Makes 12 buns or 2 x 450g loaves or 1 x 900g loaf
This started out as a post on Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead) which is traditionally eaten on All Souls Day (2 November) in Mexico. Far from being a day of sorrow it is a day when families in Mexico visit their ancestors graves as a mark of love and respect to ‘celebrate’ the lives their loved ones once lived.
‘Food, drink, flowers and Pan de Muerto are left among the candles and the portraits of saints and relatives, in the belief that the spirits of the dead will feast on the spirits of the food and drink.” (The Complete Mexican Cookbook, Lourdes Nichols,1995).
I love the citrus and anise undertones in this sweet bread. I have made it many times in the past but find the fashioning of the traditional skull and crossbones decoration a bit tedious (my efforts don’t look anywhere near as good as those on this Pinterest page). Earlier this year I wondered whether it would be possible to use pumpkin in a sweet bread but incorporating the same flavours (orange and anise) as traditional Pan de Muerto. I though it would be a great use for those redundant Jack O’Lanterns once halloween had passed.
The recipe below takes its inspiration from traditional Mexican recipes by Nichols and my other favourite writer on Latin American food, Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz. There’s also a touch of inspiration from London based Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli who has a recipe for a pumpkin and raisin sourdough bread in his book Made in Italy.
Initially I tried shaping the dough into buns but found they spread quite a bit (it is rather a wet dough) and felt they would do better in a tin. In the end I used a muffin tin which produced ‘toadstool’ shaped buns (my son’s description). I thought about calling them Pumpkin Bruffins but then figured some multinational coffee chain has probably thought of this bread based muffin hybrid already and has no doubt trademarked the name :). Alternatively, you could use two 450g loaf tins or one large (900g) tin.
I often think of bread making as a worthy vocation which merits the devotion of time and effort. This isn’t a quick bread to make but it is worth the effort I promise.
- 1 small pumpkin or butternut squash
- 150ml whole milk
- 2 star anise
- A 7-10cm piece of cinnamon stick
- A good grating of nutmeg
- 3 x 7g sachets of Fast Action or Easy Blend yeast
- 550g Strong Plain Bread Flour
- Zest and juice from 1 orange
- 150g raisins
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 100g unsalted butter, melted
- 100g caster sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds (optional)
- 50g pumpkin seeds plus a little milk to brush over the buns before they are cooked.
- Preheat the oven to 200℃. Cut the pumpkin or squash into 4 – 8 pieces (depending on it’s size) and scoop out any seeds and stringy bits. Roast for 45 – 60 minutes until tender. Remove the flesh from the skin (which you can discard) then using a stick blender puree the cooked flesh. Allow to cool completely before you proceed with the recipe (this stage could be done a day or two before you make the bread).
- Place the raisins into a heat proof bowl. Put the orange juice and the zest into another small saucepan. Bring to the boil then pour over the raisins giving them a good stir and leave them to macerate while you make the bread (this stage could also be done a day before you make the bread).
- Place the milk and the spices in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then allow to infuse for at least one hour.
- Now make the ‘sponge’. Put the yeast, 1 tsp of the caster sugar and 150g of the flour into a small bowl. Strain in the infused, cooled milk and mix until you have a soft dough. Lightly knead this dough in the bowl for a minute or two before covering it with cling film and leaving to prove in a warm place for one hour.
- After the hour is up the sponge should have doubled in size. Place it into the bowl of a food mixer with a dough hook attachment. Add 225g pumpkin puree, 400g flour, caster sugar, cooled melted butter and the eggs. Slowly process until all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed together. I probably had my mixer on a low speed for 8 minutes or so before turning the dough out and kneading it by hand for a further 5 – 10 minutes. The dough should have quite a glossy sheen to it and be springy to the touch. Leave to prove in a warm place for about 90 minutes until doubled in size again (it may take a bit longer).
- If you want to use the fennel seeds stir them into the macerated raisins. I like the additional anise kick they give the bread but it is not to everyone’s taste so I’ll leave that decision up to you.
- Turn the proved dough out onto a work surface. I wet my granite worktop for this and don’t use flour but you could use a lightly floured board if you prefer. Knead the dough for a minute or two to expel the air then knead in the fruit and fennel mix a couple of dessert spoons at a time. It will take a while but it does ensure an even distribution doing it this way. After all of the fruit and fennel seeds have been incorporated shape into 12 balls or loaves (according to your preference) making sure that you have liberally greased the muffin tin or loaf tin(s) before hand.
- Leave the bread to prove again in a warm place for 30 – 40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180℃. Brush the buns or loaves with milk and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds. Bake Bruffins for 15 – 20 minutes, small loaves for 25 – 30 minutes and a large loaf for 35 – 40 minutes. Leave to cool in the tin for a while before turning out onto a wire rack.
This bread is naturally delicious warm and in my opinion even better the following day toasted and served with cinnamon butter. To make cinnamon butter cream 50g soft unsalted butter with 1 tbsp icing sugar sifted with ½ tsp ground cinnamon.
You will probably be left with some pumpkin puree after you have made the bread. It freezes really well and makes a delicious pasta filling or you could try this pumpkin granola recipe from The Little Loaf food blog.