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I really feel like I’m just going out on a limb with this here post. I mean, pumpkin cinnamon rolls? They just seem so…absurd. Immoderate. Decadent. We are still creeping out of a national recession. It is high election season. I have better things to do and think about. Like how I can get in one of those #bindersofwomen.

But, it’s the fall. It was a Saturday. I was cruising Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite blogs, and came across a recipe for these. The recipe is actually from Baked Elements, one of the cookbooks from the the Red Hook bakery I’ve come to know and love on trips to Fairway, Ikea, Sunny’s, and The Good Fork. Photos of these called to me through the screen of my laptop and, against my better judgement, was compelled to get baking.

I happened to have my monthly co-op work shift last weekend so I was able to buy all the spices I needed (ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon), good butter, replenish my flour stash, and get organic canned pumpkin. That’s right, I said canned pumpkin. You can definitely make these by roasting your own pumpkin but I will tell you right now I most certainly did not. Although it would be lovely and tasty if you did. The original recipe only calls for 2/3 c of pumpkin purée anyway, so, yeah.

My fellow blogger over at Smitten Kitchen tweaked the Baked recipe, and now I’ve gone and tweaked her recipe. I reduced the sugar in both the filling and icing; I did everything by hand instead of a stand mixer; lengthened the rising times; and increased the pumpkin. These are certainly tasty and decadent (everything you want in a cinnamon roll), but were the tiniest bit dry. And they are pumpkin cinnamon rolls—I wanted to taste more of the pumpkin than I did. So I think the perfect solution would be to increase the pumpkin quotient.

And while I have your attention…did you see the Food and Drink issue last weekend in the NYTimes? Read the article about Christopher Kimball by Alex Halberstadt. He’s so unabashedly old school. He would probably hate my blog. I love him.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
Adapted from Baked Elements (and Smitten Kitchen)
Yields 16 buns

6 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 c whole milk, warm, but not hot
1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
3 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/4 c granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
3/4 c (or nearly 1 c) pumpkin purée
1 large egg
Oil for coating rising bowl

3/4 c light or dark brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp milk or buttermilk
1 c powdered sugar, sifted
A few drops of vanilla extract

Make the dough:
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, and once melted, continue cooking over medium heat for a few additional minutes so that it browns. It will hiss and sizzle, and golden brown spots will form on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Combine the warmed milk and yeast in a small bowl and set aside. After five minutes or so, it should be a bit foamy. If it’s not, you might have some bad (old) yeast and should start again with a newer packet.

If you have a stand mixer, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and spices in the mixer bowl. You can do this by hand just fine too, and can use a large mixing bowl. Add 1/4 c (or 2/3 of the remaining) brown butter and stir to combine. Add the yeast-milk mixture, pumpkin, and egg and combine. If using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook and run on low for five minutes. If by hand, get ready for a workout. Mix by hand for five minutes until the dough starts to come together.

Transfer the dough into a large oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for at least one hour, or as much as two hours, in a draft-free place. It should nearly double in side. While it’s rising, line the bottom of two 9- or 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and butter the sides.

Assemble the buns:
Scoop the dough onto a well-floured surface, and flour the top of the dough well. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to an approximately 16 x 11 inch rectangle. Brush the reserved melted butter over the dough. Stir together remaining filing ingredients and sprinkle mixture evenly over the dough. Starting with one of the longer edges, roll the dough into a tight spiral. It’s ok if some of the filling spills out of the ends a little.

Cut the cinnamon rolls with a serrated knife using practically no pressure whatsoever. Place the blade of the knife on the dough and gently saw your log with a back-and-forth motion into approx. 1-inch sections. Divide buns between the two prepared pans, sprinkling with any sugar that fell out. Cover each pan with plastic wrap and let rise for at least 45 minutes and up until 2 hours. You could, after this point, put them covered in the refrigerator and when you’re ready to bake them just take them out an hour before hand to warm up.

Fifteen minutes before you’re ready to bake them, heat the oven to 350 degrees F and make the glaze. Beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and drizzle in milk until you get the desired consistency: thick like icing (which is what I did) or thin enough to drizzle.

Remove the plastic and bake (un-glazed) for 25 minutes until puffed and golden and the smell of cinnamon and sugar and butter makes you dizzy and brings your neighbors knocking. Let cool before glazing, then dig in. By all means, you’ve earned it.

Nous réussirons encore.    -Francois Hollande

It’s a good day: François Hollande beat Nicolas Sarkozy to become the next president of France; the sun is shining in Brooklyn, bringing the borough to its stoop; I got to play tennis in the morning and yoga in the afternoon; I am almost (almost) not thinking about work and the book that goes on press in two weeks; AND the new issue of Remedy Quarterly arrived at my doorstep! (Well, that technically happened yesterday.)

