Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mystery Squash Becomes Pumpkin Bread Recipe - aka, Mystery Squash Bread Recipe

What to do when one's garden has become invaded by squash?  Make squash bread of course.  

There are these three plants, began innocently enough, tiny tender things, needing coaxing and care to begin their life in the soil.  I created pots from old newspaper and filled them with finely sifted soil.  Placed one seed carefully inside each pot and watered it with dedication.  When the moment was right, I dug a hole in the garden, not too big, but not too small, and pressed the tender shoot, pot and all, into the soil.  Covered it with a cold frame made from old windows, and with some words of encouragement, left it to fend for itself.

Well, perhaps I gave it a little too much encouragement.  Each plant sent out, at first one long searching vine, then another and another, until each one had produced over a dozen vines, climbing over fence and pea plant with equal enthusiasm.  June was scary!  The vines would grow over a foot a day, each morning I had to hack my way past over-enthusiastic squash, just to get into the garden.  Finally the vine growth seems to have reached the limit at just shy of 25 feet, the bright yellow blossoms are gone, replaced with splendid orange squash.

you can get an idea of how large these squash are

week old gosling named Chesnut
I'm guessing they are pumpkins.

After bumming around the internet for a few hours, I finally came across a squash recipe I liked: Savory Pumpkin Rosemary Bread.  The flavours in this recipe look really good, so I thought it would translate nicely to sourdough.  I started roasting the squash at midnight - the only time of day when the kitchen is cool enough to cook - and made pumpkin mush the next morning.  

Disaster struck when I got my sourdough starter out of the fridge - BLACK MOLD.  

I'm not hugely squeamish with mold, but when black mold happens I won't touch it.  Even if it isn't real black mold, just black colour mold, it's just not worth the risk.  

So sadness, my sourdough starters are all dead.

I blame myself, because I know during the summer the water in the well kills starters.  Something from one of our neighbours uphill from us seeps into the water table and devastates my cultures.  I suspect it's the time of year when swimming pools are emptied and cleaned.  From June through August, I always try to boil my water before using it in any culture that relies on bacteria.  But this year, we had a new filtration system installed, so I thought I could be lazy... sniffle... oh well.

Good thing I know how to make more starter, but that takes time and doesn't help me with all this squash/pumpkin mush.  So commercial yeast it is.

The recipe linked above looks fantastic, but relies heavily on mechanical devices to mix the dough.  I changed an ingredient or two, the method, the order of adding, timing, and even some of the ratios, so I'm going to post my version of this recipe for those of you who don't have a standing mixer or who enjoy kneading by hand.

mmm, pumpkin bread
sorry about the lighting, late night photos are not my strong suit

Mystery Squash Bread

The night before

at least 1 lb squash or pumpkin (without seeds)
olive oil
flour, whole wheat if you have it

  • Cut up the squash into 3 inch chunks - about that size, don't be fussy unless you want to.  Rub with oil and place on a roasting tray in the oven.  350F for about 30 min, or until it's mushy.  Remove from oven, and cover with a clean towel.  Leave on the counter overnight or until cool enough to handle.
  • In a small dish, make a poolish or biga by combining 2 cups of flour with a pinch of yeast and enough water to make it into a thin batter.  Cover with a cloth and leave on the counter overnight.  

Baking day

The roasted squash (or 2 cups canned squash mush)
The poolish from the night before
1 cup warm water
2 Tbs instant yeast
small drizzle honey
1Tbs sea salt
flour (I used all purpose, but next time I'll use a mix of 1 cup whole grain and the rest all purpose)
about 1 tsp fresh rosemary finely chopped, or 1/2 tsp dry
olive oil

