Monday, November 30, 2020

Pumpkin Boule with Dried Cranberries & Pepitas

I have been baking yeast breads for a long time.  Long before I went to cooking school to become a chef I was making pizza dough…my grandmother’s dinner rollscinnamon buns…honey whole wheat loaves…etc.  I can probably knead dough in my sleep.  But at some point during the last 20 years or so the manner in which kneading is accomplished began to expand and change.  The methods and techniques I learned are still used…they work very well after all—and they still produce beautiful breads.  But among artisan bread bakers—whose amazing “old world” breads can now be found in specialty bakeries everywhere—you will often find that they are manipulating their doughs in a very different way. 

I was aware that this alternate method of working with dough was developing around me.  But it—along with sourdough—seemed beyond the purview of the occasional bread baker.  It was while learning about sourdough by watching the IG Live tutorials from Bread Ahead Bakery during the early days of the pandemic that I discovered that this new method (“folding” the dough…as opposed to kneading) was in fact less—rather than more—complicated.

The reason we knead dough is to develop gluten.
  Wheat flour contains a couple of proteins that produce gluten when water (or other liquid) is introduced via a mechanical action like stirring…or kneading.  The stretchy strands of gluten are what give yeast doughs their strength and their loft.  If you have ever kneaded dough, you have seen this development occur as the dough goes from a lumpy mass to a smooth, springy ball. 

If I understand the process correctly, in the slow measured pace of the “no knead” folding method, much of the mechanical action is occurring at the microscopic level as the yeast consumes the sugars in the flour.
  By occasionally folding the dough over on itself, you are exposing the yeast to fresh sources of food so it can continue to multiply…and at the same time as you stretch the dough during each fold you are strengthening the developing gluten.  And if you try this method, each time you return to the bowl to give the dough a fold, you will notice that the dough discernibly smoother and is increasingly more supple and elastic.  It really is amazing.  

Here are some pictures of Ciabatta from first sloppy mix to risen dough (after three sets of folds): 

Having described it as I understand it at this point, I feel I must add a caveat.
  I have barely scratched the surface in acquiring knowledge of this big world of artisan breads…my understanding of this process is minimal and mostly experiential.  Ten years from now I may come across this post and be appalled at how I’ve described it.  In the end, what I really know now is that the breads I have made using this method have been fantastic.  And I’m excited to continue to expand my repertoire of breads that use it.

There are a couple of ways (that I know of…probably more) to execute a fold.
  Many people simply leave the dough in the bowl.  To fold, simply grab one side of the dough, pull up—stretching it as far as it will allow without tearing or breaking—and then lay it down over itself.  Repeat this action three times, giving the bowl a quarter of a turn each time so that you are folding the dough from all four points of the compass.  My preferred way of folding is to tip the dough out on an oiled sheet pan (or you can simply oil your counter), gently flatten/stretch it a bit into a rectangle and then execute two letter or envelope-style folds:  fold the top third of the rectangle down…then the bottom third up (as if you were folding an 81/2- by 11-inch sheet of paper to stuff into an envelope).  Rotate the resulting slender rectangle a quarter of a turn…flatten it slightly and repeat the same style of fold.  Turn it over and put it back in the bowl. 

This fall as we approached pumpkin season, armed with my new knowledge, I was determined to work on a yeasted pumpkin bread that I have been playing around with for several years now.
  I always felt it had great potential…but I was somehow missing something in the process that would turn it into a consistent and delicious loaf.

"Crumb shot" of that first never-to-be-duplicated loaf.

The first time I made this pumpkin boule I had been poking around looking for a bread that used whey.  I frequently have whey on hand (left after making Labneh) and feel bad just throwing it away.  Somewhere I had read it was good in bread.   I found a recipe for a pumpkin and whey boule by Dan Lepard that looked interesting.  Then I had pumpkin bread on the brain so I started looking for other pumpkin yeast bread recipes.  I found one that was similar, but also included some traditional spices (which seemed like a great idea).  The loaf I ended up making pulled from both recipes…and it was delicious.

