cream cheese icing

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls

I’ve always been a little bit intimidated by yeast doughs.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I was a teenager I was a very adventurous cook and baker (especially for a teenager) and loved to experiment with new recipes. Most of the time things worked out in my favor, but every once in a while, they didn’t. Once my cousin came over to stay the night and we decided it might be fun to try to make some white sandwich bread. The resulting loaf though, was a total mess. It was dense, heavy, tough, and dry, and while it had definitely risen to an extent, a tap of the loaf was met with a dull thud rather than that nice hollow sound you expect from quality bread.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

Everyone in my family thought of me as an excellent cook for my age, and my cousin was obsessed with my omelettes, begging me to make them for her whenever she stayed over. When we baked this loaf together I think she assumed my touch would turn our dough to gold, so when the bread didn’t live up to her expectations the disappointment was palpable.

One bite, and I could see it in her eyes.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

It was at least another decade before I tried to bake a loaf of bread again.

In my mid twenties, a year or so after I moved to Brooklyn, I decided I was going to start making my own sourdough. It’d had been ten + years since the last time I’d tried to make bread, and instead of trying to perfect a traditional white loaf raised with active dry yeast, I thought, “Oh! The last time I baked bread it was a minor disaster, so I should definitely try to make a bread so hard to master that there are entire online forums on the subject.” Sometimes I can’t even handle what a genius I am.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

I mixed up my little cup of flour and water, set it near my kitchen window, and waited for a little community of wild yeast to set up camp and start birfin’ some babies. To my surprise and elation, on the first try, my starter took and was bubbling away after a few feedings.

And then I made my loaf.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

It barely rose at all. Dense. Heavy. Tough. Dry. Dull Thud.
History repeating itself.

I tried a few more times, thinking my starter just wasn’t strong or mature enough, but never had any results that were worth eating and I decided my attempts were little more than a waste of time and wheat.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

Still, not all yeast doughs intimidate me. I make a pretty decent pizza dough, and a few years ago I made some really great English muffins that I’ve been thinking about trying again soon. When it comes to actual loaves of bread though, I’ve accepted that they just might not be my thing. I might eventually go back to the basics and try some white bread again sometime, but for now I’m not all that worried about trying to perfect my bread game.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

I decided recently that it might be fun to try to branch out and try some other types of yeasted doughs. A few months ago I made a roasted cherry kugelhopf with great results, and the other day I was in the mood for some cinnamon rolls with an autumnal twist. Sweet sticky yeasted doughs like cinnamon rolls are actually crazy easy to get right, to the point of being nearly fool proof. As long as you don’t overheat the milk and kill your yeast, the amount of sugar in this dough will ensure that it will rise like it’s getting paid.
The only thing I had a little trouble with was rolling the dough tightly around the filling, but once it rose again you couldn’t tell the difference.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

These cinnamon rolls are seriously unbelievable. Like… Whoa.

They’re sweet, tender, light as air, and richly autumnal; with plenty of spice and a nice depth and hint of earthiness from the roasted sweet potato. Wrapped up inside is a sticky sweet filling that’s dripping in cinnamon and bursting with toasted pecans. Then a sweet and tangy cream cheese icing goes on top and takes things to a place I almost can’t even handle. Almost.

While I usually prefer desserts with a subtle, reserved sweetness; these cinnamon rolls are anything but subtle and I LOVE it. Warm from the oven they beg to be pulled apart into tender strips of gooey cinnamon heaven dripping with cream cheese icing. I honestly don’t know who I thought I was fooling with that fork in the first photo. My fingers were covered in sticky nutty spicy sugary goodness mere minutes after these came out of the oven, and that fork went back in the drawer clean as a whistle. I promise that if you make these the last thing anyone will be looking for is a fork, but you should probably make sure you’ve got plenty of napkins on hand.

sweet potato & pecan cinnamon rolls | Brooklyn Homemaker

Sweet Potato & Pecan Cinnamon Rolls

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Roasted sweet potato puree:
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil

Dough
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, to be divided
1/2 cup whole milk
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (from a 1 .25-ounce envelope)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar (dark if you have it, but light is fine)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cups sweet potato puree
1 large egg
Oil for coating rising bowl

Filling
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar (dark if you have it, but light is fine)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons  ground cinnamon
1 cup finely chopped pecans

