Over 7 years ago, on October 27, 1999, I e-mailed myself a recipe for Pumpkin Pecan Spiral Bread by Amy Scherber (of Amy’s Bread, 3 retail bakeries in Manhattan plus wholesale baking) that was in the New York Times. Like many other e-mailed recipes, it went into my “Food and Wine” folder for later use.
Every year around late October and November, the stacks of canned pumpkin remind me of that recipe, but I never quite got around to buying the ingredients and scheduling enough time to try the bread. Until this year.
Recently, I had everything on hand — canned pumpkin, butter, spices, eggs, pecans, yeast, salt, honey, milk, cornmeal and flour — and allowed myself to be caught up in the spiral bread. It is a real bread, one that requires kneading and rising, not one of the pumpkin quick breads that are popular in the Autumn (and usually quite delicious). The large number of ingredients and the heaviness (and stickiness) of the dough made this one of my more challenging bread projects, but certainly easier than brioche or ciabatta.
I started by making a sponge comprised of all of the wet ingredients and about 1/3 of the dry ingredients (including the yeast, but no salt). This sat for 30 minutes, then I mixed in the rest of the dry ingredients (except for the pecans), and kneaded the dough for 5 minutes. Next, I gradually kneaded a stick of melted butter into the dough — a messy and somewhat decadent experience –and kneaded the now butter-enriched dough for a few more minutes. After a 20 minute rest period (to relax the gluten in the dough and make it easier to handle), I added the pecans, then started the first rise.
When the dough had doubled in size (1 1/2 hours), I cut it into three pieces, rolled each one into a long, thin cylinder (about 24″ long), and formed the three rolls into spiral domes. The three domes rose for another hour of rising.
The bread was superb. The butter and egg yolks give the bread a great body, the flavor of pumpkin is a warm background, the spices provide some zing, and the pecans give rich flavor and textural contrast. When toasted, the outside surfaces obtain a delightful crispiness that I don’t find in other breads. I imagine that it could make a base for a sublime bread pudding (and a very special one, given the effort required to make the bread).
Unfortunately, it appears that the New York Times didn’t archive the recipe or article on their website, so if you want to see it, you will need to visit your local library and ask for the microfilm New York Times of October 27, 1999. Amy Scherber has a bread cookbook, and perhaps it is in that volume.