Courtesy of Big Sur Bakery
1 pound fresh or canned pumpkin purée
10 whole allspice berries
4 whole cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
4 3/4 cups bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon powdered milk
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons (packed) light or dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
Makes two pumpkin-shaped loaves
Start the night before: Put the pumpkin purée in a sheet of cheesecloth.
Bundle it up and tie it. Put a rack inside a large pan, suspend the bundle over the rack, and let it drain in the refrigerator overnight to release the excess moisture, leaving behind only the dense pulp.
The next day, remove the pan from the refrigerator. Discard the liquid collected in the bottom, and reserve the pulp in the cheesecloth.
Grind the allspice and cloves in a spice grinder, and combine with the cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.
Pour 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm water into a bowl, and rain the yeast over it. Stir, and set it aside to activate for 5 minutes.
In an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the yeast mixture with 3 cups of the flour and the powdered milk, egg, brown sugar, sea salt, and pumpkin purée on very low speed.
Over a 1-minute period, add the spice mixture and the remaining 1 3/4 cups flour, a scoop at a time. Add the butter and mix until combined. Turn the speed up to medium and mix for 2 minutes. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula (the dough should be sticky), and then mix on high speed for 5 minutes.
The dough will become shiny, somewhat firm, and less sticky. Transfer the dough to a bowl that’s large enough for the dough to double in size. Place the bowl in a large plastic bag, tie it loosely, and set it aside in a warm place in the kitchen until the dough has doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and divide it in half. Pinch off a nugget of dough about the size of a walnut from each of these halves; these will be used as the stems of the pumpkins. At this point you should have two large pieces of dough and two walnut-size pieces. Flatten each of the dough pieces with the palm of your hand and roll them into loose balls. Cover with a plastic bag and let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
Reshape the dough pieces into tight balls. Line two medium bowls with a linen napkin and dust them generously with flour. Put one of the large dough balls in each bowl. Top each large ball with a small dough ball. Loosely cover each bowl with plastic wrap, giving it room to expand, and let the dough rise in a warm place in the kitchen until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, adjust the oven rack to the middle position and put a baking stone on it. Place a cast-iron skillet on the bottom rack of the oven and fill it 2 inches deep with water (to increase the level of moisture inside the oven). Preheat the oven to 450°.
Gently turn one of the pumpkin breads into your hands. Put the bread on a floured pizza peel (a flat wooden or metal shovel with a long handle) with the stem side up. With a razor blade or a sharp paring knife, make 1/4-inch-deep cuts into the bread, from the stem to the bottom, to create the ribs of the pumpkin. Immediately slide the bread directly onto the baking stone. Reduce the oven temperature to 375° and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until golden brown.
While the first pumpkin bread is baking, place the second one in a cooler spot to prevent it from over-proofing.
The bread is done when a thermometer inserted in the middle reads 200°. Transfer it to a wire rack and let it cool for at least 1 hour before cutting.
Repeat the process for baking the second pumpkin.