 minutes until a smooth dough forms. Scrape down from dough hook as needed to allow dough to mix evenly. Remove dough hook and use a rubber scraper to bring dough together into a ball. Spray the inside of the bowl with cooking spray.
Cover bowl and transfer to a warm place to proof. Let rise until almost doubled in bulk and finger imprint remains and doesn't bounce back when touched, 60 to 90 minutes, depending on the warmth and environment.
Instructions for the filling:
Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Gently press into a small rectangle shape, then roll into a 12-by-19-inch rectangle.
Spread filling butter over the entire surface. Mix spices and brown sugar and sprinkle evenly over the butter.
Starting with a long edge, roll dough around filling into a spiral log. Pinch open edge so it stays together.
Use thread or a knife to cut log into 9 rolls. Place rolls, cut side up, in a buttered pan (8-inch square pan).
Cover pan and let rolls rise until almost double in bulk, 45 to 60 minutes depending on the warmth and environment. (For fresh rolls the next morning, proof in the fridge overnight. Bring to room temperature before baking).
Instructions for baking the cinnamon rolls:
When rolls have almost proofed completely, heat oven to 350ºF with rack in the center.
Bake rolls until just turning golden, 22 to 26 minutes.
Instructions for the cream cheese frosting:
In a mixing bowl beat the butter until smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar a little at a time, mixing, until frosting comes together. Add vanilla. Scrape down sides of bowl and mix thoroughly.
Spread icing on warm, not hot, rolls.
Storage: Eat within 2 days - Rolls can be kept at room temperature covered with plastic wrap, for up to 2 days.