The first time I met up close and personal with pumpkin pie was unfortunately when I got served a big, quivering, orange slice of store bought (and not the right store, let me tell you) goodness…I was told it was an acquired taste and right away I had no idea why anybody would like to acquire a taste for what was sitting on my plate. A pity, really, since it took a long time for my taste buds to get over that memory – think of all the excellent pumpkin pies I was missing in the meantime…until then, I swear I have never been eating around a food item, but that pumpkin pie did it for me. Shame on me, then, that I didn’t try to figure out what pumpkin could really do for you in a pie – or in other applications. When – or probably more like where – I grew up, pumpkin was pretty much the stepchild of the veggie family; it came pickled, sweet and sour. Period. Now I suspect that nobody really knew what to eat it with or on, unlike cucumber pickles, where everyones’ knee-jerk answer seems to be “burgers”, I haven’t been able to find out what all these glasses of preserved pumpkin slices and dices that sit on german store shelves are designed to go with….the Danes, on the other hand eat anything pickled to everything, it seems, cold cuts or warm meat, makes no difference – to me it made a lot more sense, if those pickled pumpkins were to be found in danish supermarkets instead…
In the end, it was one dish in its buttery, sweet, nutty yumminess that saved me from myself: wedges of roasted acorn squash with walnuts – so simple, but so good and that’s when I signed on to eating pumpkin, for good. For some time now it has been possible to buy butternut, acorn and hokkaido squashes here, too, and not only the garden variety bigger-than-my-three-year-old pumpkins that are stringy and watery and best for creating really cool Jack-O’-Lanterns, never mind the pickles. I make pumpkin soup (in a variety of incarnations) and roasted pumpkin a lot, I use it as quesadilla filling (really!), put it in crepes and fill ravioli or lasagna with it, which in particular has become the Halloween dinner “apres-trick-or-treat” staple in the last few years, for when the ghoulies and ghosties come home, chewing candy and hauling a pumpkin bag filled with more of the same….I make pumpkin pie and muffins and cookies, too, and jam…and then there is pumpkin bread, which is bread, not cake and excellent for a nice Sunday morning breakfast.
Many years ago my sister brought back a Gugelupf mold (…all right, I “ordered” one…) from a trip to Strassbourg for me; I love it and it makes the moistest bread, ever. If you have an earthenware form, use it – if you don’t, any bundt cake pan will work. My mold isn’t very big, it holds 750 ml (3 cups).
About the yeast; I like to use fresh, but dry will work just as well. Since I know that it can be a challenge to get fresh yeast sometimes depending on where you live, don’t spend all your energy trying to locate a cake of fresh yeast, rather save it for kneading the dough. The rule of thumb for converting the amount of fresh yeast to dry is: 10 g fresh yeast = 1 tsp dried yeast. There. No muss, no fuss.
Don’t feel tempted to skip the slow rise in the fridge, it gives the bread its texture – a nice, dense body, but still soft and light. No airy and insubstantial bites in this bread.
Pumpkin Cranberry Gugelhupf
300 g (10.5 oz) flour
50 g (1/4 cup) butter
1/2 tsp salt
75 g (1/2 cup) dried cranberries
150 ml (1/2 cup) milk
Butter and a handful of slivered almonds for the mold
1) Steam the pumpkin until soft and when it’s cool enough to handle, mash it.
2) Measure the flour into the bowl of a stand mixer ( – if you have one. If you don’t, no problem, it will just require a lot more elbow grease to knead the dough until soft and shiny later). Make a well in the center and crumble in the yeast. Sprinkle a little sugar over the yeast and add a couple of tablespoons of warm water to dissolve it. Add the sugar and salt and let sit until the yeast has dissolved and foamed up.
3) Add the egg, the milk and the pumpkin and mix until combined. With the dough hook or the original dough hook attachment = your fingers, knead the dough until you can’t no more – 10 minutes with the machine, probably longer by hand, depending on your vigor. Add the butter a couple of cubes at the time – only add more butter when the last cubes have been completely incorporated. If the dough is too loose or entirely too sticky, add a little flour, but don’t feel tempted to add a whole lot, it will make the bread too dense. Add the cranberries. When the dough is shiny and very smooth and your arms are very tired, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for at least 8 hours, or over night.
4) Butter your favorite bundt/earthenware cake pan and sprinkle liberally with the almonds, so they stick to everywhere. Take the dough from the fridge and give it another go, kneading until it feels soft and pliable again, then fill it into the pan and let sit on the kitchen counter for at least 30 min for a second rise. Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F).
5) Put the oven rack in the bottom third of your oven (the bread will expand and there’s only one way – up and you don’t want to go scraping scorched dough off of the broiler coils like a certain somebody…) and bake the bread for about 45 min, or when a wooden skewer inserted into the middle of the bread comes out clean.
6) Let sit on the counter for 5 minutes, then turn out of the pan. If you can, let it cool, else you’ll squash it when you slice it, it’s that soft. Serve with butter and (pumpkin) jam.