Sourdough Pumpkin Rye Sandwich Loaf

With the cool, crispness of fall in the air, I have been giving my stove and oven a serious workout. Many of my recipes have been reruns of things I’ve already posted, but I have made a few exciting new things, too.

Last week, I opened a can of pureed pumpkin for another recipe (I can’t remember what), and I had just a little bit leftover—at exactly the same time I needed to feed my sourdough starter to make a new loaf of bread for my husband’s lunchtime sandwiches. Why not add the pumpkin to a bread dough? My first inclination was to make a cinnamon roll-type thing, but I remembered how delicious pumpkin is without the spice and sugar, so I took it in this savory direction instead, using my favorite sourdough sandwich bread recipe as a template.

It even looks like autumn!

The go-to recipe I modified came from Maurizio Leo, a pro baker whose passion for naturally leavened bread shines on such sites as Food 52 and King Arthur Baking Company. He understands and explains all the science of breadmaking (which I love) and though I keep saying I want to make some of the other Insta-worthy recipes on his blog, The Perfect Loaf, I keep coming back to this one. It relies on an unusual method of pre-cooking a portion of the flour—a technique which locks in much more liquid that you’d otherwise get into a sandwich loaf—and this initial step ensures a super-soft, tender bread with a perfectly chewy edge on every slice.

I’ve experimented many times with Maurizio’s original recipe, first to split it in half because we can’t finish two loaves that quickly, partly out of necessity on days that I didn’t have honey or whole milk, but also out of curiosity to see how far I could push it in the direction of more whole grain. This time, I wanted to see how the loaf would fare with a half cup of fiber-rich pumpkin puree, and as you can see, it turned out quite good.

My big test for any new loaf is toast, and this one was divine!

I love toast so much.

To make my pumpkin sandwich bread even more rustic and autumn-like, I swapped out a good amount of my usual white whole wheat flour in favor of whole dark rye and played up that rye infusion with a spoonful of caraway seed. I swapped in molasses for honey because I love the deep, earthy flavor of molasses with rye. It all worked beautifully, and the aroma of this loaf as it emerged from the oven was nothing short of fantastic. Sometimes it pays to experiment.

Let’s get baking!

Inspired by Sourdough Sandwich Bread with Pre-cooked Flour | The Perfect Loaf

Fair warning, my recipe is written in metric measurement because that’s the way I bake. Scaling a recipe by volume measurements is a near-impossible task, and I will say honestly that my cheap digital kitchen scale is one of the items I would never go without today.

This loaf depends on a portion of ripe sourdough starter. “Ripe” means it has been refreshed within the past 8 to 12 hours, so it is fully fermented, active and ready to use. If you don’t have a sourdough starter, you could try a swap-in of canned pumpkin for about half of the water called for in your favorite yeast-based recipe, and then add about 2 tablespoons of extra water. It would be best to experiment with a recipe that you are very familiar with, so you have a better sense of when the dough looks and feels “right.”

Here’s how it went down in my kitchen, beginning with the flour and milk paste, which are whisked together and cooked over medium heat until it looks like a roux. This stage needs constant attention, so don’t look away even for a moment, and be ready to switch from whisk to spoon when it starts to get thickened so you don’t get it all caught up in the whisk.


Next, combine the pumpkin and warm water, whisk in the molasses and olive oil, and then combine it with the sourdough starter and the cooled roux paste in the bowl of a stand mixer. Use the beater blade for this and blend it for several minutes, until it’s smooth and evenly mixed.


Whisk the flours together—here I used a combination of dark rye, white whole wheat and bread flour, which is high in gluten for a strong rise—and stir in the salt and caraway seed. Add a spoonful of these dry ingredients at a time to the mixing bowl while it’s running, until the dough begins to look like batter. Then turn off the mixer and add the rest of the flour ingredients all at once. This is not an essential step for the recipe, but my technique for reducing the splash that usually happens when I start my mixer with wet and dry ingredients in the bowl. I hate the mess, and this really helps!


Continue mixing until all the dry ingredients are completely incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape the dough off the beater blade into the bowl. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for at least 20 minutes, up to an hour. This is a departure from Maurizio’s recipe; it’s my own trick for making the dough more workable, as the rest time gives the grain time to fully hydrate. Fit the mixer with the dough hook and knead the dough until it’s smooth, soft and shiny. Resist the temptation to add more flour—yes, the dough will seem too soft, but the next step of stretching and folding will increase its strength. Trust the process. Transfer the soft dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover it and stay nearby for the next step.


I was working alone in the kitchen on this day, so the stretch and fold pictures I’m sharing below are borrowed from an earlier post for a different bread (notice the ugly old counters?), but the process is exactly the same. Do this at least twice (three is better), about 30 minutes apart during the first part of the ferment time. This may not seem like much, but this step builds a great deal of strength in the dough so it rises big in the oven.


After about three hours, the dough will be puffy and stretchy. Turn it out onto a lightly floured countertop and gently press and stretch it into a long rectangle. Beginning on the short end nearest you, roll it up tightly into a cylinder shape, tucking in the sides as you go. Pinch the ends of the roll closed and seal the long edge. Place the loaf, seam side-down, into a greased (or non-stick) bread pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place the pan in a draft-free zone in your kitchen—tucked into the microwave is a good bet—until the dough rises to one inch above the rim of the pan.


