Pumpkin gets its time to shine during fall and winter, and this pumpkin-shaped sourdough bread makes the perfect edible centerpiece for any fall-themed celebration, like your Thanksgiving table.
This crusty loaf takes some time and effort, but it’s well worth it! You’ll need two days to prep this bread, including time for the dough to rest and develop some flavor before baking. The earthiness of the pumpkin purée pairs perfectly with tangy sourdough. It also adds moisture and softness to the crumb.
This bread is sweet but not overly so. Baking spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger impart warmth. It pairs perfectly with soups like Butternut Squash Soup or Carrot Ginger Soup. It’s also delicious with a simple pat of butter. Leftovers make for the most wonderful French toast or bread pudding.
The Sourdough Starter
Sourdough is fermented dough, which can be used to make bread in lieu of commercial yeast. It’s a simple mix of flour and water that ferments over time to develop a symbiotic culture of wild yeast and bacteria. When this culture is nurtured through regular feeding (adding flour and water) it becomes a “starter” that can be used to make bread rise.
For this recipe, the key is to use a mature active sourdough starter. This means the starter should be at its peak, 4 to 6 hours after feeding it. This is when the starter is at its highest point (double or triple in volume) before the yeast starts to die off.
Folding the Dough
In addition to flavor, the pumpkin purée adds moisture to the bread. It keeps the bread tender and tasting fresher for longer. It also means your dough will feel wet and sticky. The key to working with wet dough is to be gentle with it while folding and shaping it.
Instead of kneading the dough, for this recipe I use the coil folding method. Coil folding is a gentle way of stretching the dough to develop structure (it’s what allows the bread to keep its shape as it rises before and during baking).
The dough is gently lifted with your hands, allowing gravity to pull some of the dough downward, stretching it. The dough folds over itself in a coil-like pattern. This is considered one coil fold. After each coil fold, turn the dough 90 degrees to perform another coil fold.
You’ll want to complete three to five coil folds to adequately build strength into your dough.
The dough rests for 30 minutes between each coil fold to help with gluten development and to make it easier to handle. If the dough feels too sticky, wet your hands with a little water.
What is a Banneton?
You’ll need a circular proofing basket called a banneton to shape your dough into a boule (a round-shaped loaf). A proofing basket helps the dough maintain its shape by giving it structure, allowing it to rise upward instead of spreading outward.
A banneton is a proofing basket made from natural materials like rattan or coiled wicker. These materials help wick away moisture from the dough, making it less sticky and easier to work with.
In a pinch you can use a medium mixing bowl (about 8 inches in diameter) lined with a clean tea towel that has been dusted with a little bit of flour to prevent the dough from sticking. All-purpose would work fine, but a non-gluten flour such as rice flour, cornmeal, or semolina is preferable since they won’t dissolved into the dough.
Baking the Bread
To bake the bread, you’ll need a lidded Dutch oven. The dough releases steam as it bakes, which gets trapped inside the Dutch oven. This steam will keep the crust soft and help the dough rise in the oven.
If you don’t have a Dutch oven, you can bake the bread on a baking sheet. During the first half of your bake, you’ll set a cake pan filled with water on the rack beneath the baking sheet to help create some steam in the oven.
How to Create the Pumpkin Shape
Form the dough into the shape of a pumpkin right before it goes into the oven. Decorating the loaf to look like a pumpkin couldn’t be simpler. You’ll need butcher’s twine or any string that can withstand high oven temperatures.
Coat the twine with oil to ensure it doesn’t stick to the loaf as it bakes. Then, wrap it around the dough to mimic the vertical lines that run along the side of a pumpkin. Tie it tightly so that it stays in place.
Show off your artistic flair by scoring the top of the dough with fun designs to make it look even more like a pumpkin. The slashes will also allow steam to escape from the dough while it bakes. Sourdough bread is usually scored using a lame, a tool that safely holds a sharp razor blade at the end. If you don’t have a lame, use a sharp paring knife.
You can dust your loaf with flour to make your designs stand out even more. As the loaf bakes and expands, it will take on the shape of a pumpkin.
Ways to Season and Adapt Pumpkin Sourdough
This pumpkin-shaped sourdough recipe leans on the sweeter side, but you can make it savory or include mix-ins. Here are a few ideas:
- Cranberry and walnuts
- Roasted garlic and thyme
- Sage and onion
- Turmeric and chili
- Dried apricots and pumpkin seeds
This bread is great with both sweet and savory toppings—serve it alongside a harvest-themed board filled with cheeses, nuts, dried fruits, and jams. It’s also great for dipping into soups and leftovers make delicious French toast.
Store your bread in a zip top bag at room temperature for up to five days. Here are instructions on how to freeze bread.
More Treats to Bake with Pumpkin Purée
- Pumpkin Bread
- Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting
- Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping
- Pumpkin Cookies
- Instant Pot Pumpkin Cheesecake
Pumpkin Sourdough Bread
At first glance, this recipe may seem ambitious, but most of the effort is in waiting for the dough to rise and learning how to fold and shape the dough. We recommend reading through this recipe at least once before starting to set yourself up for success! You will need two days to make this recipe, so plan ahead!
For this recipe, use a mature active sourdough starter. This means the starter should be at its peak, 4 to 6 hours after feeding it. This is when the starter is at its highest point (double or triple in volume) before the yeast starts to die off.
