I swear I once turned orange from eating too many carrots. For some strange reason, I really like orange-colored foods. Which is not a bad thing, I guess, considering the color is an indication of the powerful antioxidant beta-carotene. Fall seems to be a great season for the color orange. Giant pumpkins invade the land and sweet potatoes crawl out of the earth. Despite the bright, cheery tint, there's something wonderfully rustic about it all. And it makes me want to work with my hands. Thus these hand-kneaded sweet potato spelt rolls were born.
I enjoy baking with alternative flours because I like the challenge of getting to know the different personalities and making friends with them, turning baking into a satisfying reciprocal activity. Spelt is one of my favorites, although not necessarily the easiest when baking bread, because its unpredictability can sometimes turn the relationship volatile.
Spelt dough can be very sticky, unusually stretchy, and have a resistance to shape. To make it work with spelt, I've learned you simply have to embrace its idiosyncrasies and not be intimidated by the unfamiliar territory it's bound to put you in. That general approach to baking has never failed me. These sweet potato spelt rolls turned out to be sweet little creatures with a golden crust and a pillow soft interior.
Then there's the surprise! Pumpkin paste is put in the center of the rolls for them to be enjoyed on their own, like Asian buns with a filling. The paste is only mildly seasoned so that it doesn't overwhelm the original purpose of the rolls as a meal accompaniment... just to present a sunny smile. Insert the surprise only in some of the rolls if you want to maintain a classic option. However you wish to spring the surprise on your dinner guests, these rolls will be a heartwarming addition to the holiday table. Hopefully amusing too.
Sweet Potato Spelt Rolls with a Pumpkin Surprise
These rolls are mildly sweet from the sweet potato and present a sunny disposition with a pumpkin center, while the warm orange color is noticeably appetizing. Spelt gives them great character in flavor, not to mention amazing health benefits due to the high protein and fiber content, and an irresistibly soft and light texture. For best effect, use homemade sweet potato and pumpkin puree. Makes 1 dozen rolls.
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110-115° F)
2 tablespoons warm almond milk (110-115° F)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 egg, beaten
1 cup sweet potato puree* (See note below)
2 cups (240g) whole spelt flour
2 cups (250g) white spelt flour, plus more for kneading
1/2 tablespoon coconut oil
2 cups pumpkin puree* (See note below)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon coconut sugar
Pinch of salt
To make pumpkin paste, heat coconut oil in a pan on low heat. Add pumpkin puree, sugar and salt. Stir well to combine. Cook until the mixture is thick and smooth, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
In a medium bowl, combine warm water and warm milk. Gently stir in the yeast. Set aside until the mixture turns cloudy, about 10 minutes.
Add sugar, salt, olive oil and beaten egg, and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into a large bowl and add sweet potato puree. With a wooden spoon, lightly stir until sweet potato is fully incorporated and not lumpy.
Thoroughly mix whole spelt flour and white spelt flour together. Add the combined flour into the wet mixture 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously with the wooden spoon into a soft dough. At about 3 1/2 cups, the mixture will be thick and very sticky. Add the remaining flour and use your hands to knead the dough, by gently pressing and folding it back into itself, until it comes off easily from the side of the bowl, about 10 minutes. Spelt flour works differently from normal wheat flour, and the dough will not be as sturdy as usual.
Oil a large bowl with olive oil. Turn the dough into the oiled bowl and gently roll it around the edges to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and allow the dough to rise until double in size, about 1 hour. Punch the dough down with your hands and allow it to rise again for another 30 minutes.
Generously flour a work surface and turn the dough onto it. The dough is quite sticky, so be prepared to use a lot of flour to help with the next few steps of the process. Punch down and lightly knead the dough into a round. Then divide it into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a ball.
Flatten each ball into a round with your palm. Scoop 1/2 to 1 tablespoon pumpkin paste in the middle of each round and wrap the dough around it, twisting the edges together with your fingers to seal well. Gently roll it into a ball between your hands.
Arrange the balls on a baking tray with the seam side facing down. Cover with a damp towel and set aside in room temperature for about 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400° F. Lightly brush the tops of each ball with olive oil and sprinkle with some sesame seeds. Bake the rolls for 15 to 18 minutes, or until they are golden brown in color.
Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool. Rolls can be stored frozen in aluminum foil. To re-heat, let them thaw and warm them in the oven for a few minutes.
To make sweet potato puree, roast whole sweet potatoes at 375° F for 30 to 45 minutes, or until soft. Allow to cool and strip off the skin. Mash the flesh with a fork or masher. For better consistency, run an immersion blender through it.
To make pumpkin puree, cut medium-sized pumpkins into quarters and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Place them face down on a baking sheet filled with some water and roast at 375° F until tender when poked with a fork, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool and scrape the flesh from the skin. Process in a food processor until smooth. Or just run an immersion blender through it. Pumpkin puree can be stored in the freezer until needed.