  • Get your big bread bowl out and in it, combine the honey, yeast and warm water.
  • Scrape the squash off it's skin directly into a blender or blitzer.  And blend/blits until mush.  Alternately you could just mush it up with a fork.  I don't think there are any rules as to how lumpy or smooth your squash mush is.  
  • The yeast should be starting to work by now.  If not, leave it 5 min before continuing.
  • Next add the squash mush, poolish, and salt to the yeast water.  Mix together well.  
  • Add about one cup of flour (the whole grain if you are using it) to the mix, and mix.
  • Mix in about 1 handful of flour at a time, until you get the traditional shaggy mess that bread recipes always talk about.
  • Put your shaggy mess on a well floured countertop and take the bowl immediately to the sink and wash it.  Some people think this is an optional step and we should just get another bowl out of the cupboard, but there are good reasons for putting the effort in.  One, it lets your dough rest.  Two, the bowl is easier to clean now than later.  And three, you don't have to hear the person who does the dishes complain about how they love your bread but hate the mess it makes.
  • Dry the bowl with a clean cotton or linen towel (keep the towel to one side for covering the dough later) and pour a generous glug of olive oil in the now dry bowl.
  • Go back to your shaggy mess and knead it till it's smooth and elastic - about 2 to 10 min.  Shape your dough into a ball like shape, put it upside down in the bowl and get the top good and oily.  flip it right way up, and cover it with your cloth.  Leave it to rise until it's about double in size.  Usually under an hour. 
    • If this was sourdough bread, I would shape the loaves immediately after kneading it to give it a more rustic texture with probable air pockets.  But since we are using commercial yeast, I feel the taste isn't very good with a single rise.  Best to do the double rise thing even if it makes a softer bread.
    • Also, a lot of people recommend a damp cloth - I don't quite understand why they think this is a good idea.  It's such a short rise time, and if you were generous with the oil, then the slight dampness left on the towel from drying the bow is plenty.  The dough isn't going to dry out in an hour.  Besides, as the dampness on the cloth evaporates, it cools the dough.  This isn't what you really want when working with commercial yeast.  Long rise sourdoughs on the other hand... they love a cooler clime.  
      • But you know, it's your bread, do what you like.  I'm not going to come to your house and yell at you if you don't do things the way I say.  
  • When it's risen, punch it down.  Divide into two and shape into loaves.  Whatever shape you like - round with a cross on top, loaf pan, braided, pumpkin shape... whatever floats your boat.  Score the top of the loaf (if you like) to make it rise more evenly.  Cover again with the cloth and leave till double in size (about 20 min).  I do round loaves traditionally, so if you are doing something different you may need to adjust your cooking time.
  • I cooked mine at 425F for 45 min.  Next time I'll cook at 400F for about an hour as I didn't like the crust at the higher temp.  It's ready if it sounds hollow when knocked.  
  • Eat anytime after 10 min, or leave to cool 12 hours before putting in plastic bag.

Affordable?  If you wait till squash season, people will almost pay you to take their excess squash off their hands.  I imagine you could use just about any winter squash - maybe even summer squash, but probably have to either grate it or roast it differently.  You can make loads of pumpkin mush and freeze it in 2 cup servings.  You can use more or less pumpkin according to your tastes.  I think it would be really good with leftover lentils or other pulses.  In fact, forget about roasting squash specifically for this bread, use leftover squash from a family feast.

There's a decent nutritional value to this - but I'm going to hesitate pricing out the ingredients as I understand there is yet another bad harvest year for wheat (what's that? 6 years in a row now?) so expect the price to go up again this winter.  8 years ago a huge bag of flour was regularly on sale for $2.40, now it's never lower than $14.  You know things are bad when locally grown organic wheat berries are now cheaper than commercial flour.  

At the time of writing, this recipe is affordable.. but who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Vegi or fruit, either way squash is probably a healthy thing.  This is a good way to trick yourself into eating your veg - something I have to do often - by making a slightly sweet flavour bread that goes amazingly well with hummus or goat cheese.

How to make this Vegan Friendly: Replace the honey with a pinch of sugar.

I think this qualifies as a Transitional Food, not just because I'm cutting down on my oil dependence by using locally grown wheat, but also because pumpkins and squashes in general are one of the easiest things to grow.  Get the timing right, give them lots of water, and even the brownest of thumbs can look like they know what they are doing.    When we get back to a stage in society where the Victory Garden replaces the lawn, you need to realize that there are going to be a lot of squash.  Better learn how to cook it.

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