- For the dough
- 2 2/3 cups (320g) bread flour, divided
- 2/3 cup (80g) whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon (6g) salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 cup (113g) active sourdough starter
- 1 1/4 cups (282g) water
- 1/3 cup (75g) canned pumpkin purée
- For shaping and decorating the loaf
- 2 tablespoons rice flour or cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed or any neutral oil, plus more for oiling the bowl
- 1 cinnamon stick
Mix the dry ingredients:
In a large bowl, whisk 2 1/3 cups (280g) bread flour, whole wheat flour, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Set it aside.
Mix the sourdough starter:
In a medium bowl, use a rubber spatula or your fingers to dissolve the sourdough starter in the water.
Make the dough:
Add the sourdough mixture into the flour mixture. Use a rubber spatula or your fingers to stir the mixture until it’s fully combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it aside in a warm place (ideally 78°F) for 30 minutes.
Fold in the pumpkin purée:
Working inside your bowl, spread a third of the pumpkin purée on top of the dough. Use your hands to fold the dough onto itself and over the pumpkin purée, until it is fully incorporated into the dough.
Repeat with the remaining pumpkin purée, a third of it at a time until fully incorporated.
If the dough is too wet (it sticks to the bowl and your fingers making it impossible to work with), add more flour, one tablespoon at a time up to 1/3 cup (40g), mixing it in well with each addition. The dough should be wet, but not so sticky that it’s hard to work with.
Let the dough rise:
Form the dough into a round ball in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise for 30 minutes.
Strengthen the dough:
Strengthen the dough by performing a series of coil folds. Working over the bowl, lift the dough up with both hands, gently holding the sides of the dough.
Allow gravity to pull some of the dough downward, stretching it. Lower the dough onto itself to create a coil-like pattern, then turn the dough 90 degrees. This is considered one coil fold.
Do four or five coil folds then cover the bowl with plastic wrap to rest the dough for 30 minutes. Repeat these series of coil folds and rests until the dough looks smooth, feels airy, and is slightly tacky (not overly sticky).
Let the dough rise:
After your last coil fold, allow the dough to rise inside the covered bowl undisturbed for 1 hour. Don’t let your dough double in size or it may be over-proofed.
Prepare dough for shaping:
Dust your countertop lightly with all-purpose or bread flour. Without deflating it, turn the dough out and gently form it into a tight ball. The goal here is to create surface tension in your dough while being as gentle as possible as to not knock any air out. Let it rest uncovered for 15 minutes.
Prepare the banneton:
While the dough rests, place a clean tea towel inside an 8-inch banneton or bowl. The tea towel should be large enough to line the bottom of the banneton and hang over its sides. Later, the sides will be used to cover the top of the dough. Lightly dust the towel with rice flour (or another non-gluten flour).
Shape the dough:
Pick up the left and right side of the dough and fold them towards the center of the dough, one on top of the other like you’re folding a letter.
Pick up the side of the dough furthest away from you towards the center of the dough and then flip the dough over so that the seam is now on the bottom.
Use your hands to lightly tuck the outer edges of the dough under itself. This will create tension on the surface of the dough.
Transfer the dough into the prepared banneton seam-side up. Lightly cover the dough with the hanging sides of the tea towel.
Rest the dough overnight:
Transfer the banneton into the refrigerator and allow the dough to rest overnight (at least 8 hours) to deepen the flavors.
Preheat the oven:
With the oven rack positioned in the middle, preheat the oven to 500°F with a 5-quart lidded round Dutch oven inside. If you don’t have a Dutch oven, you could set your oven up to create steam by placing a pizza stone on the top rack of your oven and cake pan filled with water on the bottom rack.
If your Dutch oven has a lid with a black knob, wrap some aluminum foil around it since it may not withstand the hot oven.
Prepare to decorate the dough:
Take the dough out of the refrigerator while you get your decorating materials ready.
Cut four 24-inch pieces of butcher’s twine. Fill a small bowl with the grapeseed oil (or any neutral flavored oil). Dunk the twine into the bowl to coat them with oil.
Place the strings across the dough:
While the dough is still in the bowl or banneton, place one piece of oiled twine across the center of the dough, then place a second piece across the dough in the opposite direction to form an X. You will have four quadrants. Repeat the pattern dividing each quadrant in half. Make sure they are evenly spaced. It should look like an asterisk.
Flip the dough out of the banneton and decorate the dough:
Place an 8-inch square piece of parchment on top of the strings. Flip the banneton to turn the dough out on top of the parchment paper on your countertop.
Bring the twine up toward the top of the dough and tie them together. Snip off any excess twine. The pattern should look like the same crisscross pattern you created on the bottom.
If you’re a confident bread baker, use a sharp knife or a bread lame to score the dough between each section by making a few shallow cuts on the surface to make the pumpkin bread even more decorative. This is totally optional but feel free to have fun and be creative with your patterns.
Bake the loaf:
Carefully remove the hot Dutch oven from the oven and transfer the dough with the parchment paper into it. Place the lid on the Dutch oven, put it into the oven, and turn the temperature down to 450°F.
Bake the loaf for 30 minutes. Remove the lid off the Dutch oven and bake the loaf for 10 to 15 minutes, until the crust has browned to your liking.
Cool the loaf:
Carefully transfer the loaf onto a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Cut the twine off and stick a cinnamon stick in the middle of your loaf to make it look like the pumpkin’s stem. Allow the loaf to cool completely before slicing, about 2 hours.