Glaze
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons milk or buttermilk
2 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar, sifted
Few drops vanilla extract (optional)

Make the sweet potato puree:
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Wash your sweet potatoes and prick them all over with a fork. Rub them with oil and wrap in aluminum foil. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on size. Check with a fork after 30 minutes, and if the fork slides through the flesh easily, they’re done. If not, continue to check them every 10 to 15 minutes until they are done.
Let cool for at least 30 minutes, or until you can handle them comfortably.
Peel the skins off the potatoes, they should probably peel off pretty easily. Place flesh in a bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher. Measure out 2/3 of a cup, and eat the rest or save it for another use.

Make the dough:
Brown the butter in a medium saucepan for about 10 minutes or until nutty and golden. Once it starts to brown watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Heat your milk in a saucepan or in the microwave, until warm but not hot. Too hot (over 116) and you’ll kill the yeast. Combine the warmed milk and yeast in a small bowl and set aside to get slightly foamy, which should take about five to seven minutes.

In the bowl of an electric mixer combine flour, sugars, salt and spices. Add just 1/4 cup (not all) of your browned butter and stir to combine. Add yeast-milk mixture, 2/3 cup sweet potato puree and egg, and mix until combined. Switch mixer to a dough hook and run it for 5 minutes on low speed.

Scrape mixture into a large lightly oiled bowl, flip it so the top of the dough is oiled too, and cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel. Set aside until doubled in size, about 1 hour, in a draft-free place.

Meanwhile, line the bottom of two 9-inch round cake pans (or 8-inch round if that’s all you got) with parchment paper, and butter the paper and the sides of the pan.

Assemble buns:
Scoop dough onto a very well floured work surface and flour the top of it. Roll the dough out to an approximately 16×11-inch rectangle and brush with reserved browned butter. Stir together the filling ingredients and sprinkle mixture evenly over dough. Starting on the longer side, roll the dough into as tight a spiral as you can. It’s will make a mess and filling will spill from the ends, no big deal. Just sprinkle the stuff that falls out over the pan after you put the rolls in.

With a sharp serrated knife, using as little pressure as possible, gently saw the log with a back-forth motion, trying not to squish it too much. The dough will be really soft so this will be tough, but you can reshape the rolls as you add them to the pan if need be. I cut the log in half, and then cut the halves in half, and again, and again, until I had 16 even(ish) rolls.

Divide the 16 rolls between two prepared pans, and sprinkle any fallen filling over them. Arrange the two end pieces cut side up. Cover each pan with plastic wrap and let rise for another 45 minutes.

If you want to do these ahead of time, at this point you can put the pans in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, leave them out for an hour to warm up and finish rising.

15 minutes before you’re ready to bake them, heat the oven to 350°F. Once they’re finished rising, remove the plastic and bake the buns for 25 minutes, until puffed and golden and smelling like spiced autumn heaven. Meanwhile, make the glaze. Beat the cream cheese until it is smooth, light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until combined. Drizzle in the milk, a little at a time, until you get the consistency you’re looking for, either thick enough to ice or thin enough to drizzle. Transfer the pans of finished rolls to wire cooling racks and drizzle or ice them with glaze. Eat them while they’re still warm and steamy if you can.

Harvest Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

This year, instead of starting a diet on New Year’s Day, we had friends over for brunch. The only thing I resolved to do in the new year is the learn to be a better photographer, and to continue cooking and baking tasty and interesting things to share with you.

harvest cake with cream cheese icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

When it comes to New Year’s Day menu planning, Southern food is king. Most people know that collard greens and black eyed peas are a traditional staple for getting your year started out on the right foot. When it comes to planning a brunch for New Year’s day, most people might stop with the collards and peas, but not me. If I’m going to the trouble of hosting a brunch for 15 or 20 people, you better believe I’m going to make a big fancy dessert to go along with the meal. I’m a sucker for a show stopper, and love the ooohs and aaahs when a multi-layer cake comes out after a big meal.