Remedy is a food journal founded in Brooklyn three years ago by Kelly Carámbula, graphic designer by day, editor-in-chief by night. She blogs at Eat Make Read and is the parent of one lovable boston terrier, Maude. Each issue of Remedy has a different theme, and issue 9 is about Escape. I contributed a short ode to my father and Vermont (“Where I Found Food”). The issue also includes an interview with the owner of Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in Greenwich Village (that would be Bonnie), and recipes for mousse au chocolate, pequin vinegar, Louisiana crab boil, and a slew more. You can’t read the pieces online but you have options.

You can order the issue online here, or if you live in New York, pick one up at the St. Mark’s Bookshop in the East Village; The Meat Hook, Depanneur, or Marlow & Sons in Williamsburg; Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene; or Stinky Bklyn in Carroll Gardens (“Oh that’s like grown-up Brooklyn“). If you’re in Japan like Juan Pablo, you can get it at Re:store Studio in Tokyo; Sarah you can get it at Room6 in Vancouver; Kris and Antoine you can get it at Librairie Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal; and if you’re in San Fran: Omnivore Books on Food, Pot + Pantry, and the Curiosity Shoppe.

As for the piece I wrote, all I will say is, my dad rescued me from a life of frozen pizza and Twix bars. For that, and more, I like him a whole lot.

Forget salt and pepper, garlic and lemon. The most successful seasoning for what we eat is a good pinch of nostalgia.

I could spend all day reading Nigel Slater. Correction: I have spent whole days reading Nigel Slater.

Slater is one of the best cooks writing today. His food is simple and straightforward, not unlike Jamie Oliver’s or Yotam Ottolenghi’s; it’s seasonally-driven, basic, and satisfies cravings you didn’t know you had. His writing has filled seven cookbooks and countless articles for The Guardian. His 2004 memoir, Toast: the story of a boy’s hunger, kept me up one night until I had no more pages to turn.

When Tender was published in the U.S. last year, combining the UK edition’s two volumes into one 600-page tome, I was eager to get my hands on it and smudge the pages with buttery fingers. Organized by ingredient (this seems to be a popular method in UK cookbooks), I stumbled upon the Beet chapter and not one, but two, cake recipes therein. This guy’s good.

Of course a cake that includes beets, melted dark chocolate, poppy seeds, and crème fraîche called to me, especially one that promised a molten lava center. I remember wanting to make this for my sister Hope’s birthday back in November but decided it was too risky. At last I’ve embarked on the project, during my own birthday week no less.

Turns out this chocolate cake is dreamy, silky, and not too sweet; the beets keep the cake moist without offering a beety flavor. Think carrots in a carrot cake, or zucchini in zucchini bread. The cake is served with tangy crème fraîche and poppy seeds, a playful take on the classic beet and sour cream flavor combination in eastern European cooking.

To serve, I thought of the china I keep in my cupboard that belonged to my father’s mother, my namesake, whom I never met. Reading Nigel Slater always makes me a little nostalgic, and the old, delicate china that once belonged to Mahala McLaughlin seemed like a fitting presentation.

Serve to friends. Serve with love. And you don’t have to tell anyone there are beets inside, unless, like me, they’re into that kind of thing.

Incredibly Moist Chocolate Beet Cake
From Nigel Slater, Tender

8 ounces (240 g) beets, unpeeled and rinsed (approx. 2 beets)
7 ounces (200 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 c (60 ml) hot espresso
7 ounces (200 g) butter, room temp, cut into small cubes
1 cup (135 g) flour
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 heaping tsp baking powder
5 large eggs, separated, at room temp
1 cup (190 g) superfine, or caster, sugar

Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch (20 cm) springform cake pan, then line with a disc of parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).

Cook the beets, whole and unpeeled, in boiling, unsalted water for 30 to 40 minutes, with the lid slightly askew. They’re done when a knife can easily pierce through the flesh. Drain and rinse in cold water. When cool, peel them, and pulse in a food processor until they’re a rough purée.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Do not stir. When the chocolate is just about all melted, turn off the heat, and add the hot espresso, stirring only once. Add the butter to the melted chocolate, pressing it into the chocolate but not stirring. Leave to soften.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Put your egg whites in a mixing bowl. Stir the egg yolks together by hand.

Working quickly but gently, stir the butter into the melted chocolate, and leave for a few minutes to cool, then stir in the egg yolks. Fold in the beet purée. Whisk the egg whites by hand or using a stand mixer until stiff, then fold the sugar into the egg whites. Fold the egg whites and sugar into the chocolate mixture, careful not to overmix. Fold in the flour and cocoa.

Transfer quickly to the prepared cake pan and put in the oven, turning the temperature down to 325 F (160 C). Bake for 40 minutes; the rim will just barely be separating from the edges and the center will still be a bit wobbly when gently shaken.

Let cool completely in the cake pan on a wire rack (it will sink a little in the center). Loosen around the edges with a butter knife after a half hour or so. Only remove the cake from its pan when it has cooled completely. Serve in thick slices with crème fraiche and poppy seeds. Grandmother’s china optional.

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