Monday, December 11, 2017

Pumpkin bread for this season and every day


Just in time for the holidays is this gorgeous—and gorgeous tasting—bread. Pumpkin has gradually become more than a bit beloved in Chinese bakery goods over the years. 

This vegetable is, of course, an all-American native, but everything about it seems to appeal to the Chinese aesthetic, especially when it’s used in a food that ostensibly is as nutritionally empty as white bread, because then—voilà—your kids are eating vegetables!

Pumpkin has a gorgeous color going for it, which doesn’t hurt in the least. This reddish cast is auspicious. Until modern times, Chinese didn’t have a word for “orange” in Chinese (one of life’s many mysteries), and so the color “gold” was traditionally assigned instead, which is even better when you’re trying to describe something with more cachet. So there’s that.

Pumpkin schmear
And melon seeds are a big deal with the Chinese. Teatime has always included a little saucer of salted, roasted watermelon seeds on the side for nibbling. It’s a female art, though. 

My old girlfriends in Taipei loved this snack so much that many (most?) of them had a little notch in one of their front teeth from cracking zillions of them over the years. I never quite mastered this, and often ended up with a mush of shells and kernels in my mouth that I would then try to inconspicuously get rid of, usually failing grandly in the process.

But anyway. I’ve been playing around with the idea of making a pumpkin bread that wasn’t cakelike, but truly a bread. I didn’t want it too sweet or buttery, but finely textured and full of flavor, with just enough pumpkin to turn the bread into, well, a lovely shade of gold.
Fold over the long edges
I was thinking of a ribbon of pumpkin winding its way around in the bread, both because it would be so darned pretty, and also because it would lend a wonderful moistness to the affair and completely use up the can of pumpkin puree, which I did not want to see moldering away in the back of the fridge. 

Tastewise, I put my foot firmly down on there being no pumpkin spice. But a dash of ginger is nice, as is the coconut sugar that lends a slightly honeyed aroma without turning things too saccharine.

The crowning touch is the coating of pumpkin seeds. I mean, the loaf looks bejeweled when you get done with it! Their jade color contrasts perfectly with the loaf itself, and they brown just the right amount while the dough is cooking. Full of crunch and flavor, I’ve come to adore the end pieces because then I get a ridiculous amount of the toasted seeds in each mouthful. Yet another reason to be in charge of the bread knife in your house.
A Pullman pan

Again, I’m calling for a Pullman loaf pan. This will ensure that the loaf’s surface is completely embedded with the seeds and the top doesn’t get away with bald bits. It makes a whole lot of difference here, so try it out and see.

Pumpkin times three Pullman loaf
Nánguā nánguā nánguā tŭsī miànbāo 南瓜南瓜南瓜吐司麵包
Makes 1 (9 x 4 inch | 22 x 10 cm) loaf

Dough:
1 teaspoon active yeast
3 tablespoons | 45 ml warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
⅔ cup | 180 g canned pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling—see Tips)
2 cups | 300 g Chinese flour, plus about ½ cup | 750 g for kneading
Patting on the seeds
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup | 60 g | ½ stick unsalted butter, softened

Filling:
1 cup | 265 g pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons coconut sugar, or packed light brown sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt
¾ teaspoon powdered ginger

The rest:
Spray oil
1 cup | 150 g untoasted, shelled pumpkin seeds
Water for sprinkling

Ready to rise
1. Sprinkle the yeast on the warm water and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. (Theoretically, you can make this bread by hand, but the dough ends up being so soft and sticky that it’s definitely easier to have the mixer do all the work.) Let the yeast bloom for about 20 minutes, and then add the egg, pumpkin puree, flour, and salt. Mix these together and then knead on medium-low speed for about 10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and silky. Add the butter and continue to knead the dough for another 5 minutes or so to really build up the gluten. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm area until the dough is at least double in size, around 1 to 2 hours. Punch it down and then let it rise another time until at least double in bulk. Dump the puffy dough out on to a board covered with flour and knead it by hand until it is not very sticky. Cover it again and let the dough rest for around 20 minutes.

Risen to the top
2. To make the filling, mix the puree, sugar, salt, and ginger together in small work bowl.

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, sprinkle some flour on top, and use a rolling pin to roll it out into a long strap around 18 x 8 inches | 45 x 20 cm. Use a silicone spatula to spread the filling all over the dough up to around 1 inch | 2 cm from the edges. Fold the long edges over toward the center to completely hide the filling, and then fold the short edges over each other to give you a squarish shape about 9 x 4 inches | 22 x 10 cm, which (ta-da!) is the size of your pan.  

4. Spray your Pullman loaf pan and lid with oil. Pour half of the pumpkin seeds in a large, rimmed dish. Wet your hands and smear this all over the loaf before placing it in the seeds. Pour the rest of the seeds over the top of the loaf and pat as many of the seeds into the wet dough as you can, but don’t stress if some of them fall off or refuse to fuse. What you do is sprinkle half of these renegade seeds into your pan before laying the seed-studded dough on top of them and then dust the top with any remaining seeds. Flick some more water over the dough and cover the pan with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it almost reaches the top of the pan. (Remember that you must be able to slide the lid on top, so don’t let it overproof.)

Fresh from the oven
5. Set a rack just below the middle of your oven and set it for 350°F | 175°C. When the oven is ready, sprinkle some water over the dough to create steam inside the pan. Slide the lid onto the pan, set the pan in the oven, and bake for around 40 minutes. When you open the pan, the loaf should be a lovely golden brown and sound hollow when you tap it in the center. Remove the pan from the oven, turn the loaf out onto a cake rack, and let it cool before cutting it into slices. This freezes well, of course.


Tips

Use pumpkin puree here, not pumpkin pie filling, which has sugar and spices added.

This recipe uses up one 15 ounce | 425 g can so that you don’t have any leftovers. Yay.

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