With a blink of an eye, the holiday season is upon us. When I was brainstorming what to make for my holiday gatherings, I was inspired to make a pumpkin bread of some sort. Over time, the idea blossomed into this pumpkin dinner rolls recipe. I love these rolls because they combine my love for Asian-style milk bread with pumpkin spice flavors.
The pumpkin dinner rolls are lightly sweet and swirling with warm spices–cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. What I love most about these rolls are their texture. The crumb is light and feathery because the dough contains tangzhong, a flour and water paste/roux (I’ll explain this further below). For extra richness, I recommend brushing a layer of salted honey butter over the rolls.
Serve these rolls warm with softened salted butter or salted honey butter. They will be a crowd pleaser!
COOKING NOTES FOR PUMPKIN DINNER ROLLS
USING TANGZHONG FOR DOUGH
To get this incredibly airy crumb, I add tangzhong (湯種) to the dough. Tangzhong is an Asian technique of heating flour and water together to form a paste that is then added to the dough. The paste allows more water to be absorbed into the flour, yielding bread with softer texture.
I made a version of these pumpkin dinner rolls without tangzhong. The rolls were soft when they were fresh out of the oven, but not quite as fluffy as the rolls made with tangzhong. Moreover, these rolls without tangzhong started to feel dense once they cooled.
My preferred version is the pumpkin rolls made with tangzhong. However, if you find making tangzhong to be a hassle, feel free to refer to the tangzhong-free version of the recipe.
ADJUSTING LEVELS OF SWEETNESS
These pumpkin dinner rolls are lightly sweet, and I thought the sweetness brought out the flavors of the spices. If you prefer rolls with minimal sweetness, feel free to reduce the amount of brown sugar used by 2 tablespoons.
Before baking the rolls, I suggest brushing a thin layer of egg wash over the rolls. That way, the pumpkin dinner rolls will look extra glossy with the honey butter on top. Even if you decide to skip the honey butter topping, the rolls will still look very nice. However, you can leave out the egg wash if you think it’s too much hassle. You will have leftover egg wash, which you can use to make an egg scramble.
CAN YOU MAKE THE PUMPKIN DINNER ROLLS AHEAD?
Yes! You can either refrigerate the dough right after you knead it (before the first rise) or after you’ve shaped the rolls (before the second rise).
If you’re refrigerating the dough before the first rise, transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap, and refrigerate. When you are ready to shape the rolls, just take the dough out of the refrigerator and start working with it right away. You don’t need to wait for the dough to reach room temperature.
If you plan to refrigerate the shaped rolls overnight, place the rolls in a lined 9×13-inch baking pan. Then, cover the baking pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. When you are ready to bake the rolls, preheat the oven, take off the plastic wrap, and inspect the rolls to see if there are any large air bubbles. Use a toothpick or cake tester to deflate the large air bubbles to ensure the rolls have a smooth and even surface once baked. Brush a thin layer of egg wash over the rolls and bake. Again, you don’t need to wait for the rolls to reach room temperature before baking. However, you may need to add 1 to 2 minutes to the cooking time.
CAN YOU FREEZE THE DOUGH?
Yes! After shaping the dough into small rolls, freeze the rolls on a plate for 1 to 2 hours, until they harden. Then, transfer the rolls to a freezer bag. When you are ready to bake the rolls, place them in a lined baking pan. Let the rolls thaw and rise until they double in size. It can take about 4 hours before they’re ready to bake. Finally, bake the rolls like you would in the recipe. One important note: the rolls seemed tighter and less soft when I baked them from frozen dough.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH PUMPKIN DINNER ROLLS
- Baked Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese
- Fall Quinoa Salad
- Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes
- Butternut Squash Mashed Potatoes
- Air Fryer Green Beans
- Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts
Pumpkin Dinner Rolls
- 2 tablespoons (20g) all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup (75g/78mL) water
- 1/2 cup (115g) whole milk
- 1 tablespoon (13g) granulated sugar
- 2 1/4 tsp (7g) active dry yeast
- 4 1/4 cups (510g) all-purpose flour, (see note 1)
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt, or 1/2 teaspoon table or sea salt
- 6 tablespoons (75g) dark brown sugar, (see note 2)
- 3/4 cup (195g) pumpkin puree
- 4 tablespoons (55g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon milk or water
Honey Butter Topping
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, (see note 3 about using salted butter)
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt, or 1/8 teaspoon table or sea salt
- stand mixer
- mixing bowl
- oil for greasing bowl
- parchment paper
- 9×13-inch baking pan
- 2 brushes
- In a saucepan, whisk together the tangzhong ingredients until the flour dissolves. Place the saucepan over medium-low heat and stir the mixture frequently. In about 30 seconds to 1 minute, the flour will start to thicken. Stir constantly until the watery liquid absorbs into a thicker paste. Turn off the heat and transfer the tangzhong to a bowl to cool.
