How to Par-Bake Cinnamon Rolls {Make Ahead Method!}

How to Par-Bake Cinnamon Rolls {Make Ahead Method!}​

Coming from a Christmas morning breakfast casserole family, I’ve never really understood why so many people make cinnamon rolls on that day of all days.

I mean, have you made cinnamon rolls from scratch? They are not a quick recipe, clocking in at a minimum of three hours start-to-finish (slightly less if you do the rise overnight). My family is all adults so we start our Christmas morning at a leisurely 9am, eat around 10, then get to the gifts around noon. If we wanted cinnamon rolls for breakfast, that would require the baker (me!) to be up and functioning at 7am. Big no thank you. And if you have kids or people who get up for gifts at 6am or earlier…3am? Earlier? Forget it!

But what if I told you that you could have warm, fluffy, homemade cinnamon rolls on your table on Christmas morning in under an hour? Yes, it’s possible, thanks to a little technique called par-baking.

You’ve definitely heard the term “par-baking” on here before in association with pie crust. It means to partially bake, which is exactly what we’re going to do to these rolls: partially bake them ahead of time, then finish the baking on Christmas. This method will work with any yeast-raised cinnamon roll recipe you love. I wouldn’t recommend this method for any rolls with fruit in the filling (i.e. not these) as it might degrade during thawing, but I think nuts would be okay.

How to Par-Bake Cinnamon Rolls {Make Ahead Method!}​

Now, this isn’t a magic trick. You do have to plan ahead to do about 2.5 hours of mixing/kneading/rolling/rising at some point to make this work. But (but!) the bulk of the work can be done anytime between now and Christmas (or whenever you want cinnamon rolls).

The process is simple. Make your cinnamon roll recipe up to the baking step, then bake for about half the baking time (15 minutes). At this point, your rolls should be risen, puffed and pale. Where you would normally continue baking them until brown, resist that urge and remove them from the oven.

Let your rolls cool to room temperature and then triple wrap in plastic, cover in foil and freeze until the night before you need them. If you don’t want to have your 9×13” pan out of commission for any length of time, you can bake in a disposable aluminum baking pan, then tuck it into your freezer for up to six weeks.

The night before you want cinnamon rolls, move the par-baked rolls from your freezer to your fridge to thaw out. In the morning, simply uncover and bake your rolls for the remaining 15 minutes, until golden. Finish with cream cheese frosting and voila! Fresh homemade cinnamon rolls on your table in under an hour, and you didn’t have to sacrifice sleep to make it happen.

How to Par-Bake Cinnamon Rolls {Make Ahead Method!}​

Call it Christmas magic. Call it whatever you want. Just call me for breakfast.

Par-baked Cinnamon Rolls
adapted from Dana Velden

cinnamon roll recipe of choice
9x13-inch baking pan (disposable aluminum, if desired)

Follow your yeast-raised cinnamon roll recipe up to the baking step.

Preheat your oven to 375F. Bake cinnamon rolls for 10-15 minutes, until risen, puffed and pale.

Remove cinnamon rolls from the oven and allow to cool completely in their pan on a rack. Triple wrap the pan in plastic wrap, then wrap in foil. Freeze for up to 6 weeks.

The night before you want cinnamon rolls, move the pan of frozen rolls to the refrigerator. Let thaw 8-12 hours.

Preheat oven to 375F. Unwrap rolls; discard foil and plastic wrap.

Bake rolls for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. Top with cream cheese frosting (or whatever your recipe says) and serve warm.

Brown Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies

Aaaaand we’re back! And by “we” I mean “me”…and these Brown Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies.

Brown Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies​

Are these a traditional Christmas treat? Probably not. But after learning that some people consider white chocolate macadamia nut cookies a Christmas staple, I perfected my recipe last year. I turned up the flavor by browning the butter, toasting the macadamia nuts (and leaving them in big pieces), and using pure white chocolate instead of white chocolate chips. They’re incredible, if I do say so myself. Which I do. Obviously.

Brown Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies​

I didn’t try to top that recipe this year, but I’ve simplified it by making it into blondies, and that’s basically the same thing. There’s no tedious chilling, rolling, and batch-baking—just mix the batter, spread it into a pan, bake, cool, and slice into thick, chewy squares. Easy peasy.

Brown Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies​

Serve them on your best thrifted Christmas Spode plates and definitely eat one too many.

Brown Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies​

The most wonderful time of the year, indeed.

