Oct 262016

Pumpkin yeast bread

It’s fall and the pumpkin spice must flow. Only, a person can get tired of all the cloyingly sweet applications. Don’t get me wrong: I love the cookies, the quick-breads, the martinis, and the occasional half-the-syrup latte. And the pie! The pie will soon be upon us! After a while though, I yearn for something more savory.

Enter a bread from Whole Foods that I’ve adored for years. It’s savory, but still spiced like familiarity craves, soft, delicious, and divine — utterly divine — as a vehicle for runny egg yolk. The problems are two-fold: a) being from Whole Foods, it’s exorbitantly expensive, and b) they don’t roll it out until Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving!!! Where is the sense in that, I ask?! No one else waits until Thanksgiving to bring out their pumpkin amazingness!

Clearly, it was time for me to take matters into my own hands.

There were plenty of unknowns (what is the hydration of the loaf? How exactly does pumpkin affect the hydration percentage of a dough?) but enough knowns (thank you, ingredient label) for me to get a good start. And to borrow a phrase from my favorite wild-yeast baker, this is bread, not birth control, so it doesn’t have to be perfect while I figure out how to get the recipe just right. I figured out that one cup of pumpkin puree roughly replaces one cup of flour AND one cup of liquid (that was a surprise!) and looked to Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challah for inspiration for a soft-yet-brown-crusted dairy-free loaf.

After plenty of tweaking and enlisting my family and friends (thank you to the Om-nom-sauce family, my mom, Heather, and Crystal) as test-bakers and guinea pigs, I’ve settled upon a loaf that I’ll proudly serve, and which has served to spawn even more inspiration through the endless possibilities of variations. I hope you love this loaf as much as I do!

Pumpkin yeast bread

Savory Spiced Pumpkin Yeast Bread

A Jitterbean Original

Makes a 1.5-pound loaf


  • This is a very savory loaf; don’t expect the sweetness of a pumpkin muffin or quick-bread. The sugar is added to help the crust brown; it won’t add any descernible sweetness to your loaf.
  • This recipe makes a fairly sticky loaf. If you want to add more flour so that the dough clears the mixing bowl and has a tacky texture so that the dough is easier to handle, go right ahead (though the pumpkin flavor will be slightly less pronounced). I experienced longer fermentation and proof times (about an hour) but the baking time remained the same.
  • If you want to use homemade pumpkin puree, be sure to drain it well in a strainer so that the texture is similar to the canned variety (or be prepared to add a whole lot more flour).
  • Use this in place of challah on your favorite French toast recipe. It makes a divine breakfast treat.

You will need:

  • 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (400g/14oz) bread flour, plus more if needed/desired
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 – 1 teaspoons ground cinnamon, depending on your preferences
  • 1/2 teaspoon each ground cloves, ginger, and nutmeg
  • 1-2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup (240g/8.5oz) canned pumpkin puree, or fresh pumpkin puree (see notes)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons (28g/1oz) butter, softened or melted, or any other fat of your choice
  • 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash (optional)
  • 1-2 tablespoons pumpkin seed (optional)

To prepare:

  1. In a bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, yeast, salt, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and sugar. Stir to combine with the flat paddle attachment.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine the pumpkin, eggs, and butter. Add to the mixer bowl and mix until all of the flour has been incorporated. Cover the bowl and wait 20 minutes (for the dough to autolyse).
  3. Switch to the kneading attachment and knead on speed 2. The dough won’t clear the bottom of the mixing bowl and will sticky (add small amounts of flour or water to correct the texture). When the gluten structure is starting to look more organized, finish kneading the dough manually so as to not damage the gluten network (which is made more fragile by the pumpkin and butter). If you don’t want to try to handle this sticky dough, you can continue the kneading process by stretching and folding the dough over itself with a spatula. The dough will be supple, silky, and pass the windowpane test.
  4. Shape into a ball and place seam-side down in the mixing bowl. Cover and let it ferment for about 40 minutes. A 1/2-inch indentation from your finger will stay or will return very slowly when it’s ready. Knead the dough for a few minutes to degas. Re-form into a ball, cover, and let ferment as before. Again, knead to degas.
  5. Pre-shape the dough for the shape of your choice (a boule is a great choice) and let it rest for a few minutes. Shape into the final shape, being careful not to tear the gluten sheet. Cover and proof in the appropriate way for your chosen shape for about 40 minutes, until it’s testing ready as it did before.
  6. When you begin the proof, put a pan or cast-iron skillet full of lava rocks on the bottom rack of the oven, put another rack about halfway from the top, and preheat to 400F. No need to use a baking stone for this loaf.
  7. When the proofed dough tests ready, transfer it to a parchment-loved baking sheet (if it isn’t they’re already) and put on a kettle with 1-2 cups of water to boil. Apply the egg wash to the dough and sprinkle on seeds if desired, and slash the dough in a manner appropriate to the shape. Put on a thick oven mitt, put the bread on the upper rack, pour the boiling water into the lava rocks using your mitted hand, and quickly close the oven door. Reduce the temperature to 350F.
  8. Bake for about 20 minutes and rotate the loaf, then bake for another 15-25 minutes depending on the shape. The internal temperature when done will be about 195F. Let cool completely before slicing (if you can stand it).


  • This recipe is begging for variations — the possibilities are huge. But whatever you do, do not attempt to make this whole-grain by doing a 1-to-1 swap to white whole wheat flour with only the addition of an extra 2 tablespoons of pumpkin. It was nigh inedible, and even I (a dedicated lover of whole grains) would only eat it when it was covered with runny egg yolk.

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