Preheat the oven to 400° F with rack in center position and another rack in the lowest part of the oven, which you’ll use for a steam pan. Fill a second, shallow baking pan with hot water and place the pan on the lowest rack while the oven preheats.

Bake 22 minutes with steam, then remove the steam pan and rotate the bread to bake more evenly. If the loaf is already brown on top, place a loose foil tent over it to prevent burning. Bake 22 minutes more, until bread is golden brown all over and internal temperature is around 205° F.


Turn the finished bread out onto a cooling rack immediately and cool at least four hours—preferably longer—before cutting into it. That is, if you can stand the wait. 😊

Sourdough Pumpkin Rye Sandwich Loaf

  • Servings: 16 slices
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
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This bread is rich with the rustic flavors of fall, and well worth the wait!


Ingredients

  • 148 g whole milk
  • 37 g whole dark rye flour
  • 106 g sourdough starter, recently refreshed
  • 100 g pureed pumpkin (NOT pie filling)
  • 85 g filtered water, heated 30 seconds in the microwave
  • 18 g unsulphured molasses
  • 30 g extra virgin olive oil
  • 285 g bread flour
  • 60 g white whole wheat flour
  • 28 g whole dark rye flour
  • 2 tsp. caraway seed (optional)
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt

Directions

  1. Combine milk and first amount of rye flour together in a small saucepan. Whisk them together over medium-low heat until flour is thickened into a paste-like texture. This will take about 10 minutes. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
  2. In a measuring cup with a pour spout, combine pumpkin, water, molasses and oil. Whisk until smooth. Combine this mixture with the sourdough starter and rye-milk paste, using the beater blade, until the mixture is evenly blended.
  3. Whisk remaining flour ingredients together with salt and caraway seed. Add flour ingredients and continue mixing with beater blade just until the mixture comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Scrape dough from blade, cover the bowl and let it rest at least 20 minutes, up to one hour.
  4. Attach the dough hook to the mixer and knead on medium-low speed for about 8 minutes, until dough is smooth and shiny. Transfer dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover and rest for up to three hours. Perform a few stretch-and-folds during the first hour and a half. These folds will help build strength in the dough.
  5. When the dough has puffed considerably, shape it into a loaf and place it in a greased pan, seam side down. Cover and let rise for about two hours, until dough has risen about one inch above the rim of the pan.
  6. During the end of the rising time, preheat oven to 400 F with rack in center position and another rack near the bottom of the oven. Prepare a shallow pan with hot water and place it on the lower shelf during preheating time. This will provide steam for the first half of baking.
  7. Bake 22 minutes with steam, then carefully remove the steam pan. Rotate the bread pan and cover with a loose foil tent to prevent over browning. Continue to bake 22 more minutes, until bread is deep golden brown and internal temperature is in the 200-205 F range.
  8. Turn bread out immediately onto a cooling rack and cool completely before wrapping.


My Favorite Sourdough Sandwich Bread

If I had to guess a number, I’d say conservatively that I have probably made about 280 loaves of sourdough bread since I developed my starter back in the spring of 2016. That’s figuring an average of one loaf per week for 5½ years. Of course, there have been some weeks that I have baked much more than that (especially during holiday seasons) and others that I have not baked at all, either because our schedule didn’t allow it or we didn’t need it or, as has been the case recently, because we didn’t have a kitchen.

What to do with my sourdough starter was a big part of the discussion when my husband, Les, and I sat down to figure out the details of our kitchen renovation, which I am pleased to say is nearly done. Would I just let the starter go to sleep and try to revive it when all was said and done? I supposed that I could at least make my Sourdough English Muffins, which are cooked on a griddle. Or should I keep feeding the yeasty rascal on schedule and just call the discard a total loss? That would be a shame.

A freshly baked loaf of homemade sourdough bread was the last thing I made in our old, time-worn kitchen, and it is the first thing I have made in the shiny new kitchen, even though a few loose ends remain before we can do our big reveal. The bread I made both times was this one—a sourdough-based recipe by Maurizio Leo, a master bread maker whose own blog, The Perfect Loaf, has been on my radar for about a year, thanks to a few contributions he has made to the King Arthur Baking website. Maurizio is a genius when it comes to sourdough, and I can hardly keep up with my desire to bake everything on his blog at least once.


This bread, which Maurizio has named Sourdough Sandwich Bread with Pre-cooked Flour, is a favorite at our house because of its softness, height, chewy crust and versatility for sandwiches, toast and just plain eating with a fat schmear of soft butter. As the recipe name suggests, there is an amount of the flour that is pre-cooked, specifically with whole milk, and this pre-cooking of the flour creates a sticky, roux-like addition that lends a beautiful texture to the finished bread and, as a bonus, prolongs its shelf life. This pre-cooking technique itself is not new; the Japanese have been doing it for a long time, and they call it “tangzhong.” But the combination of that milk-cooked method with sourdough and no added commercial yeast sends it straight over the top for me. Quite simply, I love this bread. 

