To me, every meal is improved by sneaking in some pumpkin, giving it a golden hue and a rich nutty flavour. In baking, pumpkin (like any starchy vegetable) will help the crumb to stay moist. So even if you over-bake things, you’ll still end up with a deliciously soft and fresh-tasting cake, or bread, days later. A magical ingredient indeed.
Pumpkin burghul wheat cake, saffron mahleb icing
The combination of pumpkin and burghul wheat is a classic; there’s a gourd and grain harmony that kicks in. In this simple honey butter cake loaded with grated pumpkin, the burghul adds a curious chewiness reminiscent of ground almonds. If you want to go nut-free, just leave out the walnuts and extract, but you’ll need to whack a little texture back in so replace it with chopped dried apricots or figs. The icing is a must, especially if you can find the ground mahleb, as it adds the most delicate and complex almond flavour to pull back the saffron’s boldness.
50g burghul wheat
80g melted butter
80g dark honey, like red gum
80g castor sugar
2 eggs, 60g each
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
20g lemon juice
100g peeled pumpkin, coarsely grated
125g chopped walnuts
200g plain flour
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp ground cardamom
For the icing
30g boiling water
225g icing sugar
¾ tsp ground mahleb (spice made from cherry seeds), or 1 drop almond extract
1. Take a saucepan and add the burghul wheat. Pour on twice its volume in water, bring to the boil then put the lid on and leave off the heat to cool. It should absorb all the water and have a slightly chewy texture.
2. Line the base of a round, 18-centimetre spring-form cake tin with non-stick paper and heat the oven to 160C (fan-forced). Put the cooked burghul wheat in a mixing bowl with the melted butter, honey, sugar and eggs, then whisk everything together well.
3. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, grated pumpkin and walnuts. Finally combine the flour, bicarb and cardamom, sift and mix evenly. Spoon into the tin and bake for about 40-50 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin before removing and icing.
4. For the icing, weigh in the water (easier than using a measuring spoon) straight into a small bowl. Stir in the saffron and leave for 10 minutes. Then stir in the icing sugar and mahleb (or almond extract) until smooth and spread over the cake.
Pumpkin sesame olive bread
This bold little loaf can be served with soups and dips, and has a golden pumpkin crumb studded with green olives. The toasted sesame top and deep cuts is a nod to Cyprus’ koulouri bread, the original tear and share loaf, and a great one when you’ve got friends around as you can just rip into it with your hands at the table. More finger-licking food, that’s what we need.
150g cooked peeled pumpkin
175g warm water
1 tsp fast-action yeast
100g thick yoghurt
120g pitted green olives, sliced or halved
400g white bread flour, extra if needed
1 tsp ground mahleb or cardamom
2 tsp salt
olive oil for kneading
30g sesame seeds
1 tsp nigella seeds
1. Mash the pumpkin in a bowl, stir in the water then whisk in the yeast until dissolved. Mix in the yoghurt and olives, then add the flour, mahleb or cardamom, and salt and mix everything to a soft dough, adding more flour if the dough feels very sticky. (When you have cooked or grated vegetables in bread dough, the salt will draw moisture out and the dough will get even softer as it rises, so aim for a dough that’s slightly firmer than you would normally make.)
2. Knead the dough until smooth on a floured (or oiled) surface then return it to the bowl and leave for about one hour somewhere warm until risen by half.
3. Then shape the dough into a stubby baton, brush with water, roll in the mix of seeds on a dinner plate then place on a baking tray lined with non-stick paper. Leave to rise for another hour, covered.
4. Heat the oven to 200C (fan-forced), score the dough with a blunt knife or scraper every 2-3 centimetres into portions but leave it bunched up close so they stick, then bake for about 40 minutes until a deep golden colour.