toddler eats: sweet potato pumpkin rolls!

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i’m so excited about this recipe kelsey nixon is sharing today and just in time for thanksgiving next week! any kind of homemade roll is a major must on my thanksgiving plate and bonus points if it has pumpkin! i also love how this recipe incorporates a little gratitude scroll craft as well! very cute. we’re looking forward to making these next week with the kiddos.  and i’m especially looking forward to eating a big plate of these rolls all by myself, too!  ;)
kelsey says:
With Thanksgiving just a week away, it’s a great time to start planning out your menu and ways in which you can incorporate your littles into the big feast. Making an effort to include your kids in your Thanksgiving celebrations will help to create traditions and lasting memories for your family. So whether you step into the kitchen with your kids or enlist their help for crafts or table decorations, think of something that they can look forward to when it comes to contributing to the big day.
My Oliver is on a cooking kick these days and loves to be in the kitchen “helping me” cook (which most often results in an epic mess!). I love that we both enjoy being in the kitchen together and wanted to include him in a little bit of meal prep this year. Inspired by his favorite color (orange) and the cute way in which he says”punkin” I decided to come up with a Sweet Potato Pumpkin Roll that we can make together to serve to family and friends on Thanksgiving. To make the most of being thankful this time of year I also wanted to throw in a gratitude element that would really make these rolls special. This recipe doesn’t require a lot of ingredients, has a fairly simple process, and is nearly foolproof. Even if you’ve never made bread before, you can handle this recipe.
The first step is to bloom or activate the yeast with a little bit of sugar and warm water. Make sure to be patient and give the mixture 5 minutes to kick into gear- it should look a little bubbly. Then you’ll simply add the rest of your wet ingredients including the rest of the sugar, eggs, melted butter, salt, and sweet potato puree. The sweet potatoes in these rolls make them so tender. The easiest way to get this secret ingredient into your rolls is to use a sweet potato baby food puree – I do this all the time! If you’re more of a purist, you can absolutely cook, drain, and blend fresh sweet potatoes to get 1/2 cup puree. Oliver got a kick out of emptying the jars into the dough and you’d never guess that baby food of all things was included in this recipe! Finally, mix in the flour until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of your mixing bowl. Trust your gut here and add a little more flour (slowly) if your dough seems too wet. I usually end up adding between 4 and 4 1/2 cups.
Turn your dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and bounces back when you indent your finger into the surface. Transfer the dough to a greased mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel. Allow your dough to rise until doubled in size – I usually give it about 45 minutes to an hour. Just enough time to clean up the mess I’ve already made in the kitchen and pull everything else together to finish the rolls.
Punch the dough down and let it rest for about 2 minutes before portioning it into 16-20 balls. Make sure to keep the dough covered with a kitchen towel at all times to prevent it from drying out. I love using a bench scraper for portioning – it’s one of my favorite tools in the kitchen for a variety of reasons! Roll each piece of dough into an even ball and transfer to a greased baking sheet.
Using a paring knife, cut 4-6 slits around the dough ball to resemble a pumpkin. Using your pinky or another slender circular object (I used my digital thermometer casing), pierce a small hole in the center of the dough balls. Cover with the kitchen towel again and preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. While the oven preheats your rolls will rise again. A double rise will ensure a tender roll that isn’t dense. I usually give the second rise about 20 minutes or so.
An extra step that we took is to write what we’re thankful for this year on strips of parchment paper with these markers  Then we rolled them up and stuck them in the center of the pumpkin rolls before baking. At the dinner table it’s a blast to tear open your roll and try and guess who’s gratitude scroll you got! It’s so fun to see your kids get excited about what they’re grateful for. It’s not a necessary step to the recipe, but it really makes these rolls special for Thanksgiving!
Once your rolls are shaped (and stuffed if you’re doing the gratitude scrolls), brush them with an egg wash before placing them in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through. Once out of the oven, allow the rolls to cool slightly then finishing by sticking a small pecan slice into the top of each roll to resemble a stem.
We love these rolls so much we’re planning to make them a tradition at our Thanksgiving table for years to come. Do you have any recipes that you make with your kids each Thanksgiving? I’d love to hear them!
Sweet Potato Pumpkin Rolls
Yield: 1 1/2 dozen rolls
  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sweet potato puree*
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 4-5 cups all purpose flour
  • Chopped pecans, for stems
Dissolve yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar, and warm water in a mixing bowl. Allow yeast to bloom for 5 minutes until activated.
Add the remaining sugar, eggs, butter, sweet potato puree, and salt. Mix to combine. Mix in flour slowly, adding just enough for the dough to begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl and no longer stick.
Transfer to countertop dusted with flour and knew for a 3-4 minutes just until smooth and the dough bounces back after indenting your finger into the dough. Place in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes to an hour (or longer).
Punch dough down and let dough rest for 2 minutes before portioning into 16-20 dough piece. Roll into balls and transfer to greased baking sheet. Using a paring knife, cut 4-6 slits on the edges of each ball, keeping the center in tact. Using your pinky or a small slender circular object, pierce a hole in the center of each dough ball to resemble shape of a pumpkin. (Place gratitude scrolls in hole, if using)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cover shaped rolls and allow to rise again for at least 20 minutes. Bake in oven for 12-15 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Finish by placing pecan pieces in each hole to resemble stem.
*I like to use organic sweet potato puree baby food. This is my favorite brand
thank you kelsey for sharing this fun recipe with us! see kelsey’s post with clever ideas for toddler lunches HERE and all about cooking with apples HERE.
all photos by kylie whiting.
  1. Tanusree