Brown Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies​
Brown Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Blondies
makes one 8- or 9-inch square pan, about 16 blondies

3/4 cup macadamia nuts (I used raw)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3 ounces white chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli)
flaky salt, for garnish (optional)

If using roasted salted macadamia nuts, skip the first step. Chop them before beginning the recipe at “Brown the butter.” Also reduce the salt to 1/2 teaspoon.

Preheat oven to 350F. Scatter macadamia nuts on a dry rimmed baking sheet and roast 5-7 minutes, or until fragrant. Do not burn. Let cool completely and give them a rough chop.

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square pan and line with parchment, leaving overhang for bar-removal. Set aside while you make the blondie batter.

Brown the butter. Place butter in a light-colored saucepan over medium heat. Let butter melt. Butter will bubble and crackle as the water content evaporates. Swirl the pan frequently for 5-7 minutes, keeping an eye on the color. When the solids are turning brown and the butter is nutty and fragrant, remove the pot from the heat and immediately pour the brown butter into a medium-large mixing bowl.

Whisk light brown sugar and granulated sugar into the brown butter. Mix in egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, followed by flour and salt. Fold in chopped macadamia nuts and white chocolate. Batter will be thick.

Spread the blondie batter in prepared pan. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean (no raw batter). Sprinkle blondies with coarse salt, if desired. Let blondies cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Run a small, thin knife around the edge of the pan, then use parchment to lift them onto a cutting board. Slice with a large, sharp chef’s knife, wiping the blade clean between cuts. Serve.

Blondies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Cranberry Simple Syrup & Sparkling Cranberry Ginger Mocktails

I never know what to post the week of Thanksgiving, but I think going with something easy that you can make anytime between now and the New Year is a good place to start.

This Fresh Cranberry Simple Syrup certainly fits that bill, clocking in with almost no active work, but plenty of vibrant color and sweet-tart flavor. It starts the way all simple syrups do: with sugar and water. While the classic proportion is 1:1, I upped the water here to accommodate the cranberries’ natural thickening agent (pectin)—we’re after syrup here, not jelly!

The berries, water and sugar are simmered together for just ten minutes, until the fruit begins to burst. Once that happens, remove the pot from the heat and use a fork or potato masher to mash all the berries into the liquid. Resist the urge to strain your syrup right away, instead letting the mashed berries hang out in it while it’s cooling. This imbues the syrup with plenty of tart cranberry flavor and vivid color. Once the half hour is up, strain and cool your syrup, then use it however you like. I bet a little over ice cream would be a treat, but I am focusing on mocktails today.

Cranberry Simple Syrup & Sparkling Cranberry Ginger Mocktails​

Let’s talk about these Sparkling Cranberry Ginger Mocktails. With their ruby color and booze-free fizz, these are a perfect beverage for any end-of-year occasion. They’re not terribly sugary, and taste intentional and not like an afterthought or just a virgin version of some classic cocktail. They taste like they have some intention behind them, if you will—they’re complete on their own.

The list of ingredients for Sparkling Cranberry Ginger Mocktails is blessedly short, and besides the homemade Fresh Cranberry Simple Syrup, everything is readily available at the grocery store.

The recipe is simple: 1 part Fresh Cranberry Simple Syrup, 2 parts ginger beer, 2 parts seltzer, 1/2 part fresh lime juice. I’ve written the recipe in “parts” rather than specific volumes so that you can make enough for two or for a crowd without doing too much math. Simply stir the ingredients together and serve over ice with cranberries and lime wedges for garnish. So cute, right? Wait til you try one—so good.

Cranberry Simple Syrup & Sparkling Cranberry Ginger Mocktails​

My absolute favorite thing about these mocktails? They’re not too sweet. There is some sweetness, of course, from the syrup and zippy ginger beer, but it’s balanced by the lime juice and diluted with seltzer in the best possible way. They taste like they were made for grown-ups because they were. How refreshing.

Cranberry Simple Syrup & Sparkling Cranberry Ginger Mocktails​

I’m taking the rest of this week off to spend time with my family. I’ll be back next week with new Christmas recipes. Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers.

Fresh Cranberry Simple Syrup
makes about 2 cups

1 1/2 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 10-ounce bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked through

Add all ingredients to a small pot. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes or until berries have burst. Skim off and discard any foam that accumulates. Remove pot from heat, then mash burst berries with a potato masher or fork. Let berries sit in syrup for 30 minutes.

Place a sieve over a large mixing bowl. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to press the syrup through the sieve. Discard the the leftover fruit solids or use for another purpose.

