By Pat Teti —
Autumn brings an abundance of apples, potatoes, corn, squash, and other produce begging to be canned, frozen, or dried if not eaten fresh. This can put more demands on our time just when it’s back to work, school, and other community activities. Among the late season products is the pumpkin which, sadly, is used more for decoration than for food as indicated by their absence in grocery stores immediately after Halloween. How many of us have carved but never cooked and eaten a fresh pumpkin? It’s a shame because pumpkin is delicious in soup, casseroles, and even bread. I’m inspired to write this after seeing so many uneaten pumpkins after Halloween but it applies to all of the hard squashes available through the winter.
Everyone has heard of zucchini bread but it’s usually made with baking powder or soda rather than yeast. Quick bread is great but yeasted squash bread is more versatile because is has a stronger texture or “crumb” and holds up better when baked in different shapes and when sliced.
You can put a surprisingly large amount of squash or other fruit (yes, the squashes are fruits) into bread. Soft fleshed fruit such as zucchini and apples can be added to dough raw, just grate them coarsely. Hard fleshed squashes are best baked, then mashed. Just search for “how to cook squash.”
When I was in southern Spain last spring, I gardened and baked bread in return for room and board with a host I found on helpx.net. I baked this bread using Hubbard squash but any hard squash can be used.
Yeasted Pumpkin or Hubbard Squash Bread
This recipe made 24 muffins, one large loaf, and a large focaccia. I started it on day 1 and did the baking on day 4. Using this “preferment”, also known as a “poolish,” creates more flavour and, according to Wikipedia, improves the keeping time of the baked bread. This process can be sped up by keeping the pre-ferment warmer or by starting with more dry yeast. You can even do it from start to finish in one day if you use a teaspoon of yeast and can keep the dough at 25 to 30 degrees Celsius but I recommend the slow method.
Day 1: The Pre-ferment
4 cups warm water (25-30 degrees C)
pinch of yeast
4 cups whole wheat flour
Mix, cover, and let sit at room temperature.
Day 1 or later: Add Squash
You’ll need 4-6 cups of cooked squash. This could be from a large acorn squash, a medium butternut squash, or part of a pumpkin. Cut fresh squash in pieces, scoop out the seeds, coat with olive oil, and place on one or two baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees F for about an hour. When sufficiently soft, scoop out the flesh with a spoon and chop finely or mash. Add the warm squash to the pre-ferment, paying attention to the resulting temperature. A thermometer is handy because it will help you become familiar with how the yeast behaves as a function of temperature and will help you learn how to estimate temperature by touch.
Cover the pre-ferment and store at room temperature.
Pro tip: The squash seeds are tasty after drying in a low oven and coating with olive oil and salt.
Day 3 or 4: The Baking Day
3 teaspoons salt
12 cups all purpose flour, bread flour, or unbleached flour.
The pre-ferment should be bubbly and should have a nice fermented aroma. Add a couple cups of flour at a time, mixing until the dough can be scraped from the bowl and turned out onto a floured work surface. This will require at least 8 cups of the flour and will take at least 5 minutes.
Knead by hand, dusting the dough, and work the surface with flour as needed for at least 20 minutes. Place in a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until nearly double in volume. This will take a couple of hours if the dough is around 25 degrees Celsius, but depends on temperature. If the dough starts off at room temperature, it will take extra time to warm up even if you place it in a warm location.
Transfer the risen dough to a floured surface, and divide into four equal parts.
For focaccia, gently push and pull one of the quarters out to a shape that’s an inch or so short of the size and shape of your cookie sheet all around. Sprinkle the cookie sheet with a little cornmeal or flour. Dust the dough with flour so it doesn’t stick to itself and roll it up or fold it so that you can lift it and plop it onto the cookie sheet. Unroll or unfold it, then work it out to the desired shape. Top it with olives, rosemary, or coarse salt if you wish. You can also create little depressions with your fingers and drizzle on extra virgin olive oil. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 450 degrees F for about 15 minutes.
For a dozen rolls, rub a very light coat of oil onto a muffin tin and dust it with flour. Gently tease one of the quarters of dough into a log shape. Divide in half, divide each of those into three, and each of those in two, dusting all the fresh cuts with flour. Place in muffin tin depressions and bake at 450 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes.
For a large loaf, tease one of the quarters of dough out to a log shape, dust with flour, and score the top with a sharp knife or using two knives crossed like shears to allow the crust to expand. Bake on a cookie sheet at 450 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes.
I use a digital probe thermometer to help determine when bread is done. A temperature of 198 to 202 degrees F is about right for this bread.
Pat Teti was a research scientist with the BC government for 18 years and has always enjoyed making things.