Shape-shifting with String (BBB October 2021)

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BBB: Let's Keep Baking summary: recipe for Wild Pumpkin-shaped bread; made with butternut squash instead of pumpkin; pepitas; nigella and its many different names; fun with string; no idea of time any more; into the rabbit warren once more; late again; information about Bread Baking Babes;

When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.

BBB October 2021

Bread Baking Babes (BBB): Rustic Pumpkin-shaped Bread

Last Saturday, there were pumpkins galore piled up on the sidewalks outside of all the vegetable stores and supermarkets. There were giant-sized jack-o-lantern pumpkins, and medium and small sugar pie pumpkins.

I made sure to look at them carefully – so I’d know exactly how a pumpkin looks for this month’s BBB bread.

But we didn’t buy a pumpkin. Oh my no. We did buy a butternut squash though. We also bought a sweet potato to make ersatz pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dinner. (Baked sweet potato is WAY better than tinned often watery pumpkin for pie making!)

Then on Tuesday, after the Thanksgiving long weekend, as we went for a little bike ride, we saw that the pumpkin piles had been almost completely decimated. Only a few sorry-looking ones were left!

What DO people do with all those pumpkins? Especially the giant-sized ones that are essentially flavour-free?

[S]ome canned “pumpkin” purée is actually made from one or more types of winter squash, like butternut, Hubbard, Boston Marrow, and Golden Delicious. These squash varieties can be less stringy and richer in sweetness and color than pumpkin. […] [But] if you really want to be absolutely sure you’re using pure pumpkin purée, you can always skip the canned stuff and make your own.
– Kelli Foster, theKitchn | What’s Actually in Your Canned Pumpkin Purée?
Those big pumpkins you see at the pumpkin patch for carving into jack-o’-lanterns look appealing, but they’re the worst for cooking and baking. While yes, they are edible and you can cook with them, they’re very stringy, bland, and watery.
     The best pumpkins for baking and cooking with are sweet, flavorful, and have smooth-textured flesh.
– Christine Gallary, theKitchn | The Best Pumpkins for Baking and Cooking
Pumpkins used for food differs from those bred for Halloween carving. Those pumpkins are bred to be large, mostly hollow, and flat bottomed. The flesh, however, doesn’t hold a candle to most of the pumpkin varieties for eating. It is watery and bland […] The question of which are the best pumpkins to eat is a bit tricky. Why? Because the term pumpkin is a catch-all word that encompasses several types of winter squash. For example, Cucurbita moschata encompasses butternut squash, but it also includes the buff-colored Dickinson pumpkin […] This means that the types of pumpkins for cooking are really just hard-skinned squash.
– Amy Grant, Gardening Know-how | Pumpkin Varieties For Eating: Best Types Of Pumpkins For Cooking
For a long time, the most famous squash was the pumpkin, but now the butternut squash took over the throne. It is flavorful and much sweeter in comparison to other squashes. […] It has a slightly nutty flavor, and being less stringy than pumpkins makes it an ideal ingredient in purees and soups. The delicate taste of butternut squash goes excellent[ly] with spices and aromatic herbs like oregano and rosemary.
– Alex Johnson, MedMunch | What Does Butternut Squash Taste Like?

Here’s what I did with butternut squash to make the BBBabes’ October 2021 recipe:

BBB Rustic Pumpkin-shaped Bread diary:

2 September 2021, 16:25 Wow!!! The picture that Cathy showed us looks incredibly beautiful! I love the way the strings look after they’re baked. And I have a foolish urge to try to think of how to make string that is edible. (I’m sure I’ll quickly learn to quash this craziness.)

4 September 2021, 11:03 I was thinking about adding a stem. One of the others suggested using a cinnamon stick for the stem. That does sound like a good idea, but I can’t imagine people fighting over who gets to eat it. Because October is winter squash season, I might try to buy one that has a nice looking stem on it and use the actual stem. But… the trick will be how to stop it from being incinerated during the baking.

11:17 I am failing at thinking of a viable alternative to actual string. Maybe carrot top stems. Maybe. But they do have a distinct flavour that might not be quite right to go with the bread. Not to mention that they would probably burn to a crisp during the baking.

There’s also the little problem of finding carrot tops in October. Almost all vendors habitually cut them off before selling the carrots. And we harvested and ate our meager crop of carrots weeks ago – greens as well. (My sister told us about carrot top pesto – it’s quite good. Carrot greens are lovely as garnish as well.)

5 September 2021, 16:45 Tanna is way too smart. She suggested wrapping an actual pumpkin stem with foil!! (That seems like far too simple a solution.) Also, an actual pumpkin stem isn’t exactly edible.

Horseradish is edible though. (I know. In small quantities.) Ginger? Might ginger work? Or maybe eggplant?