Unfortunately I was never really able to repeat the success (although I tried every year).
  This year though, with some of my newly acquired knowledge and experience, I thought I would try again…this time incorporating folding…and baking in a Dutch oven (something else I had never tried prior to the pandemic).

It’s amazing what a little knowledge can do.
  The loaf was all I had hoped and imagined it could be: a crusty boule with a tender crumb…studded with crispy pepitas and tangy craisins.  I realized only later that I had forgotten to use whey….  I like it so well just the way it is that I have never even tried to make it with whey (even though I have made it several times this fall).

I have loved having this bread on hand during the autumn months.  (So much so that it replaced my new “house” sourdough loaf for a while…).  It is delicious toasted …smeared with Labneh…or butter…and honey.  I’m sure no one is surprised to hear that I have put it through its paces for grilled cheese sandwiches.  (It makes an unbelievably good grilled cheese–especially if you include a little bit of tangy goat cheese…).  And of course it is very fine sandwiched around roast turkey, crunchy lettuce, cranberry sauce and mayo…plus whatever else you happen to like on your leftover turkey sandwich.  It is a loaf I am certain will be a part of my autumn repertoire for years to come. 


Pumpkin Boule with Craisins & Pepitas

285 g. warm water (see notes)
165 g. pumpkin purée/solid pack pumpkin
4 g. (1 1/4 t.) instant or active dry yeast
500 g. bread flour
25 g olive oil
10 g (1 1/2 t.) fine salt
1/8 t. each cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger
Olive oil for folding
85 g. pepitas, lightly toasted (see notes)
125 g. craisins (left whole, or coarsely chopped)

Place the water in a large mixing bowl and whisk in the pumpkin.
  Sprinkle the yeast over this mixture and whisk in.  If you are using active dry yeast, wait a minute or two for the yeast to soften (instant yeast will dissolve “instantly”).  Add the flour, olive oil, salt and spices (in that order)

and mix until you have a homogenous mass.  (A Danish dough whisk is my new favorite tool for this initial mixing—but if you don’t have one, a rubber spatula or wooden spoon is fine—just remember to scrape all the dough off of your tool and back into the bowl—you don’t want to waste/lose any dough.)  

Using a rounded bowl scraper, scrape down the sides/clean the bowl so that you have a nice, neat mass of dough.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 1/4 hour.

After an hour and a quarter, execute the first fold, incorporating the pepitas and craisins at the same time:  Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on a sheet pan 

and spread with your hands (or a brush) so that the dough won’t stick.  Scrape the dough in one mass onto the oiled sheet and with lightly oiled hands/fingertips, nudge the dough out into a large rectangle. (Only stretch as much as the dough will allow without tearing.)  Scatter two-thirds of the craisins and two-thirds of the pepitas over the bottom two-thirds of the rectangle.

Starting with the portion of the dough without any pepitas or craisins, fold the dough in thirds as if you were folding a letter to put it in an envelope.  

Rotate the dough 90
° and repeat this letter/envelope fold with the remaining third of the pepitas and craisins (spreading out the dough as much as it will allow and placing the craisins and pepitas only on the lower two-thirds of the dough). 

When you are done you will have a square-ish ball of dough with all of the craisins and pepitas encased inside.  Place the dough back in its bowl and cover again with plastic wrap.

After 45 minutes, scrape the dough back out onto the oiled sheet and give it another two letter/envelope-style folds exactly as before (only this time you obviously won’t be adding anything to the dough).  

Return to the bowl and let it remain at room temperature until almost doubled—about an hour.

Transfer to the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation and allow the flavor to develop overnight.

The next day, take the dough out of the fridge (it will have more than doubled) and scrape it onto a lightly floured counter.  

Give it a gentle pre-shape into a loose ball (in doing this, you will effectively deflate the dough—but don’t aggressively “punch it down” or “knock it back”—just gently form it into a round).  

Turn the bowl upside down over the ball of dough and let it rest on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes. 