Transfer syrup to a container with a lid. Let cool completely before storing in the refrigerator.
Sparkling Cranberry Ginger Mocktails

1 part cranberry syrup
2 parts ginger beer
2 parts seltzer
1/2 part lime juice
ice
fresh cranberries, for garnish (optional)
lime wedges, for garnish (optional)

I measured in tablespoons for each glass, but feel free to use a larger units of measure to make a pitcher of mocktails.

In a liquid measuring cup or other vessel, stir together cranberry syrup, ginger beer, seltzer and lime juice.

Add ice to glasses. Pour mocktail mixture over the top and garnish with cranberries and lime, if desired. Serve immediately.

Vegan Chocolate Cream Pie

Hey there! I put all my Thanksgiving recipes on their own page for maximum convenience. Just click the menu at the top of the page and then go to “Thanksgiving Recipes.”

Vegan Chocolate Cream Pie​

It’s funny how recipes sometimes just hit me out of nowhere. Like this past September I was in Maine making Vegan Chocolate Pudding for dessert, and I accidentally made it just a little too stiff. While it worked for a no-frills vacation treat, I knew that I needed to make adjustments for a better pudding consistency, but I also knew I had just made a perfect Vegan Chocolate Cream Pie filling.

Vegan Chocolate Cream Pie​

And I do mean perfect. Sliceable, but not bouncy. Rich and chocolaty, but completely devoid of dairy and eggs. I had a vision of it sitting in a chocolate cookie crust with a whisper of vegan whipped cream on top, and two months later, here we are.

As with my traditional Chocolate Cream Pie, this vegan version is nearly no-bake and very simple to make. The crust is just crushed Oreos (I used gluten-free) and vegan butter that are mixed together and baked just to set. The filling is made by whisking things together in a certain order, as all pudding is. No need to sieve this one though—no eggs means no worrying about solids! To assemble, just pour the filling into the crust and refrigerate until very, very cold.

Oh yes, this cold, creamy crowd pleaser of a pie is an all-out winner. I mean, who doesn’t love delicious Chocolate Cream Pie and food everyone can eat and enjoy? Dessert and inclusivity are two of my favorite things!

Vegan Chocolate Cream Pie​

Before serving, top the pie with some vegan whipped cream! I went with an easy coconut cream-based recipe by Minimalist Baker, and it’s outrageously good. If you’re not up to making your own vegan whipped cream, Reddi Wip makes a good coconut whipped cream in a can that you can find in most grocery stores. Just put a little on each slice immediately before serving (and then spray the rest in your mouth because you’re a grown-up and you can).

Vegan Chocolate Cream Pie​

Speaking of slices, can we discuss how beautiful this is? Defined layers! Gorgeous chocolaty filling! And it’s gluten-free and vegan? I think it’s safe to say we have a Thanksgiving showstopper on our hands.

Vegan Chocolate Cream Pie​
Vegan Chocolate Cream Pie
makes 1 pie

Crust:
24 regular or gluten-free Oreos (original or Double Stuf)
5 tablespoons vegan butter, melted

Filling:
5 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
3 cups unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used almond milk)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon vegan butter

Topping:
Vegan Whipped Cream (I made it with Thai Kitchen Coconut Cream)
finely chopped dark chocolate

Make the crust. Place Oreos in the bowl of a food processor and blitz until they are crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse until the mixture can be pinched together. Press it into the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate (I find that a 1/4 cup measuring cup works for this). Bake the crust for 10 minutes and then let it cool for 20 (or until you can handle the pie plate).

Make the filling. In a medium pot, whisk together cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Whisk in half the non-dairy milk, followed by the remainder.

Place pot over medium heat. Whisking continuously throughout cooking, cook pudding until it has boiled for 1 minute. This process should take 8-10 minutes from start to finish.

Pour filling into the crust. Tap the full pan on the counter a few times to release large bubbles. Press plastic wrap to the surface. Refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight, until cold.

When ready to serve pudding, peel off and discard plastic wrap. Top with vegan whipped cream of choice and finish with chopped dark chocolate. Refrigerate until ready to slice and serve.

Leftover pie will keep covered in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi with Spicy Sage Brown Butter

Whether you’re vegetarian or just not into the usual turkey, you’re going to want to add these Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi to your Thanksgiving line-up. These little dumplings may not be a traditional part of the holiday menu, but they are tender, seasonal, and an oh-so-fun way to jazz things up.

If you’re stressed out by the idea of making homemade gnocchi, please listen to me: you (yes, you!) can make gnocchi at home during the holidays and not lose your mind in the process. Really! For the longest time, I thought gnocchi were one of those things I needed to leave to the professionals. Turns out, they are much simpler to make than anticipated. Oh, and I guess working in food for six years makes me one of the professionals—oops.

