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Make-Ahead Pumpkin Dinner Rolls for Thanksgiving

No matter what projects and deadlines are on the docket, the busy person’s day is by necessity a divided one.

We start a task in the morning, leave emails in draft form while we run out to meetings or get sidetracked by small crises, then return to our desks and computers later on to finish things out.

Or sometimes we don’t get back to finishing that email, putting the final touches on a presentation, or even frosting that cake until the next morning.

pumpkin nut dinner rolls
Photo: Casey Barber

The strategy of doing a little bit one day and finishing up your efforts the next day is the idea behind the book Make Ahead Bread: 100 Recipes for Melt-in-Your-Mouth Fresh Bread Every Day, by Donna Currie.

Donna makes a lot of bread, as evidenced by the output on her site Cookistry and her columns for Serious Eats.

No doubt you’ve been charmed by her bunny bread, which has been hopping all over the internet for a few years. [Full disclosure: Donna and I met and bonded over bread at King Arthur Flour’s Blog & Bake workshop in 2011.]

If you’re going to take one lesson away from Make-Ahead Bread, I hope it’s the calm realization that bread making doesn’t have to be a fussy affair.

It’s true that the intimidation factor is high for novice bakers because of the necessity of working with yeast (the element that Donna calls the “stray cat loose in the building … unpredictable and hard to tame.”)

pumpkin nut dinner rolls
Photo: Casey Barber

And she does specify a few brands by name, like Red Star active dry yeast, and like any good baker, recommends that you get in the habit of weighing your ingredients instead of measuring them by volume.

But for the most part, Donna’s recipes let you be a little loosey goosey with the process. Dough is mixed, kneaded (by hand or with a stand mixer, using your eyes and hands as a guide rather than relying on specific times), and left to rise once at room temperature.

Then it’s either shaped for baking or just left to do a second rise overnight in the fridge.

Pretty much every type of bread under the sun—fruit danish and sticky buns, naan and tortillas, nut-studded loaves and rustic baguettes, even crescent rolls and English muffins—makes an appearance in Make-Ahead Bread, giving a full spectrum of projects for bakers to take on as their confidence levels rise. (See what I did just there?)

pumpkin nut dinner rolls
Photo: Casey Barber

Start with basic pizza dough, which gets mixed and kneaded within a zip-top bag, and work up to cinnamon croissants or feta, rosemary, and sun-dried tomato turnovers.

I’m especially appreciative of the suggestions for using up the odds and ends of loaves and leftover rolls, such as breakfast stratas and bread puddings, homemade croutons, and a host of butters and spreads to make you want to snack on bread heels until the end of time.

The make-ahead strategy comes in especially handy for large gatherings like the Thanksgiving meal. Many of the rolls and shaped breads in Make-Ahead Bread can be par-baked and reheated so you can serve them warm without any sweating over advance prep work on the day of your party.

pumpkin nut dinner rolls
Photo: Casey Barber

For my Thanksgiving menu, I’ll be making the following pumpkin nut dinner rolls.

The pumpkin in these rolls doesn’t add any significant sweetness or “pumpkin spice” flavor.

Its crucial role here is to add moisture (along with a pretty little side effect of gorgeous autumnal color), which helps keep the rolls soft and pliant instead of going stale or becoming too tough and chewy when reheated.

These pumpkin nut dinner rolls are wonderfully comforting, especially with a swipe of salted butter or a dollop of tart cranberry spread.

Come to think of it, maybe I better make a second batch. We might need them for Black Friday breakfast too.

pumpkin nut dinner rolls

pumpkin nut dinner rolls

Make-Ahead Pumpkin Nut Dinner Rolls

Yield: 12 rolls
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 12 hours
Total Time: 13 hours

Make these savory pumpkin nut dinner rolls overnight or a few days ahead of time, then reheat for fresh, warm bread at Thanksgiving. Recipe from from Make Ahead Bread: 100 Recipes for Melt-in-Your-Mouth Fresh Bread Every Day by Donna Currie


  • 3 1/2 cups (15 3/4 ounces) bread flour, plus additional flour for hand kneading if needed
  • 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) Red Star brand active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (8 1/2 ounces) canned pure pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup room-temperature water
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) finely chopped toasted pecans or walnuts


To prep:

  1. Add the flour, dry milk, yeast, salt, pumpkin, water, butter, and honey to the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl.
  2. Mix with the dough hook attachment on low speed until a shaggy dough forms.
  3. Add the chopped nuts and knead for 3-4 minutes until smooth.
  4. You can also mix the ingredients with a spatula or electric hand mixer, then transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand.
  5. When the dough is smooth and elastic, pat it into a ball and return it to the bowl if kneading by hand.
  6. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for at least 1 hour until doubled in size—if your house is cold, this could take longer, so find a warmish spot if you can. (As someone who keeps her house at a toasty 63 degrees in the winter, I keep mine in a turned-off oven or on top of a radiator to help the rising process.)
  7. Once the dough has doubled in size, line a small (approximately 9-x13-inch) baking sheet with parchment paper.
  8. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and divide into 12 equally sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and place on the prepared baking sheet.
  9. Cover the sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.

To bake:

  1. Take the baking sheet out of the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. Leave at room temperature while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees F for a half hour.
  2. Bake the rolls for about 30 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and an instant-read thermometer registers a 205 degrees F internal temperature.
  3. Let the rolls cool on a wire rack until ready to serve.


Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Prep:

You can make these rolls up to a week in advance. Bake them just until their tops are barely brown (25-30 minutes), then cool the rolls completely on a wire rack.

Place the cooled rolls on a clean baking sheet and freeze for about 1 hour until frozen solid. Transfer to a large zip-top bag or lidded container and keep frozen for up to 1 week.

The night before you plan to serve the rolls, thaw them overnight in the refrigerator. Reheat in a 325-degree oven for 10-15 minutes, until warmed through and golden brown. Serve warm.

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