Ha. I’m almost positive that I’m going to end up baking a stemless Pumpkin-shaped bread – one that is shaped with butcher’s twine, because ultimately, (I know myself too well) I’m too lazy to try making edible string. …although, would rice noodles work? Or would they just break?

14 September 2021, 17:04 Cool! Look what Tanna found:
Walk like an Egyptian, eat like a Roman. […] Bread is a staple in kitchens across the globe and sliced varieties changed modern life forever. This essential food made headlines during the first months of quarantine when the internet suddenly became awash with people learning how to make sourdough. While the carb craze of 2020 may be over, baking bread for our enjoyment and wellbeing (both physical and mental) has been around for thousands of years.
[Food writer and researcher Farrell] Monaco reconstructed this recipe for Panis Quadratus with Git (Roman coriander) to mirror several of the loaves found in Pompeii.
– Alisha Mcdarris, Popular Science | Eat like an ancient Roman by recreating bread from Pompeii

Recreating Bread from Pompeii - photo by Farrell Monaco
Recreating Bread from Pompeii (photo by Farrell Monaco

I love that the Pompeiian bread looks like the precursor to The BBBs’ October pumpkin-shaped bread!

But I was really curious about “git (Roman coriander)” and googled. The first hit was an Etsy site selling it; the title for the page is “Roman Coriander – Black cumin seeds” and the following description: “Check out our roman coriander selection for the very best in unique or custom, … BLACK CUMIN SEED, Nigella sativa, Roman coriander , kalonji.”

Sure enough Gernot Katzer confirms that one of the English names for nigella is “gith”:
In some English sources, it is called black cumin, […] The old-fash­ioned English plant name gith can be traced back to a black-seeded herb mentioned by Plinius; he renders the name as gith or git
– Gernot Katzer, Spice Pages | Nigella (Nigella sativa L.),

J’adore les trous de lapin!

We often use black cumin in Indian food (we buy our spices at a really good Indian market). We alternate between calling what Farrell Monaco said was “git” as nigella or kalonji. Depending on whether whatever food we’re preparing is Indian or Eastern European….

We’re reading Joan Nathan’s book “The Foods of Israel Today” and she calls nigella “black caraway seeds”! Sheeeeesh. What a way to confuse everyone. Personally, I don’t think that nigella/kalonji is anything like caraway.

And suddenly, taking yet another turn in the rabbit warren, I cannot stop thinking about “The Seasonings” by PDQ Bach

IX & X. Recitative & Duet: Summer is a Cumin Seed
   So saying, he opened the forbidden seed, and found therein another seed, to which he said,
   “And who art thou?”
   To which the seed replied,
   “I’m cumin, I’m cumin, for my head is bending low.”

Listen here: YouTube | P.D.Q. Bach – The Seasonings – IX & X. Recitative & Duet: Summer is a Cumin Seed

14 October 2021, 13:25 Hmmmm. Once again, proving that I have WAY too much time on my hands, it only just now occurred to me that Saturday is 16 October. Always plan ahea

We did buy a butternut squash this week though. We’re going to bake it today. I THINK I’ll be making the bread tomorrow. But will I manage to post about it on Saturday? Fingers crossed!

22:56 Oh oh. We forgot to bake the squash today!! I guess I’m baking bread on Saturday. Phooey. I will be late again.

15 October 2021, 16:00 We’re going to have roast butternut squash tonight with dinner. But, of course, I’ve arranged that I’ll take some for making the bread tomorrow.

I confess that both of us are very nervous about how this bread is going to turn out. T is concerned that adding pureed squash will turn the bread into a brick. I’m concerned that the bread is going to be too sweet. I think I’ll follow Swathi’s (Zesty South Indian Kitchen) recipe. I like that she introduces it as having “pumpkin puree and no sugar added”, and
This is simple yet pillowy bread with crispy crust. The taste of pumpkin is in the background not overpowering. You will see only shape and color of pumpkin, the taste is subtle. -Swathi, Zesty South Indian Kitchen | Pumpkin Sourdough Bread

I reported to T that Swathi calls for about half a cup of baked squash. Both of us think that’s too much. T thinks it’s way too much. I suggested adding a quarter cup. He winced. I offered two tablespoons.

Fingers crossed that this will be acceptable. :lalala:

16 October 2021, 11:16 What do you think? Am I still considered to be late if I’ve mixed the dough this morning around 9, and squooshed in the salt around 10?

BBB October 2021

I know I said that I liked Swathi’s idea of no sugar. But the butternut squash we baked last night is not the sweetest squash. In fact it’s nowhere close to being as sweet as a really good butternut squash should be. :stomp: :stomp:

So I added some honey to the dough…. But I stood firm on omitting the pumpkin pie spice that is in the actual BBB recipe.