Finish Making Dough
- Heat the milk in the microwave for 30 seconds, until it reaches 110ºF to 120ºF. Mix in the granulated sugar with the yeast and let it sit for 5 minutes. The yeast should foam up at the top, an indication that the yeast is still active. (See note 4 about using instant yeast)
- Grease a mixing bowl with oil (any oil) and set it aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour (for the dough), cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and brown sugar. Then, add the tangzhong, milk and yeast mixture, pumpkin puree, melted butter, and egg.
- Fit the mixer with the dough hook. Mix the dough on low until you don’t see any loose flour on the sides of the bowl. This should take 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Then, increase the speed to medium-low and work the dough for 7 minutes. The dough will feel slightly tacky.
- Lightly flour your hands and work surface. Then, transfer the dough to your work surface and knead a few times. If the dough is still feeling sticky, work in a few teaspoons of flour. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer the dough into the greased mixing bowl. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for an hour in a warm place.
- Grease a 9×13-inch pan with oil and line with parchment paper along the long side of the pan.
- Punch down the excess air in the dough and divide into 15 pieces of about 72 to 76 grams each. Shape each piece of dough into a ball. Use your fingers to knead a piece of dough a few times to press out any air pockets. Then, cup the dough in the palm of one hand and use the other hand to pull the seams together. Place the roll, seam side down onto the lined baking pan. Repeat this process for the remaining pieces of dough.
- Cover the pan with a cloth (lightly damp or dry) and let the rolls rise in a warm place for 90 minutes to 2 hours, until the rolls rise to about double their size. (See note 5)
- When there’s about 15 minutes left in the proofing process, preheat the oven to 350ºF (175ºC). Position an oven rack to the middle position.
- Whisk the egg wash ingredients together. Then, brush a thin layer of egg wash over the rolls. Bake the rolls for 23 to 25 minutes, until deeply golden brown at the top.
- A few minutes before the rolls are done baking, prepare the honey butter topping. Add all the ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 15 to 20 seconds and stir until all the butter is melted and the honey is incorporated. You can also do this in a saucepan at low heat. Don’t overheat the mixture in the saucepan because the honey can stiffen.
- Remove the pan from the oven. While the rolls are still hot, brush the honey butter topping over the rolls. You’ll likely have excess honey butter.
- Let the rolls cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Lift the parchment paper to transfer the rolls to a cooling rack. Let the rolls cool for 10 minutes before serving.
- Serve the bread rolls warm with salted butter or any remaining honey butter. Store the rolls in an airtight container overnight or in the refrigerator if you don’t plan on finishing them for a few days. Reheat the rolls in the oven at 325ºF (160ºC) for 10 minutes.
- I measured the flour using the spoon-and-sweep method. Use a fork to loosen the flour in your flour bag. Then, use a spoon to scoop flour into a measuring cup. Fill the measuring cup until it’s heaping with flour. Then level off the measuring cup with a knife.
- These pumpkin dinner rolls are lightly sweet, but they shouldn’t taste like a dessert roll. If you prefer rolls mildly sweet, use 4 tablespoons (50 grams) of brown sugar.
- If you have salted butter, simply melt 2 tablespoons of salted butter and 2 tablespoons of honey together. You shouldn’t need additional salt, unless you crave it.
- Because this dough is enriched with fat, dairy, sugar, and egg, it takes longer to rise. I tested this recipe in the middle of fall, when the weather is very cool. So the second rise took close to 2 hours for me. If you are pressed for time, you can bake these rolls after 1 hour 15 minutes of proofing. However, the rolls will have a lot of tearing along the sides and the bread will be tighter because the rolls were underproofed.
- Instant Yeast: If you are using instant yeast, you do not need to warm the milk and activate the yeast. Just add the milk, sugar, and yeast straight into the bowl.
- Making Dough Overnight: You can either refrigerate the dough right after you knead it (before the first rise) or after you’ve shaped the rolls (before the second rise). If you’re refrigerating the dough before the first rise, transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap, and refrigerate. When you are ready to shape the rolls, just take the dough out of the refrigerator and start working with it right away. If you plan to refrigerate the rolls before the second rise, cover the baking pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. When you are ready to bake the rolls, preheat the oven, take off the plastic wrap, and inspect the rolls. Deflate any large air bubbles that may have formed before brushing egg wash over the rolls. Then, bake the rolls (they do not need to reach room temperature first). The rolls may need an extra minute or two in the oven.
- Freezing Dough: After shaping the dough into small rolls, freeze the rolls on a plate for 1 to 2 hours, until they harden. Then, transfer the rolls to a freezer bag. When you are ready to bake the rolls, place them in a lined baking pan. Let the rolls thaw and rise until they double in size. It can take about 4 hours before they’re ready to bake. Finally, bake the rolls like you would in the recipe. One important note: the rolls seemed tighter and less soft when I baked them from frozen dough.