Saturday, October 16, 2021

Babes Bake Pumpkin-Shaped Bread

You know fall has arrived when everywhere you turn there is pumpkin spice this and pumpkin spice that...and lots of actual carving pumpkins at the market, too.

For October, the Bread Baking Babes have been given a seasonal challenge by Cathy of Bread Experience, our Kitchen of the Month. She asked us to make boules (round loaves of bread) shaped with string to resemble pumpkins. She gave us a recipe for the bread, but I struck out in another direction, making a bread that I last made in 2007. It's a potato bread, with the potato part being boiled and mashed garnet yams. They impart a light orange color to the bread and contribute both flavor and moisture as well. In 2007 I made the bread with garlic as the recipe called for, but this time I wanted a more neutral bread so I skipped the garlic and added just a touch of...wait for it!...pumpkin spice.

Shaping these little loaves was fun if challenging. Mine had quite a bit of oven spring, so they tore a bit. The first one did that and I blamed it on my forgetting to cut any slashes to allow for expansion, but I did quite a few slashes on the second one and still had it tear . Fortunately, they both still had shape from the string and looked somewhat pumpkin-like. I used bakers twine which I marinated in olive oil for a while and I had no trouble removing the string once the loaves were done. The crust was thin but crisp and the crumb was moist and tight. I loved the flavor. It wasn't sweet, had a taste of yam and a hint of the spice mix. I liked it best with just a bit of non-dairy butter, but tried it toasted, too. Both were delicious. Sweetie says this is the best bread yet, but I think it's because its been so long since I baked bread.

Do try this yourself. The given recipe can be found on Cathy's site, and she also has great photos of the process of laying out the strings that shape the ball into a squash shape (after oiling the strings), and all the information you need to be successful.

Be sure to visit the other Babes sites, too, to see what they did with this fully fall bread! 

Yam Bread 'Pumpkins'

based on a recipe by Narsai David

1 cup warm water (preferably the water the yams were boiled in)
1 cup mashed yams (boil until tender, then peel and mash and cool to room temperature)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 package active dry yeast
3 - 4 cups white bread or all-purpose flour (about)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (optional)
spray oil

Place the water, sweet potatoes (yams), sugar, and yeast in a mixing bowl. Let rest for 5 minutes. Add half the flour and all the salt, and pie spice if using. Mix well with a dough hook or heavy paddle. The dough will be quite soft and sticky. Add another cup of flour. If using a dough hook, you may need to add a little more flour to keep the dough around the hook and to make the dough firm enough to shape. Continue mixing for 4-5 minutes if you are using a mixing machine, knead about the same amount of time if kneading by hand.  Spray oil (I use olive oil spray) to coat a large bowl or rising container. Put in the dough and turn to coat the dough with oil. Cover with oiled plastic wrap or with a clean shower cap.

Place the dough in a warm place to rise.. When the dough has doubled in volume, anywhere between 1 and 2 hours, turn it out onto a floured surface and punch it down to get out the air that has inflated it. Kneading a few times also helps in this step. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Shape each piece of dough into a ball, pulling the dough to the 'back' of the ball repeatedly to form a skin of dough. This is a very soft dough, so use plenty of flour to keep it from sticking to the board.

Now it's time to shape these balls into pumpkins! Use a round piece of parchment - either a pre-cut one or one that you cut to fit your Dutch oven or other baking pot.

Use a food safe string for tying. I used baker's twine. The key thing is to oil your string well. I cut eight lengths (four for each 'pumpkin') that would encircle the dough ball with a fair amount left over for tying, then put these, one by one, into a bowl. I added olive oil and pushed the string down into the oil and let them soak until it was time to use them. I had no trouble peeling the string off the pumpkins once the breads were baked, but if you do, use a sharp paring knife to help loosen the string if it sticks.

Lay four pieces of string on the parchment circle with the ends beyond the parchment paper. Lay two in a cross and the other two between those. Put the dough ball right where the strings all cross, then pick up the ends of the strings and gather them together and tie at the top. Don't tie the string too tight in order to give the loaf room to expand in the oven. However, you don't want it to have too much oven spring because it could tear and mess up the shape. (I had too much oven spring, so mine did tear and the pumpkin shape wasn't as clear, but it was still pretty.

Put each shaped and tied dough ball (boule) into a lined and floured banneton or flour two tea towels well and use them to line two bowls, then put the dough balls in those. Cover lightly with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise for about half an hour. Balls will get puffy. Reserve the parchment circles for baking time.

When it is about 45 minutes before baking time, preheat the oven and a deep cast iron pot or Dutch oven, with lid, to 450 degrees F. If you don't have that kind of pot, a baking stone with either a deep sauce pan or an overturned metal bowl will work. You are creating a mini-oven for each 'pumpkin' to bake in, in turn.

When ready to bake, return the bread to the parchment circles,  Score the bread in a pattern (I used a short vertical slash three time for each section) and then carefully remove the pot to a heavy towel.  Using hands protected with oven mitts, remove the lid and lower the 'pumpkin' loaf on the parchment paper into the pot. Immediately put on the lid and return the pot to the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes, then remove the lid and bake an additional 15-20 minutes. Loaf will be golden to medium brown and when the bottom of the loaf is tapped, it will sound hollow. Immediately remove the strings and set the loaf to cool on a wire rack. Repeat the baking with the second shaped ball of dough.

Makes two medium-sized pumpkin shaped rustic loaves. 


  1. Oh, lovely crumb and color with the yams!

  2. YES I soaked my twine in olive oil too! No problem to remove. My pumpkin exploded as well. Beautiful loaf and wonderful oven spring. Love the look of your crust. I want to make this again and use potato water in Cathy’s recipe.

  3. Yam pumpkins! Way cool! Sure makes a lovely colored loaf.

  4. Your bread is gorgeous! I love the oven spring and your recipe sounds yummy.

  5. Yams and pumpkin spice sounds interesting. I love the texture that mashed potatoes give bread.

  6. Good idea to soak the twine.... And your pumpkin looks like a garden pumpkin lol

  7. Wow. That is really beautiful bread, Elle! And what oven-spring you achieved!