 

harvest cake with cream cheese icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I was trying to think of a cake to fit with my southern themed menu, carrot cake immediately came to mind. I’ve always thought of carrot cake as one of those desserts that Southern homemakers would make to bring to a ladies garden party, church picnic, or social club. What better way to round out a big Southern brunch at the beginning of a brand new year? As it turns out though, carrot cake, or at least carrot based desserts, have been around much longer than the American south. People have been using carrots in desserts to help sweeten them since medieval times, and carrot cake as we know it today was likely adapted from earlier recipes brought by immigrants from Eastern Europe. Whatever the real origins, the wide popularity and availability of carrot cake in the American South still makes it feel “Southern” to me.

harvest cake with cream cheese icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

The thing is, when it came time to start baking, I decided not to do a standard carrot cake.  I wanted to make a carrot cake with a little something extra. Something that still kept that traditional and comfortable feel, but with a new and modern twist. I once saw a recipe on Pinterest for a cake with grated zucchini & apples along with the carrots. I thought the concept for this cake was amazing, and could be really delicious, but that particular recipe didn’t really appeal to me. I think they were trying to make something super healthy, subbing dates for sugar, ground nuts for flour, and goat cheese for cream cheese. I suppose it could be tasty, but I worried that it could come out gummy and bland. I love the idea of adding fresh, good-for-you elements into a dessert, but I would be really upset if “healthy” was the first word that came to mind while eating a cake I’d made.

harvest cake with cream cheese icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

To make this cake I took a standard carrot cake recipe and tweaked it a bit. I added more spice, and subbed in fresh grated granny smith apples and zucchini in for some the carrots. I ended up with a ratio of about 1 part zucchini and 1 part apple to 2 parts carrots. I didn’t want to mess with perfection though, so I stuck with the traditional cream cheese icing. Since I wanted this cake to be as picture perfect as possible, I decided to make it with 3 layers, with the cream cheese icing as the filling and the icing.

When you’re making a multi-layered cake I think it’s important that all three layers are the same size. Not only will this make for a more professional presentation, but it will also help make sure your layers all bake at the same time instead of one drying out while the other is still underdone. To ensure even layers, I like to use a kitchen scale to make sure the batter is evenly distributed between the pans.

When I first announced my plans for this cake, Russell was skeptical, thinking that carrot cake was just something that shouldn’t be messed with, but I’ve converted him. In the end, this cake was divine and everyone loved it. Although it has a few different fruits and vegetables in it, healthy is the last word that comes to mind when you take a bite. The cream cheese icing is wonderfully creamy, and perfectly sweet & tangy. The cake itself is super moist and delicious, with a hearty hint of spice and a traditional carrot cake flavor. There’s just a hint of tanginess from the tart apples and a nice summery freshness from the green zucchini and fresh carrot. If you love carrot cake, you will surely love this cake too. Go preheat the oven. It’s cold outside, it’ll help you warm up.

harvest cake with cream cheese icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

 

Harvest Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

makes one 8 inch 3 layer cake

Cake:
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/4 cups peanut oil (or any neutral vegetable oil)
4 large eggs
2 cups grated carrots (approximately 3-4 carrots)
1 cup grated zucchini (approximately 1 small zucchini)
1 cup peeled, cored & grated granny smith apple (approximately 1 large apple)
4 ounces finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Icing:
1 1/2 pounds powdered sugar
16 ounces room temperature cream cheese
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 stick (8 tablespoons) room temperature unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. With cheesecloth or paper towels, squeeze excess moisture out of grated zucchini and set aside. Butter 3 (8-inch) round pans and line bottoms with parchment. Butter and lightly coat with flour.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, spices, and salt and make a well in the center.  In a small bowl beat together eggs and vegetable oil until combined, and pour into flour mixture. Using a mixer or wooden spoon, blend until combined. Stir in grated carrots, zucchini & apple.

Divide batter evenly between pans. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes. Remove from pans, turn over onto parchment paper and allow to cool completely before assembling.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter until completely smooth, about 5 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla and stir in very slowly until incorporated. Once the sugar is mixed in, turn mixer up to high and beat until smooth, about 5 minutes more.

To assemble your cake, level your layers with a sharp serrated knife or cake leveler. Spread about 3/4 cup of icing between each layer of cake, and cover the top and sides of the cake with a thin layer of icing to seal in the crumbs. Refrigerate the cake for about 30 minutes before finishing with another layer of icing. Decorate with swirls, piped details, chopped pecans, or however desired.