Sunday, October 25, 2015

How Pumpkin Saves My Sanity

It’s my favorite season, although I have to say that what I am most fond of about seasons is that each season actually occurs, at least where I live. 

There is an undercurrent on the internet of impatience with autumn and its major gourd, the pumpkin.  Sorry, all you fall-haters, but in the Common Household we love pumpkin.  A long time ago, our pediatrician approved homemade pumpkin muffins as a reasonable (ha!) source of vitamins for my son, who since the age of two has refused to eat any vegetables.

But sometimes a homemade, vitamin-laden pumpkin muffin can’t be had, and a desperate person must turn to Dunkin Donuts.  
Dunkin, I don't like your spelling and doughnuts are
 not my favorite carbohydrate, but your pumpkin muffins
 have saved me more than once.  Thank you.

The Dunkin Donuts pumpkin muffin saved my sanity in September 2011 when I was helping my aunt get ready for her move to the retirement home.  I was having difficulty facing the task ahead of me, but a cup of hot tea and a pumpkin muffin at Dunkin Donuts made it possible to move forward.  We all know we should not turn to food to try to solve our emotional problems, but I tell you, that pumpkin muffin was positively therapeutic.

Earlier this month Dunkin Donuts came through for me again on my way home from the retirement home.  Yes, this muffin is basically mass-produced cake with sugar on top, but sometimes that’s what a person needs.
Pumpkin muffin on the left.
The chocolate chip muffin on the right is inferior.
When I took this photo I was so smitten with my pumpkin muffin
 that I did not notice the creepy way the library books by
Brian Selznick were arranged, looking hungrily at the muffins.

On the homemade front, I bring you an astonishing concept: Pumpkin Challah!  I know this is a thing that exists, because I made it at a cooking class at synagogue.  This pumpkin challah is not overly pumpkiny, but delightfully subtle.  It is delicious toasted with a bit of butter or cream cheese.  It would be great on the Thanksgiving table, in dinner-roll format.

Kneading bread is also sanity-saving.  Pretend that dough is your worst enemy, and pummel it!

If you are turned off by autumn and pumpkins, then, because this blog subscribes to the Pumpkin Fairness Doctrine, here are a few places you might feel more at home:

Pumpkin Challah

This recipe makes one large loaf (congregational size) or two household loaves.
Based on the Meg Marshak Challah Recipe.

1 ½ cup          warm water (hot bath temperature)
2 packets        dry yeast (quick rise is also suitable)

¼ cup             Sugar
¼ cup             honey
1 Tbsp            salt (kosher recommended)
2 Tablesp       vegetable oil
1/3 cup           canned pumpkin
1 tsp               pumpkin pie spice.
3                     eggs (at room temperature if possible)
2 cups            All Purpose flour
4 cups            Bread flour (if necessary, All Purpose can be used in place of bread flour)

Optional:        raisins or Craisins, ½ cup or more if you prefer

Egg wash:       1 beaten egg with 2 Tbsp water

In a large bowl, stir together the water, yeast, and some of the sugar (2 Tbsp or so).  Let the mixture stand for a few minutes until frothy and “yeasty” smelling.

Stir in honey and remaining sugar, salt, and then the oil and eggs.  Stir in the pumpkin and spice.  Fold in the All Purpose flour and most of the Bread flour.  If you are using a mixer with a dough hook, add the flour gradually to avoid lumps. 

Once the dough clings to the hook in a lump or is too hard to stir by hand, turn out onto a lightly floured board or countertop.  At this point the dough will be a shaggy mess.  (If you want to add raisins, this is the time to add them –  ½ cup or more.) Knead for 8-10 minutes, adding any remaining flour as necessary. The dough should be soft and elastic and NOT sticky. 

Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl.  Turn the dough over to coat the entire surface lightly with oil.  Cover with a damp towel and place the bowl in a warm spot.  Let rise until almost double (about 30-40 minutes).

Gently deflate the dough and knead slightly (to remove large air bubbles).  Divide into three equal parts.  Roll and form into 3 strands.  Put parchment paper on a large baking sheet.  Using all three strands, brad loosely on the parchment.  Brush egg wash over braided bread (make sure you get all the nooks and crannies).  Let rise until puffy and almost double in bulk, usually 35-45 min. 

Preheat oven to 350F.  Bake for 35-40 minutes until browned and hollow-sounding when tapped.  Let cool before slicing.
Just reaching the shaggy mess stage.

After the pummeling.  Ready to take a nap in the bowl.

Napping under a damp towel.

Nap time for the dough is over.  Time for the final formation.

Three strands, with the longest in the middle.  
Braided and ready to rise one last time.

Done!  Two pumpkin challah loaves.


Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Ooh, thank you for the recipe! I think this will be a hit at my house. My family loves homemade pumpkin pie and pumpkin (sweet) bread, while I am currently regulated to the Greek yogurt pumpkin smoothie with a touch of honey for sweetness. I had my once-a-year PSL at the store-which-shall-not-be-named last Friday, and I enjoyed every sip. However, the pumpkin ale I tried last night didn't make it beyond the first sip. Yuck! I recommend keeping those pumpkin muffins as your sanity savers.
One of the reasons I love where I live is because it has 4 seasons, and fall is my favorite.

Patience_Crabstick said...

Ha ha! Actually, your pumpkin challah bread looks really delicious.

Angie said...

I'm fickle when it comes to pumpkin. I'm not fond of pumpkin pie, but I love pumpkin cookies, especially the iced ones at Giant Eagle, which I haven't had in years. I don't care for pumpkin lattes, but I love pumpkin seeds. The challah looks delicious!

Susan Jones said...

Wow! That Pumpkin Challah looks delicious, and seems like something I could actually make. It is in hot contention for my Halloween (Samhain) bread offering. I will let you know if I actually make it. Yum . . .

The Crislers said...

That is some BEAUTIFUL bread. I'm a decent bread maker, in that it generally tastes good, but I'm not so great at the presentation, let alone *braiding* bread.

As for pumpkin... meh. It's fine. I have trouble understanding how pumpkin supplanted all things apple in the fall (the cider! the pie! the crumble! all so amazing!), but that doesn't mean I'd say no to a pumpkin doughnut- which I've never tried.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Gorgeous baking, lady. I'm glad pumpkin keeps you healthy. I like to eat it, too, even though I'm a fall-hater.

Cassi said...

I love fall, and I like pumpkin in baked goods (I just finished an excellent piece of pumpkin quick-bread with white chocolate chunks.) Your bread looks excellent (although I have failed at the braiding-bread thing in the past). I do not, however, like the pumpkin-spiced-everything consumerism that has tried to take over the season. And I will admit that the idea of anything pumpkin-y in my coffee sounds disgusting, but then even just white sugar in my coffee is disgusting.