Sometimes you just need to play with your food. And, that’s evident with these cute little pumpkin shaped buns. They’re easy to make but I’m not sure Great Grandma Melissa would have dreamed, in the early 1900’s, that over a hundred years later one of her descendants would be creating pumpkin shaped buns from her ever popular family recipe. And, I’m sure my own Grandmother Myrtle and Mom would have joined right in, what with all the creative genes they nurtured throughout their many many years.
I like to take a creative slant on some of the older family recipes. For this new to me “play with your food” idea, I’ve taken Great Grandma Melissa's decades old bun recipe and redesigned it to make some fun pumpkin shapes. They're fun shapes, easy to make and delicious to eat!
They have NO pumpkin flavoring or spices, so EVERYone can enjoy them with out fall flavor stigma.
Start by making the dough into one large pumpkin for a larger center piece and make the rest of the dough into smaller pumpkins. Or make all of the dough into smaller pumpkins. Or make the dough into one huge pumpkin.
A serving option for the larger pumpkin would be to make a warm or cold cheese dip for dipping crackers or veggies after scooping out the inside dough. Be sure to leave a solid outside structure. Surround the large pumpkin with inside dough chunks and smaller pumpkins sectioned for dipping. The smaller pumpkins are very easy to break apart along the ridge lines.
Mix the bun dough and let it rise as directed below. Form the dough into bun rounds. You can make them in different sizes for a variety of sizes if you like. Cut cotton kitchen string and soak in olive oil, then tie around the bun forms to make the pumpkin ridges. As the bun dough rounds rise and bake, the ridges will appear as the dough squeezes through. Later you’ll cut and carefully pull the strings off the baked pumpkin shapes while they’re still warm.
It’s not necessary to position the strings equidistant apart to produce evenly placed pumpkin ridges. I like my pumpkins to appear as though they are Great Grandma’s heirloom pumpkins with homemade ridges, not like today’s “perfect from the factory lookalike pumpkins.” Give them a little more character by pressing down on top of some pumpkins to make them shorter and wider. Leave others to be a little taller for a variety of fun and interesting pumpkin shapes. Or, squeeze a few to be even taller. It’s fun to play with the shapes and sizes.
You’ll need some 100% cotton string, preferrable cotton butcher’s or kitchen string without any dyes or synthetic additions. It’s the same string you would use for trussing up legs or tying up a roast before baking. I keep my kitchen string in a zipper locked bag to keep it clean in one of my kitchen gadget drawers.
This is a recipe that my Great Grandmother Melissa passed on down to my Grandmother Myrtle who passed it to my Mother. I learned how to make these as a young girl, creating some important bonding time with Mom before it was ever popularly called bonding time.
These buns are well worth the time to make, and it’s so easy. You just need to allocate enough time in the day to come out with perfect buns. Mom always had many other things to do while the buns were rising on top of her bed which was in the warmest room of the house. I allow a full day from about 9:00am until 3:00pm to finish up the recipe. The steps are pretty easy and walking the dogs outside is one thing I love to do while the yeasty dough rises. (Or, I force myself to do a little cleaning while they are rising.) The bonus is that the kitchen holds that wonderful smell into the evening for all to enjoy. They will probably disappear in the mouths of your family in less time than it takes for you to bake them. However, it’s well worth it and there are so many wonderful memories tied up with the process.
Play with your food and make Pumpkin Shapes!
I’ve taken this recipe and formatted them into a Fall treat for Halloween and Thanksgiving. When you make this recipe, you could make a few in the pumpkin shapes and add a little orange gel food coloring. Then make one large pumpkin for a centerpiece. Here’s how the buns are made.
- This recipe makes 3-5 dozen depending on how large or small you make them.
- Many times I only make a half recipe to produce 15-18 buns, using them for sandwiches or as dunkers with soup and chili.
Preheat your oven:
A few minutes prior to baking the risen buns, set your oven for 350F degrees.
Prep your pans:
I use parchment paper to line the 2-3 large baking sheet pans so they're much easier to clean.
Prep your work surface for tying the dough balls with string:
Spread out a couple of sheets of parchment paper on which to line up the oil-soaked strings to tie up the dough balls. Or, just clean off your counter. Because of the oil, you’ll need to clean it after you’re done, too.