After it has had a rest, scrape most of the flour off of the counter and form the dough into a tight ball/boule by working against the counter.  (If any craisins pop through the surface during this process, simply poke them back toward the interior of the loaf and pinch the dough around them—they will burn during the baking process is left exposed on the surface.)   Place the loaf with the pinched side/seams down on a semolina dusted or parchment-lined (see notes) sheet pan or pizza peel.

Turn the mixing bowl upside down over the dough again and let the loaf rise in a warmish spot until it is doubled (until the dough doesn’t spring back—or springs back very slowly—when prodded with a floured finger).  I often resort to sticking the peel/pan with the loaf in the oven with the light on…or with the proofing function on…when my house is very cold.  The loaf should be ready to bake in about 3 hours.

A half hour before you are ready to bake, place a covered 5 quart (or thereabout) Dutch oven in your oven and preheat the oven to 475°.  When ready to bake, uncover the loaf and dredge lightly (using a small sieve) with flour.  Give the loaf three parallel slashes with a sharp knife or razor blade.  

Take the Dutch oven out of the oven (be careful…it is screaming hot), remove the lid and transfer the loaf to the pot—either by placing your open hands on either side of the loaf and scooping it up and dropping it quickly and gently into the pot…or by lifting it using the edges of the parchment paper and placing it in the pot with the parchment underneath.  Put the lid back on and transfer to the oven.  Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 450°.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the lid from the Dutch oven and continue to bake until the bread reaches an internal temperature of 205°…another 15 minutes (give or take, depending on your oven).

Remove the bread from the Dutch oven and cool on a wire rack (I cool mine just by letting it sit on the “grates” of my gas stove).  It should be completely cool before slicing.


  • Cinnamon and ginger in small quantities enhance yeast activity. In large quantities they have the opposite effect and retard the activity of the yeast. Furthermore, this loaf is not intended to be “spicy” or have any kind of a sweet, “pumpkin spice” flavor profile. The spices are present to add warmth…and a hint of flavor and fragrance evocative of flavors we associate with autumn. Adding extra spice will not do any favors for the yeast…or, in my opinion, the final flavor.
  • Yeast thrives and is happiest in a warmish environment. When I mix up this dough, I aim for an initial dough temperature of 80 to 83 degrees. You will need to consider the temperature of the major ingredients (flour, pumpkin and water) in order to achieve this. In the fall and winter my home is cool (somewhere around 67° or less). This means my flour will be about that temperature…and the pumpkin too, if I am just opening a can. But more often than not, I make this bread when I have a portion of a can left…which means the temperature of the pumpkin will be closer to 40°. Since I want my dough to be around 80°, the only way to get it there is by manipulating the temperature of the water. For me, this means I use hot tap water and then I take the temperature of the water after I put it in the bowl (remember, the bowl is cool too, if it has been at room temperature, and will bring down the temperature of the water). I have found that with room temperature flour…and cold pumpkin…if my water temperature in the bowl is around 115°…that I end up with an initial dough temperature (right after mixing) of 81°. If your house is significantly warmer than mine…and if your pumpkin is at room temperature…you will need to lower the temperature of the water a bit. And if all of this is too complicated for you, just mix up your dough with warm water. As long as you don’t allow your yeast to come into contact with water/liquid that is hotter than 115° you will be able to produce a nice loaf…it will just rise/prove at a different rate than mine. 
  • To toast the pepitas, spread them in a small baking pan and place in a 350° oven for 7 to 10 minutes—or until some are beginning to turn golden around the edges. You may also toast them in a dry skillet over moderate heat (but you must stir frequently and regularly…and constantly at the end). 
  • This is not a particularly wet dough and I have not had difficulty moving it from the board to the Dutch oven, but if you are worried that it might stick…or that you will have difficulty scooping it up and moving it to the pot…let it proof/rise on a square of parchment paper. Then when it comes time to transfer it to the Dutch oven, simply lift and move it using the parchment paper. It will not harm the loaf to bake it with parchment paper in the pot. 

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