I’m happy to report that I have been able to make bread, even without access to my beloved oven during this remodel, thanks to the generosity of a couple of our neighbors, who offered their own ovens as surrogates. They received their own loaves of this bread as a barter for their oven services (not to mention the benefit of that lingering aroma), so it was a win-win situation.


The crumb is soft, tender and perfectly composed with no crumbling. The crust is chewy and soft.

So, have I put my own spin on this fantastic bread? Kind of, but not much. My method of steam baking is less sophisticated than what Maurizio Leo describes in his original recipe, but it works. I have fiddled with the ratio of flours in favor of greater percentage of whole grain and have even swapped in whole rye for the pre-cooked part several times, and the bread still comes out terrific. I have also subbed out the honey—with brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses and even sorghum—and it wows me every time. Finally, I’ve halved the original recipe because I usually only make one loaf at a time (unless, of course, I’m baking at a neighbor’s).

One of these days, I’ll get around to trying some of Maurizio’s other recipes; I especially want to check out the Jalapeno Cheddar Sourdough Bread (yum!), and for sure, my Thanksgiving table deserves his Super-soft Sourdough Rolls this year. How ridiculous is it, given that I love making fresh bread, that I have never made it at Thanksgiving? I guess I have been too busy with everything else for the table, or else I didn’t plan well to have the oven free, but this will be the year.

In the meantime, I’ll keep making this darn-near perfect bread, my favorite, go-to sourdough. Enjoy!


Before you begin:

This recipe requires use of a mature, ripe starter. Plan to feed your starter eight to 12 hours before making this dough.

All ingredients are listed by weight. I highly recommend use of a digital scale for sourdough baking.

Plan to have a shallow pan available for steam baking. It is also helpful, but not essential, to have a digital thermometer for testing doneness of the bread at the end of baking time.


Ingredients

148 g whole milk

38 g whole wheat flour* (see notes)

175 g room temperature water

18 g honey*

32 g olive oil

106 g sourdough starter, recently refreshed (starter should be 100% hydration)

295 g bread flour

78 g whole wheat flour*

8.5 oz. fine sea salt


*Notes

I have had great success using whole grain rye flour in the first step of pre-cooking. The resulting dough will be rather sticky, but I find it more manageable to handle it with wet hands.

If you want to increase the nutrition by using more whole wheat flour in this recipe, try swapping about 30 grams for equal amount of the bread flour. Greater adjustment may require that you also increase the volume of water by a small amount, as whole wheat flour absorbs more water.

Alternative sweeteners can be an equal swap by weight if they are liquid. If you swap in sugar or brown sugar, try using two heaping tablespoons, and add them with the dry ingredients rather than in the starter mixture.


Instructions

The images in the how-to are from a previous bake, so please don’t be startled to see the old kitchen.

  1. Whisk together milk and first amount of flour in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and becomes sticky and heavy. Remove from heat and spread the mixture out onto a plate to cool for several minutes.
  2. Combine bread flour, whole wheat flour and salt in a bowl.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine starter, water, honey and olive oil until blended and smooth. Add pre-cooked flour mixture and blend with the beater blade until smooth. Add dry ingredients all at once and mix with the beater blade until all the flour is incorporated and the dough begins to look organized on the blade. Scrape dough from blade and cover the bowl. Allow it to rest for about 30 minutes before kneading.
  4. Switch to the dough hook, kneading the dough on speed two for about 7 minutes. Spray a large glass bowl with oil and transfer the dough into the bowl. Cover and rest it for 30 minutes.
  5. Wet your hands, then stretch and fold the dough like this: Loosen the dough from the edge of the bowl that is farthest away from you and lift it, stretching and folding it down toward the center. Rotate the bowl to fold the opposite, then rotate the bowl to repeat the folds on the sides of the dough. Cover and rest again and repeat the folds twice more at 30-minute intervals.
  6. By the final stretch and fold, you will find that the dough has built enough strength to feel resistant. Prepare a large loaf pan, oiling and dusting with semolina or cornmeal if needed to reduce sticking.
  7. Shape the loaf by flattening it out onto a flour-covered board, the rolling it up tightly into a cylinder shape. Pinch the final rolled edge to seal it, and pinch the ends of the roll. Cover the loaf pan with plastic wrap or an elastic bowl cover and let it nap in a warm spot in the kitchen, with no drafts. Final proofing will be about 90 minutes.
  8. Preheat oven to 400° F, with one rack in the center of the oven and another rack below it for the steam pan. When oven reaches temperature, place a shallow pan of hot tap water on the lower rack and allow it to preheat 10 minutes longer.
  9. Bake the bread with steam for 20 minutes. Remove the steam pan, rotate the bread for even browning, and cover with a loose tent foil if the bread is browning quickly. If the loaf is still pale, the foil may not be necessary. Bake an additional 25 minutes without steam. Internal temperature of finished bread should be 205° F. Remove from pan right away and cool on a rack.

This most recent bake had significantly more whole wheat, and it still turned out just perfect. I love a versatile recipe!