Let’s get down to it. First of all, for a beginner gnocchi maker, ricotta is the way to go. I’ve futzed around with the traditional potato variety and while that’s fun for a weekend project, it’s not the type of recipe I’m looking to take on a week before the biggest food holiday of the year. Nope. Enter ricotta gnocchi, the potato version’s just-as-good, low-maintenance cousin. It can be made in under an hour start-to-finish with no fretting over leaden results. Today’s version is getting a little autumnal flair from pumpkin purée. Yesssss.

The process of making Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi is very simple, but here are some tips for success.

  • Make sure to drain your pumpkin purée and ricotta on paper towels before mixing. This comes straight from the brilliant J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, so you know it’s important. Getting rid of the extra moisture in your cheese and purée will make your dough much easier to work with and your final gnocchi much prettier.
  • Flour your surface, knife, and hands really well. Like with other doughs, this will make the whole process much less frustrating (and sticky).
  • You don’t have to shape the gnocchi. Nobody is going to care if your gnocchi have ridges or are simply shaped like little pillows. I took the liberty of rolling mine across the back of a fork, but this is completely cosmetic and in no way required for gnocchi success.
  • You can make these ahead and freeze them! Once they’re cut, you can flash freeze your Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi on a baking sheet and store them in a freezer bag until you’re ready to cook. You can boil them straight from the freezer; starting frozen will only add 30-60 seconds to the cook time.
  • Cooking gnocchi takes just a minute or two! Boil them just until they float, then drain immediately.
  • Serve Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi with any sauce you like! Despite their seasonal ingredients and color, their flavor is pretty mild and will go with a multitude of sauces. I went with Spicy Sage Brown Butter because it’s exactly what I want this time of year, but I think a seasonal pesto (kale! beet greens! pepitas! feta!) would be amazing. Get creative with it!

Y’all, these are so good. Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi are sophisticated seasonal comfort food at its finest—a perfect vegetarian dish or starter for Thanksgiving, or any fall day. They’re so quick and simple, you could even make them for a weeknight dinner like you’re Ina freaking Garten or something.

That said, if you’re dishing up homemade gnocchi on a Wednesday night, please invite me over.

Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi
makes 4-6 servings

1 cup pure pumpkin purée
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese (2/3 of a 15-ounce tub)
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose or “00” flour

For cooking:
water
Kosher or sea salt

For serving:
Spicy Sage Brown Butter (recipe below)
parmesan or pecorino cheese, for serving

Line a plate with 2-3 layers of paper towels. Spread pumpkin and ricotta onto the paper towels and press 2-3 more layers of paper towels on top. Let sit 15-20 minutes. Peel off and discard top layers of paper towel and then remove pumpkin and ricotta to a medium mixing bowl. Discard remaining paper towels.

With a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, stir together pumpkin and ricotta. Stir in egg yolks, followed by Parmesan and salt. Add half the flour, followed by the remaining half. The dough should be a little sticky but not impossible to handle. If needed, add more flour by the tablespoon until it is coming away from the walls of the bowl in a single mass.

Flour your hands, a chef’s knife (or bench scraper), and a surface. Pat the dough into a circle, then slice it into 8 wedges.

Use your hands to roll each wedge into a rope about 3/4-inch thick. Slice the gnocchi into bite-size pieces (keep in mind that they will expand slightly during cooking). If you would like your gnocchi to have ridges, you can roll each one along the back of a fork (or a special gnocchi board if you’re fancy), but this is totally optional.

At this point you may freeze your gnocchi. Heavily flour a rimmed sheet pan and add your gnocchi, making sure they are in an even layer. Freeze for a couple of hours, until frozen, then transfer to a freezer bag for up to a couple of months.

To cook gnocchi, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt well. Add gnocchi and let cook just until they float (1-2 minutes). Drain immediately and toss with Spicy Sage Brown Butter (or other sauce). Garnish with cheese and enjoy immediately.

Spicy Sage Brown Butter
makes enough for 1 batch Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
20 fresh sage leaves
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4-1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/8-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
parmesan cheese, for garnish

Add butter, sage leaves, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and red pepper flakes to a small light-colored saucepan over medium heat. Butter will bubble and crackle as the water content evaporates. Swirl the pan frequently for 5-7 minutes, keeping an eye on the color. When the solids are turning brown and the butter is nutty and fragrant, remove the pot from the heat.

Use a fork or slotted spoon to fish out the sage leaves (they should be crispy) and place them on a a paper towel-lined plate.

Stir vinegar into the butter and taste and adjust for salt. Toss with gnocchi and use sage leaves as a garnish.