Best Buns Ingredients:
2 Pkges Dry Yeast
2 t Salt
2 C Water, lukewarm
2 C Flour
1 C Sugar
1 C Water
1 C Lard (I use white shortening)
6 C Flour
20 Small Pretzels (traditional pretzel shape)
Make and proof the bun dough:
- In a medium to large bowl, mix the yeast, salt and 2 cups lukewarm water.
- Add 2 cups flour and stir so all are combined. It will be stringy and sticky.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to rise in a warm part of the kitchen 1-2 hours. I help it along on a cold day by placing a heating pad (heated in the microwave) under the bowl. The dough batter should be bubbly. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, cream the shortening/lard, 2 eggs, 1 cup sugar with a pastry cutter until the everything has been well distributed. Mom and Gram both used lard. Later Mom used shortening, I think simply because it was easier to obtain and store than lard. Lard could be rather messy in its big block form, stored in the refrigerator as opposed to shortening's convenient plastic lidded cans that could be easily stored in the cupboard. I have always used white shortening.
- Add the 1 cup water and stir so it's well combined.
- Put the two mixtures together in the larger bowl and stir well.
- Add the 6 cups of flour, two cups at a time, and stir well after each addition. The last two cups may be difficult to stir in so I knead it all together with my cleaned hands for a few minutes in the bowl. (If you have a large enough electric stand mixer you may want to knead it together with the paddle.) I like to knead it by hand so I can "feel" when it's ready to let rise again before making it into bun shapes. I even knead it right in the big bowl, adding a little more flour if it's needed.
- If you don't knead the dough in the bowl, unload the dough onto a floured counter or bread board. Knead it a little more.
- Wash the bowl completely, and dry it. Then lightly brush some extra virgin olive oil or shortening on the bottom and sides of the bowl before putting the dough back into the bowl.
- Cover the dough bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a warm spot in the kitchen to rise for 2 hours. The dough should be satiny smooth on the outside.
- Take the plastic wrap off the bowl and punch down the dough.
- Pull off a ball of dough larger than a ping pong ball, but smaller than a baseball. Form it into a bun by placing it in your left palm (if you're right-handed) and pulling one side up and around the ball. As you pull up another side to pull over rotate the ball in your left palm. Repeat this process until you have a smooth ball. The smooth side will end up facing down into your palm while the seamed side will be up.
- Repeat the bun rolling/rotating process to make 3-4 dozen buns, placing them all seam side down on the parchment paper lined baking pans. Or, make 2-3 dozen dough balls for the smaller pumpkin buns. - Then make one large ball with the leftover dough for the larger pumpkin. If the leftover dough does not make as large a pumpkin dough ball as you’d like, go ahead and add a few of the smaller dough balls and reform it into one large dough ball.
How many pumpkin buns to make?
- I use about ¼ of the dough to make the larger pumpkin shape for the focal point. Then the others are made into individual pumpkin shaped buns, which will make about 40, depending how small you make them. It’s something you can experiment with, making different smaller sizes.
Let the dough balls rise:
- Before trussing up the dough balls with the strings, let the dough balls rise for 10-15 minutes…with the smooth sides facing up.
- Cover with a light cotton towel during the rise process.
Form your small Pumpkin Shapes:
- Since you’ll need 4 strings for each small dough ball, cut strings of 8”-10” each, 4 times the number of smaller dough balls you have made. So, if you made 20 smaller dough balls, cut 80 strings. If you don’t want to deal with that much tying, then make fewer pumpkin balls and make regular round buns with the rest of the dough.
- In a small bowl, soak the strings in a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Make sure all the strings have soaked. They don’t need to be dripping with oil, just so they have oil all over them.
- On your parchment paper or clean countertop, crisscross 4 strings, overlapping them in the center.
- Gently set one dough ball in the very center, with the smooth side down.
- Bring up both ends of one string and tie in a knot, so the knot is tied close to the dough ball. As you tie the string, make it taut around the dough, but not so tight that the string cuts into the dough. You don’t want to create ridges at this time. That will come with the next dough rising step.
- Pull up the two ends of the string that crosses the first one at 90-degree angles. Tie as you did the first string, not pulling it too tight.
- Treating each dough ball gently, do the same with the other strings, tying them, but not too taut. This will create 8 ridges on each small pumpkin shaped bun.
- Cut all the string ends off, about a ½” from the center knots.
- Carefully flip the dough ball over. All the strings should intersect the middle of the top of the dough ball. I don’t try to readjust any of the strings – it’s okay to have them a little off center or off kilter. That adds to the character of your pumpkins.
- Place the tied dough ball, smooth side up, on the parchment paper lined baking sheets.