Cathy does suggest “pumpkin pie spice or other spice of choice” in the recipe she gave us. Hmmmm. Next time I turn the dough, should I add some chopped up dried chilis from the stash grown for us by our wonderful neighbour, Jim, in his garden?

14:51 As we were drinking our coffee this morning, we had a discussion about whether anyone ever invented and/or uses silicone string instead of Butchers’ Twine…. 50% of the inhabitants averred that that was ridiculous. 50% were sure silicone string must exist.

We searched on the internet. Sure enough, it IS possible to buy silicone butchers’ string. But a.) it’s too late to order any, and b.) is it really designed for use in a 450F oven? I think not. :stomp:

As I was turning the bread a few moments ago – the dough feels wonderful, I was thinking about Cathy’s instructions for us to add “different grains for color, flavor and/or texture”.

Cathy added pumpkin pie spice to the recipe, saying that “it can be deliciously spicey” but happily for me, she also gave us permission to “omit the spice altogether”. But I have also been thinking about scattering some nigella on the parchment paper that the shaped bread will rest on.

And maybe I’ll throw a few pepitas into the center of the bread too. Maybe.

As for the stem, perhaps a rosemary stem. Or maybe an oregano or sage stem. Both the oregano and sage have developed quite lovely stems….

17:10 Well, I’m very pleased with myself. Shaping was fun!

Oiled STrings and Nigella Seeds

I started by preshaping about 45 minutes ago, and then cutting a good size square of parchment paper so I will be able to easily lift the unbaked bread into the preheated cast-iron pan. Following instructions (look at me actually reading the instructions!), I cut four 75cm long pieces of strings and put them into a little bowl of sunflower oil to soak up the oil. Then, after arranging the strings on the paper, I scattered nigella sides overtop, followed by the little bit of bran from sifting the whole wheat flour.

Adding Pepitas While Shaping Pumpkin-shaped Bread

In the middle of shaping into a boule, I threw a few pepitas in. I’m hoping they’ll stay in the center(ish) of the bread.

BBB October 2021

Finally, tying up the strings around the boule to finish the pumpkin shape was ridiculously easy. But oh my, the strings were far too long. I had to cut the ends off because they would have stopped the bread from browning. (Hmmmm. I hope all that extra string doesn’t mean that I tied the boule too tightly!)

As I admired the lovely shape, I suddenly decided I would jam a sage stem into the top. It doesn’t really look like a pumpkin stem, but there it is.

BBB October 2021

The whole thing is now resting under the dome of the overturned mixing bowl. I’ll turn the oven on in about half an hour.

18:56 Look at that oven spring!!

BBB October 2021

20:25 It’s so beautiful!! Even with the strings still attached.

BBB October 2021
BBB October 2021
BBB October 2021

I did wait the requisite hour before attempting to remove the strings. It was a little tricky because the strings were embedded right into the bread. T was smart to suggest working from the bottom and pulling them through that way. With only a little difficulty, the strings are finally gone, and the bread is cooling until tomorrow morning when we try it.

BBB October 2021
BBB October 2021

I wonder if the pepitas will still be in the middle of the bread to hold onto my silly idea for them to mimic the location of actual pumpkin seeds in an actual pumpkin.

BBB October 2021

We cut the bread open this morning, for toast with thin thin thin slices of aged cheddar cheese. It was delicious. Although, I’m not sure whether I’ll use nigella again. It kind of took over. T disagrees with me though; he says he didn’t notice it at all.

BBB October 2021
BBB October 2021

The bread is beautifully soft inside. T declared that this was the best toast he’s had in ages!

We’re planning to have the bread tonight with Goulash. I’m really looking forward to seeing where those pepitas are!

Thank you, Cathy. This has been deliciously fun!

Here is the October 2021 BBB recipe that we were given. And here is what I did to it:

Wild Pumpkin-shaped Bread
based on Cathy’s BBB October 2021 recipe and the Zesty South Indian Kitchen recipe for Pumpkin Sourdough Bread

Every October I will make sourdough bread with pumpkin, this year also I made two sourdough bread one this pumpkin sourdough bread, other pumpkin cranberry and pepitas bread. – Swathi, Zesty South Indian Kitchen | Pumpkin Sourdough Bread

makes one large loaf


  • butchers’ twine
  • cast-iron combo-cooker


  • 60 grams 100% whole wheat “no additives” flour, divided
  • 60 grams water, divided
  • ~15 grams Jane Mason starter from the fridge


  • flour
       » 50 grams 100% whole wheat (no additives) flour
       » 400 grams unbleached (no additives) all purpose flour
       » 10 grams vital wheat gluten
       » 10 grams wheat germ
       » 10 grams buckwheat flour
  • 320 grams water
  • 10 grams honey
  • 50 grams baked butternut squash, cooled and mashed
  • all of the leavener
  • 10 grams seasalt + 30 grams water