    These are really cute. specially with those gratitude rolls.

  2. These are so fun and adorable, not to mention they probably taste amazing! Great idea!

  3. I live in the UK, so Thanksgiving isn’t something we celebrate…but I really love the idea of these rolls and I know my niece/nephew would love them. ;)

  4. How cute! It must be so much fun for the kids to eat these tiny pumpkins and look for sweet messages inside.

  5. Chelsea

    these are to cute! I’ve never tried making homemade rolls before, but I want to start with these. I’m always looking for ideas like this that could turn into traditions the kiddos will remember and maybe carry on. Thanks for sharing!

  6. This is ridiculously cute! I love the little thankful-note and I think I am going to introduce thanksgiving here to my friends and family in The Netherlands.


  7. arielle

    this is such a cute idea! I love the thankful little messages inside each of the rolls. so fun for little ones and thank you sharing. I am always trying to think of cute ways to celebrate thanksgiving!

    love, arielle
    a simple elegance

  8. Lydia

    Oh wow, what a lovely idea!

    I’m thankful for the suggestion :p

  9. sarah

    this is SUCH A GREAT IDEA! we’re having a friendsgiving on saturday with 11 of my friends and i just asked everyone to send me what they’re thankful for so we can have these in two days. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS!

  10. Tammy

    What an great idea. I think in all the fuss about holiday shopping and Black Friday, Thanksgiving is kind of a forgotten holiday.

    This is a really kind and thoughtful idea to bring some meaning back into the holiday. Thanks for sharing.


  11. Patricia

    Seems delicious!

  12. Samantha

    What an adorable take on dinner rolls! I love the pumpkin shape and the hidden messages add such a special touch :) Thanks for sharing!
    ~ Samantha

  13. Brooke

    These are the absolute CUTEST!

  14. those look so yummy and adorable! i’m going to have to try that!

    xoxo, kiely

  15. emily

    this is the cutest idea! i love when thanksgiving things revolve around what the holiday SHOULD be about… being thankful! america is so consumeristic these days. thanks for keeping it real you guys!

  16. Kim

    The photo in the post shows mixing the dough using a standing mixer. Is this necessary for the recipe? Definitely can’t fit one of those puppies in my tiny apartment!

  17. Jessica

    Where are those kitchen towels from?? Love them!