- Repeat with all the rest of the dough balls, placing them about 2” apart on the baking sheet.
- Cover with a light cotton towel and let rise another 15 minutes. If you’d like them larger than they are, let them rise a few more minutes.
- As the dough balls rise, you’ll notice the ridges are appearing as the dough bulges out between the strings. They are so CUTE!
Form your large Pumpkin Shape:
- For the larger dough ball, cut 4 strings about 14”-16” each. That will make 8 sections on the large pumpkin.
- Repeat the same process of tying the oil-soaked strings around the large dough ball.
- Cut all the string ends off, about ½” from the center knots.
- Carefully flip the large dough ball over and set onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
- Cover with a light cotton towel and let rise another 15 minutes. If you’d like it larger and airy on the inside, let it rise even more. Keep in mind that the deeper the ridges, the more difficult it may be to pull the strings out. The more the dough rises, the deeper the ridges and the tougher it may be to pull the strings off.
- As the dough balls rise, you’ll notice the ridges are appearing as the dough bulges out between the strings.
Bake the Buns:
- Bake the buns at 350F degrees for about 20 minutes until golden brown. I check them at 15 minutes, rotate the pans and bake for another 3-5 minutes. Depending on your oven's actual temperature, they could take from 18-23 minutes. Either way, they should end up golden brown.
- Yum! They are especially tasty within just a few minutes after coming out of the oven, with a little butter or homemade jam from Gram's recipe.
After taking the buns out of the oven:
- While they are still hot, brush a little butter or white shortening on the tops of all the buns. If you like a more rustic look, just leave the butter off.
- After the buns have cooled a little, gently pull the strings off without damaging the shape of the buns.
- If the strings become embedded in the dough, just pull the strings through to the bottom of the dough ball after the bun has cooled a little.
Garnish before serving:
- With the small traditionally shaped pretzels you’ll create stems. Just break a rounded portion of the pretzel to make a stem for each pumpkin for curved stems. Make the stems the length and shape you like and stick them into the top of the centers of the pumpkins. Their imperfection adds to the heirloom effect of the little pumpkins you’ve made.
- Break a larger piece of a pretzel to make a stem for the larger pumpkin.
- If you don’t need so many little pumpkins, cut this recipe in half and make and bake them as directed above. Or, just make a certain number of pumpkin shaped buns, making the rest into regular buns.
- These are so darn cute to serve as bacon cheeseburger sliders! There is no pumpkin flavoring in the buns, so they go well with your favorite burger. Add homemade bread and butter pickles and you have an entire meal.
- Serve them with butter or jams for a Fall dinner or on Thanksgiving Day.
- Try them as dippers for a cheese or hot artichoke dip, using the larger pumpkin to hole your dip.
- Serve them with a pumpkin spread of pumpkin puree, cream cheese and pumpkin spices.
- Pair them with Thanksgiving Day turkey and gravy. Use them to sop up the gravy...mmm!
- Use them the next day, cut in half and covered with leftover turkey and warmed up gravy next to some of those sides from Thanksgiving Day. Nice!
- Slice in half and sandwich with a juicy burger, cheddar cheese, jalapeno slices, hot mustard and onion slices or top them with onion rings.
- They are great toasted and spread with soft butter and homemade jam for breakfast.
- Mustard and cheese with salami is a great idea for a brown bag lunch.
- Tuna salad with crushed potato chips on top - yum!
- Cut them in half, spread with butter and toast in a fry pan to get them ready to hold a juicy hamburger, cheddar cheese, ketchup, mustard, pickles, etc.
- If they get a little dry, cut them up in cubes to bake into croutons on a low oven temp, with extra virgin olive and herbs
- Cut them into thick slices and spread with extra virgin olive oil and toast them in the oven for bruschetta. Spread them with olive pesto and canned dried herbed tomatoes. Top each with a basil leaf.
Storage is easy:
- These buns can be kept for a few days in an airtight container or plastic bag.
- They can be easily frozen in an airtight container for a couple of weeks. Thaw in the container on the counter before serving.
- Keep in mind that the pretzel stems may get soft when the pumpkin shapes are stored in an airtight container. The moisture from the buns will make the stems soft. In that case, just take out the soft stems and replace with a fresh pretzel stem before serving.
Enjoy your cute little garden of pumpkin buns as a new way to make your fall family dinners and snacking more enjoyable. However you serve them, be sure to Bake your own Memories!