I have a long, complicated relationship with Pillsbury crescent roll dough. As someone who almost always prefers to make everything from scratch, I like to think of my former love affair with the canned pastry a sort of dirty secret, a whispered confession only to my closest friends.
As a child I was a disaster in the kitchen, and smart adults didn’t let me do much. I’m talking “I made banana pudding in the coffee grinder at 5 AM” level of disaster. As a teenager, Pillsbury crescent rolls and biscuits, along with Stovetop stuffing, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and Campbells soup were among the things I could confidently make. So naturally, being the creative type of person I have always been, I saw crescent rolls as my canvas and began to experiment.
The first recipe that I ever became “famous” for among my friends and family was a Ruben Ring, a notion that I’m pretty sure came out of the Pampered Chef catalog as part of an advertisement for its pizza stone, which we just so happened to have. I was sixteen, and this seemed to me the peak of sophistication. The recipe involved combining chopped pastrami with saurkraut and thousand island dressing, then stuffing that inside of a braided wreath made of crescent roll dough and baking it on a pizza stone. For years, I made this for every holiday party and family gathering. It was the very beginning of my reputation as a trustworthy cook.
Last week, my husband and I stumbled upon a phenomenally good Asian market in Albany, with a selection of condiments that rivals any of the megamarts in NYC’s Chinatown. Among many other things, I picked up a jar of ube jam. If you’re unfamiliar with ube, it’s a sweet, vibrantly purple yam that’s widely used in Filipino cooking. It’s more floral and delicate than a typical sweet potato, and absolutely screams DESSERT in flavor and appearance.
Walking through the grocery store last night, wondering what to do with my new condiment, I decided to rendezvous with my old love and head to the refrigerated aisle for some canned dough. It had been a long time since I’d bought such a thing, and I was happily surprised to see that there was now a Sweet Hawaiian variety of crescent roll, which seemed like a perfect fit for the ube jam.
I feel almost guilty posting this as a recipe. It has literally two ingredients, both of them store-bought. Could you make buttery crescent roll dough and ube jam from scratch? Absolutely. But sometimes, in airports and on early morning road trips, I get MacDonald’s for breakfast, and sometimes, on Saturday mornings after a kind of stressful week of holiday festivities, I make breakfast pastries with canned dough.
The shape of these little knots is inspired by the Swedish Kardemummabullar, which I learned to make by watching the NYT Cooking behind-the-scenes video about Fabrique bakery’s fabled version. I was pleased to see that the crescent roll dough had enough stretch to make the shape, but it does work better in miniature.
To start, simply acquire the two ingredients. Open your can of dough and press it into a long rectangle, pinching the perforations to seal.
Next, spread an even layer of ube jam across the whole slab. You’ll want to spread the filling right up to the edges, then fold the long edges over the middle like an envelope.
At this point, it’s easiest to break your giant rectangle into two pieces along the hard perforation line.
Roll these out so they’re a bit longer, then slice lengthwise.
To make the shape, wrap a strip of dough around your three middle fingers three times, then cross the remaining dough over the middle and tuck it through to form a knot. I found that twisting the strip slightly while I worked created a prettier swirl when baked.
These went in my oven for 15 minutes at 375. You’ll want to keep an eye on them as they bake. Because you’re exposing more of the inner dough than usual with crescent rolls, they need to go a bit longer. Ride the line between well done and over-baked.
Did we eat the entire batch for breakfast? Maybe we did. They were quite sweet, and absolutely delicious. You could jazz these up with a little bit of egg wash and maybe some flaky salt, but the point of this recipe is to feel fancy without doing much actual work, so you don’t need to. The magical properties of canned crescent roll dough make them golden brown, pillowy, and perfect with almost no effort.