My sister asked me to bring bread to Christmas dinner: "Dinner rolls? And herbed butter if you're feeling exuberant?"
This is one of those recipes that started out as one thing and rapidly got tinkered (tinkered down in this case) into something entirely else. The sage-orange butter is still a work-in-progress but I include it for completeness' sake.
For Sweet Potato Rolls:
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
2 tsp dry active yeast
2 tbs sugar
1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter
1/2 c honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp salt
3 cups whole wheat flour
4 cups (approx) all purpose flour
You could substitute pumpkin or other winter squash for the sweet potatoes. I made this in my stand mixer; use the paddle attachment until the dough starts to get sticky, then switch to the dough hook. When it is time to let the dough rise, I just disengage the dough hook and drop a towel over the bowl of the mixer rather than dirty up another bowl.
Peel and quarter the sweet potatoes. Simmer them in a large pot of water until tender. Reserve one cup of the cooking liquid and drain. Place potatoes in a large bowl and mash. Add butter, honey, vegetable oil, and salt, and mix thoroughly.
Allow the reserved cooking liquid to cool until you can stick a finger in it comfortably (if it's too hot for you, it's too hot for the yeast). Sprinkle yeast and sugar over the warm water, stir to combine, and let stand until yeast starts to foam. Stir the yeast into the sweet potato mixture.
Beat in the whole wheat flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Gradually add the all purpose flour to form a soft, slightly sticky dough. Knead until smooth and elastic, sprinkling on more all purpose flour if necessary.
Oil a large bowl lightly. Add the dough, turning it to coat the entire surface. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow the dough to rise until doubled in bulk. When it has done so, punch it down and allow it to rise again.
During the second rising, preheat the oven to 400 F. Grease 3 9-inch pans (I used Pyrex pie dishes, cake pans also work). When the dough is ready, punch it down again and turn it out onto a floured board. Divide it into thirds, and each third into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and place 12 balls into each prepared pan. Let stand 15-20 minutes, then bake until golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. If desired, brush the tops of the finished rolls with melted butter.
Serve warm. These can be made ahead and warmed again before serving.
For the Sage-Orange Butter:
2 sticks (1/2 pound) room temperature butter
2 tsp ground dried sage
grated zest of 1 orange
1 tbs brown sugar
1/8 tsp nutmeg
Place all ingredients in a bowl and beat to combine (an electric hand mixer is good for this). Pack into a crock or a ramekin or a small bowl if that's what you have. Cover with two layers of waxed paper held in place with a rubber band or kitchen twine and refrigerate. Allow to come back to room temperature to serve. Best made at least one day ahead.
A little bit of ginger might be the missing ingredient.