I admit that I am not much into baking with pumpkin. But I really like baked goods that are shaped like pumpkins. They are cute and fun to make. For example, these delicious pumpkin shaped pretzel rolls can be used as dinner rolls, burger buns, they can be turned into sandwiches or you could even serve these for a special occasion like thanksgiving. If you are not afraid of baking with lye solution, this recipe is easy to make and calls for only five basic ingredients.
Like many Germans I just love bread rolls. It’s probably because they’re always fresh and have exactly the right size. You don’t get bored with them because there are so many to choose from. They are a great alternative to bread. You can eat a roll in one sitting without having to store leftovers. And they just taste great. In Germany, rolls a a popular breakfast food, served with butter, cheese, cold cuts, jams or honey. They also make great sandwiches.
I do love to bake my own rolls, too. When I started to bake my own bread, I found rolls to be much easier to handle than bread. They are very easy to shape and you don’t need special equipment like bread pans or proofing baskets. Once I got the hang of it, I started to experiment with different flours and toppings. I also tried different shaping methods. And different preparation methods. Since I do love soft pretzels very much, I soon wanted to learn how to make my own pretzels at home. (I have this rather fancy recipe for coconut lye pretzels with nigella on the blog.) But since pretzels are kind of time consuming because of their shape, I often make pretzel buns instead.
I came up with the idea for these pumpkin shaped buns when I remembered seeing Lauren’s easy pumpkin bread rolls. I loved their cute look but I am not a fan of adding pumpkin to baked goods. Not because I don’t like the taste. But pumpkin rolls or other pumpkin baked goods usually call for pumpkin pureé. And that’s just not much of a thing in Germany. We eat pumpkin soups or pumpkin stews mostly. There’s no tradition of eating pumpkin pie and I guess that’s why there’s no canned pumpkin in this country.
While I am not much into baking with pumpkin, I love baking with lye. I thought that I could turn a pumpkin roll into a lye roll because of the colour the lye gives to baked goods. These pumpkin shaped pretzel rolls look warm and comforting to me. The brown and shiny crust makes them just the perfect autumn food.
Many people are afraid of baking with lye. I do understand that especially if you have small kinds around. Lye can be harmful. You should always protect yourself with gloves and goggles. But if you work slowly and carefully it’s going to be fine. Personally I am as passionate about baking with lye as some people are about their open crust breads. Lye will give your baked goods a very special and authentic taste. They will also have a special, texture with a firm and slightly dense crumb and an extra chewy and crispy crust. I also love the colour of rolls or pretzels baked with lye. It is deep brown and shiny. The crust will get extra spectacular if you let the buns rest for about ten minutes after the lye bath. That way lots of little blisters will form during baking, as you can see in the first picture.
If you use baking soda for pretzel buns, your crust will look wrinkly. It will have an uneven colouring with darker and lighter spots of brown. Personally, I don’t think that is too appetising. Plus, there already so many recipes for pretzel buns made in a soda bath. So if you want to try something different, this is your chance!
Tips for baking with lye
- What is food grade lye? Food grade lye is also called sodium hydroxide or caustic soda.
- Where to buy food grade lye? Here in Germany, I usually order it online from baking supply stores. It is also sold at pharmacies.
- How to work with food grade lye: Safety first! Make sure to wear gloves and protect your eyes, eg. with goggles. My lye comes in small white pellets that have to be dissolved in cold water. It is important to put the sodium hydroxide into the water and not the other way round! (You will cause a violent reaction if you pour water over the lye granules.) Set aside and make sure there are no kids or animals near the solution. Do not dissolve the lye in something made from aluminium. Instead use plastic or stainless steel. (Plastic is best.) Always follow the instructions that come with your lye. Mine usually say to dissolve 40 g of lye pellets in 1 litre of water. After use, you can store the lye in a glass container. I tend to use mine two to three times. Make sure to label your container properly, store it in a safe space and, of course, keep it away from children. Alternatively you can just pour it down the drain. The sodium hydroxide will clear your pipes.
- Alternatives to food grade lye: Baking soda is an alternative that is often recommended. I personally don’t think it works that well. But, if you cannot or don’t want to use lye, dissolve 3 tablespoons of baking soda in one litre of water. Soak the buns in the solution for 30 seconds. Drain and place on a baking sheet.
How to make Pumpkin Shaped Pretzel Rolls
- Shaping: To make these pumpkin shaped pretzel rolls, take a piece of kitchen yarn and wrap it around a dough ball as shown in the picture below. Repeat that step two to three times. Most people use four strings. I got a bit lazy and used only three for most of my rolls. (Hey, mine are heirloom pumpkins!) Make sure to only wrap the yarn loosely. If your dough rises a lot during baking (like mine), the yarn might get stuck if it is too tight. To prevent sticking you can also oil the yarn and dust it with a bit of flour before you wrap it around the dough.
- Resting and Proofing: I made these pumpkin shaped pretzel rolls with a tiny bit of fresh yeast (3 g) and let them rest over night in the fridge. But don’t worry! You can make them quicker. Use 1 teaspoon of instant yeast instead and let them proof at room temperature until they have doubled in size (60 to 90 minutes).
- Shiny Crust with Blisters: To get this crust, let the rolls rest for 10 minutes after the lye bath.
- A note on yeast: I always prefer fresh yeast over instant or active dry. Fresh yeast helps the dough rise much better. It is also much easier to measure out, especially if you are working with doughs that call for small amounts. If you want to use instant dry yeast instead of fresh yeast, you will only need 1/3 the amount.
Pumpkin Shaped Pretzel Rolls
These pretzel buns are shaped like pumpkins. They are made exactly like Bavarian pretzels: with lye instead of baking soda. This process will give them their special chewy texture and a shiny brown crust.
- 250 g all-purpose flour (2 cups)
- 150 ml warm water (½ cup + 2 tbsp)
- 3 g fresh yeast (See notes below for alternative version)
- 5 g salt
- 1 tbsp olive oil
For the lye solution
- 1 litre cold water
- 40 g food grade lye granules
Place flour in a bowl.
Add water and yeast and let sit for 10 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients and knead the dough. Personally I like to knead it by hand right in the bowl and for 10 minutes until it has a smooth surface and is only slightly sticky. You can use a kitchen machine, too.
Cover the bowl with plastic (I use a thin plastic bag that I can reuse) and let rest in the fridge for about 8 hours.
Take the bowl out of the fridge and let the dough come back to room temperature for about 2 hours.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface.
Divide the dough into 6 equally sized portions and roll into balls.
Loosely wrap a piece of yarn around the dough and make a knot at the bottom.
Wrap another piece of yarn around the dough in a 45 degree angle. Please refer to the pictures above for reference.
Repeat this process one or two times, to get a pumpkin shaped roll that has either 6 or 8 dents.
Preheat the oven to 220°C and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Let the dough rest uncovered (important, so it can form a skin) for about 30 minutes.
Prepare the lye: Pour 1 litre of cold water in a plastic bowl.
Add 40g of lye granules and carefully stir until dissolved. Please make sure to use gloves and also protect your eyes.
Soak the rolls in lye solution for a couple of seconds.
Place the rolls on the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.
For an extra glossy crust, brush or spray the rolls with water and let them bake for another two minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool completely. Remove strings and serve.
If you don’t have fresh yeast around, you can make this dough with instant yeast. You should use 1/3 the amount, which is 1 gram. For a version that does not require refrigeration, use 20 g fresh yeast or 1 tsp instant yeast. Instead of letting the dough in the fridge over night, let it rise at room temperature until doubled in size. This should take about 60 to 90 minutes.