The Food Lab: How to Make Pull-Apart Stuffing-Flavored Rolls

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Buttery, tender, and packed with stuffing flavor, these pull-apart rolls will be the star of the Thanksgiving spread. [Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt. Video: Vicky Wasik]

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It's no question that stuffing is the best thing on the Thanksgiving table. It's also no question that these Easy Pull-Apart Pepperoni Garlic Knots are the most stupidly delicious easy recipe I've come up with so far this year.

So what happens when you take the idea of a pull-apart garlic knot and mix it up with the flavors of stuffing?

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A little bit of Thanksgiving magic. Tender, buttery, stuffing-flavor-packed magic. That's what.

Step 1: Make the Flavor Base

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Start by melting butter in a heavy skillet. Got an aversion to butter? This is not the recipe for you.

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Next, add your sausage. If you're in a market that sells sage sausages (they come out around this time of year on the East Coast), go with that. Otherwise, bulk breakfast sausage is the way to go, though you can easily get away with diced bacon, salami, or even no meat at all if you'd prefer.

I like to use the potato masher to break up my sausage. It makes short work of creating an even-textured crumble.

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Then add your basic aromatics. I use the same flavors that I do in my Classic Sage and Sausage Stuffing: celery, onions, and plenty of chopped sage and garlic.

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Cook those down until the vegetables are softened but not browned, then finish with some fresh parsley. Remove the mixture and let it cool completely.

Step 2: Prepare Your Dough

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This recipe is based on my pepperoni garlic knot recipe, and if good knotted pizza dough worked there, why not here?

I use a basic, lightly enriched dough, like my own New York–Style Pizza Dough, though store-bought pizza dough actually works quite well. (I tested this with dough from Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Safeway.) While store-bought dough is generally under-seasoned and a little bland, in this case, the other flavorings are so damn strong that it really doesn't matter.

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After letting a pound of dough proof for the first time, divide it in half, then roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a roughly four-inch-wide strip.

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Cut it into narrow strips with a bench scraper, then repeat with the other half of the dough.

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Tie each strip into a simple knot.

I tried incorporating the other ingredients directly into the dough, but it disrupts the dough's gluten network too much, causing it to collapse. Your rolls will end up dense and gummy that way. The knotting method creates plenty of nooks and crannies for the flavorings to fall into and cling to, while maintaining a nice, light texture.

Step 3: Toss and Proof

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Transfer the knots to a large bowl, and add your cooled flavor base. Using your whole hand, toss and flip the knots until they're evenly coated on all surfaces. You want to be gentle here, letting the knots cascade over your palms so that you don't end up sticking them together.

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Next, butter up a 9- by 13-inch baking dish (I told you we're not butter-shy here, right?) to help the bottoms and sides brown.

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Lay the knots inside the dish, keeping them evenly spaced. It's okay if they don't sit against each other snugly right now; that'll come with time.

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Cover up the dish tightly with plastic wrap, then set it aside and let the rolls rest until they've roughly doubled in volume. At room temperature, this should take three to four hours. In the fridge, it should take about 12 to 16 hours, which makes this a great make-ahead option.

Alternatively, you can freeze the casserole as is, with a layer of aluminum foil wrapped over it, for up to a week. Let it thaw completely in the fridge overnight, and allow it to rise at room temperature for an hour before baking.

When the rolls are ready to bake, they should look something like this:

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Step 4: Grease and Bake

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What's that? Too much butter, you say? Well, okay then. This time, I'll drizzle them with a little olive oil and brush it on nicely before throwing them placing them gently, so as not to deflate them, into a hot, hot oven to bake.

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After 25 to 30 minutes, they should emerge, ready for one final brushing of butter to give them the glossy sheen of a Parker House roll.

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You'll notice that the sausage and other flavorings on the top will have browned quite a bit, delivering some really intense, concentrated flavor when you bite in. On the other hand, the sausage on the bottom will remain nice and juicy, giving you that pleasantly meaty texture.

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Soft, tender, buttery, packed with real Thanksgiving-stuffing flavor, and oh-so-fun to pull apart, these rolls make the ideal vehicle for dipping into all that extra gravy you've made (you do make extra gravy, right?), perhaps with a little spoonful of cranberry sauce to tie it all together.

If you wanna get really creative, just split one open at the table and make yourself a little Thanksgiving sandwich on the spot. Your mouth, and whomever you pay handsomely to wash your silk napkins, will thank you.

Next task: Use these pull-apart stuffing rolls to make stuffing. IT'S STUFFINCEPTION TIME.