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I don’t remember any of the Christmas gifts I received during my childhood.  Rather, my most vivid memories of Christmas morning was waking up to the sweet, buttery smell of freshly-baked cinnamon rolls or sticky buns.  My mom would let my sister and me each open one present before she made us eat breakfast — but to me, breakfast was the real present, as I will never forget how those sticky, gooey rolls tasted.  My childhood winter holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve — were all punctuated with this same memory of rich cinnamony or caramelly rolls for breakfast.  So to this day, I still associate the heartwarming love and comfort of a quiet winter holiday with sticky breakfast rolls.

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I’ve been experimenting with my mom’s recipes for a while because I’ve wanted to incorporate squash into either the dough or filling.  I started with pumpkin, which is one of her favorite foods ever, as the filling, but found it to be so sweet that the result was too dessert-y.  I then tried pumpkin, then other winter squashes, in the dough — but found the result to be a bit chunky.  Finally, I tried delicata squash.  PERFECT!

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The delicata is just sweet enough to complement the dough without over-sweetening it.  It has this deep, buttery, nutty flavor at its heart, which is just brilliant in these buns.  And it is so fine-grained and tender that it blends seamlessly into the dough, leaving a perfectly smooth result without any stray squash clumps.

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These delicata squash & cardamom sticky buns are a lot of work.  But they are so wonderfully worth the investment.  The dough bakes up as soft as a baby’s bottom because of the cake flour — you can use a.p. flour, but you won’t get these ridiculously supersoft and superfluffy spirals.  The cardamom filling has a bit more depth and aroma than your typical cinnamon filling.  And the ribbons of caramel tie everything together like a perfect little present!

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These sticky buns take at least 5 hours to make, start to finish, if you work fast.  Totally unreasonable for Thanksgiving morning, right?  Especially when you’re going to be cooking turkey and dressing all day.  So you can do almost all the prep the night before.  Work up through the asterisk (*) in the recipe, refrigerate overnight to slow down the yeast, then just bring the buns to room temperature in the morning before baking.  This will reduce your morning-of efforts to a mere 1-1.5 hours.  Another time-saving tip is to roast the delicata squash up to a few days in advance.  Just store the pureed squash in the fridge until you’re ready to mix it into the dough.

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Delicata Squash & Cardamom Sticky Buns

Makes 9-12 buns | Start at least 5 hours ahead | Adapted from mom and Yankee Magazine

For the Dough

  • 1/2 C roasted, mashed delicata squash
  • 1 C hot water
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1+1/4 tsp plus 1/2 tsp active dry yeast, divided
  • 1+1/4 Tbsp table salt
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • 2-4 C pastry flour, divided, plus extra for work surface
  • 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
  • additional butter for baking dish

For the Topping

  • 1/2 C packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 Tbsp light corn syrup
  • 3/4 C chopped pecans

For the Filling

  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1/2 C light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom

Directions for Dough

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Halve a delicata squash, lengthwise.  Remove seeds and strings.  Place squash, cut surface down, in a baking pan filled with 1/4″ water.  Roast in oven for 45 minutes or until fork-tender.
  3. Remove squash from baking pan and let cool.  Scoop out flesh and discard rind.  Mash flesh with a fork until no large chunks remain.
  4. Place 1/2 C squash and the hot water into the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat until smooth.  Add sugar and 1+1/2 tsp yeast.  Stir gently, then let mixture sit 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  5. Add salt, butter, and remaining 1/2 tsp yeast.  Stir to incorporate.
  6. Slowly beat in 2 C flour.  Continue to add flour, 1/4 C at a time, until dough becomes workable and not too sticky — look for the dough to come “cleanly” off the side of the bowl when scraped with a spatula.  The amount of flour you’ll need with vary depending on the moisture content of your squash.
  7. Begin kneading — use either a dough hook attachment on your stand mixer, or knead by hand on a well-floured surface.  Continue kneading until dough is springy and smooth, about 5-10 minutes with dough hook.  Shape dough into a ball.
  8. Coat dough with oil and place it back into the bowl.  Cover bowl with a kitchen towel, and place in a warm area of kitchen until doubled in size, 1 to 1+1/2 hours.
  9. While dough is rising, butter a 9″ x 9″ baking dish or a muffin tin and set aside.

Directions for Topping

  1. Combine brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup in a small saucepan.  Place over medium heat and cook until sugar melts and the mixture begins to bubble.
  2. Remove from heat — do not overcook or over-boil, otherwise it will harden.
  3. Pour sauce evenly into the bottom of prepared baking dish; or 1 Tbsp per well if using a muffin tin.
  4. Sprinkle nuts over sauce, then set baking dish aside.

Directions for Filling

  1. Combine butter, sugar, and cardamom in a small bowl.  Mix thoroughly, then set aside.
  2. Once dough has risen, lightly flour a work surface.  Turn dough out onto work surface, and lightly flour the top of the dough.
  3. Roll dough into a rectangle (approximately 10″ x 16″ will yield ~12 buns, approximately 10″ x 11″ will yield ~9 buns).  It is easiest if the long edges face you, and the shorter edges perpendicular to you.
  4. Spread filling evenly across dough, leaving a 1″ border along the long edge furthest away from you (this will be the seam).
  5. Roll dough up from the bottom, jellyroll style.  Lightly moisten the seam with water to seal it.
  6. Use a length of floss to cut the roll into desired number of slices.
  7. Transfer sliced rolls to the prepared dish, and place them on top of nuts and topping, with cut sides facing up.*
  8. Cover and set to rise again until doubled, about 45 minutes.
  9. About 15 minutes before you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F.  Bake 30-40 minutes, or until tops are lightly browned and syrup is bubbling.  Invert baking dish, then serve warm.

* If you wish to prepare the rolls the night before, stop at this step.  Cover dish tightly with lid or plastic wrap.  Place dish in refrigerator.  In the morning, remove from refrigerator, let come to room temperature and rise (total time about 1 hour), then proceed to bake.

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