Decoration (optional)

  • pepitas
  • nigella seed
  • herb stem
  1. Leavener Late in the evening on the day before you will be making Pumpkin-shaped Bread, put a spoonful (about 15 grams) of culture from the fridge into a small bowl. If daytime temperatures are still warm, stir in 50 grams water and 50 grams whole wheat flour. (If they are cool, stir in 60 grams each of water and whole wheat flour and omit the next step.) Cover with a plate and put into the cold oven (if the night temperatures are cool, turn the oven light on) to leave overnight.
  2. Leavener, continued In the morning of the day you will be making Pumpkin-shaped Bread, particularly if the weather is warm, take a small spoonful of the leavener and see if it floats in a bowl of cool water. If the starter is quite bubbly but that little amount sinks, stir 10 grams water and 10 grams whole wheat flour into the bowl from the previous night. Cover with a plate and leave until about noon. If the kitchen is cool, omit this step and proceed to the next one.
  3. Actual Dough On the day you will be making Pumpkin-shaped Bread, check to see if the leavener floats in a small bowl of cool water. If the leavener is domed but it doesn’t float, wait for 30 minutes or so and try again. If the leavener is bubbly but flat or concave on the surface, stir in about 5 grams each of whole wheat flour and water. Cover with a plate and leave it on the counter out of draughts. Check again again for floating about 20-30 minutes later. It will probably float. Proceed with making the actual dough.
    • Using a bowl that is large enough for the dough to triple, sift the whole wheat flour. Reserve the bran in a little dish for later. Now sift all-purpose flour into the bowl (why sift?? The bag that the flour comes in is sealed with an inferior glue. Sometimes bits of hardened glue slip into the flour). Whisk in wheat germ, vital wheat gluten (aka high-gluten flour), and buckwheat.
    • Add 320 grams water, baked squash, the honey, and all of the leavener. Using a dough whisk or wooden spoon, stir just enough to mix it together. Cover with a plate and leave on counter for about 30 minutes.
  4. Adding the salt and kneading: Use one of your hands to squoosh the salt and 30 grams of water into the dough; use the other hand to steady the bowl – this way you always have a clean hand. At first the dough might be a bit messy and seem like it’s coming apart. Persevere. Suddenly, it will seem more like dough than separated glop. Keep folding it over onto itself until it is relatively smooth.
  5. Stretching and folding Turn the bowl as fold and re-fold the dough into the center until the dough is smooth. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave in the oven with only the light turned on for about 30 minutes.
  6. Stretching and folding again: Repeat the folding step at least one more time after 30 minutes or so.
  7. Prepare the string: Put a circle of parchment paper into the bottom of the shallow part of the cast-iron combo cooker. Make sure that the circle is a little too big and hangs over the edges; you want to be able to lift it easily in and out of the pan. Cut four 50cm long pieces of butcher’s twine (the BBB recipe suggests that they should be longer, at 75cm). Oil them very well. Cross the strings through the center of the pan. Cathy writes, “It should look like a pie divided into 8 wedges.
  8. Pre-Shaping: When the dough has doubled,
    • turn it out onto a lightly floured board. Use the dough scraper to gently fold in half, just as gently patting off any extra flour that might be there.
    • Wash and dry the bowl.
    • Continue folding in half until the dough is shaped into a ball. Cover the dough ball with the overturned clean mixing bowl, and allow it to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
  9. Shaping:
    • Scatter some flour evenly on top of the preshaped boule. Using the palms of your hands, flatten the boule into a disc that is 4cm thick or so. Use the dough scraper to turn it over, and then fold the disc in half, in half, in half, etc. etc. to form a tight boule. Part way through, toss in few pepitas into the middle before continuing to fold.
    • Use the dough scraper on the sides of the shaped boule to tighten it further, then place it seam side down, centered over the middle of the crossed strings. Tie the strings together on top, being careful not to make them too tight so the loaf will be able to expand.
    • Use the parchment paper to lift the shaped loaf out of the combo cooker pan and place it on the lid of the mixing bowl. Cover the loaf with the overturned mixing bowl and leave on the counter for half an hour to rise.
  10. Preheat the oven: Put both halves of the combo cooker into the oven and turn it to 450F.
  11. Baking: Make sure the oven is thoroughly preheated before proceeding.
    • Put on your best oven mitts. Remove the combo-cooker from the oven and place the two parts on the stove or a rack. (They want to burn unprotected surfaces!)
    • Carefully lift the tied loaf – leaving it on the parchment paper – and place it in the center of the very hot, preheated shallow pan. Cover with the deep pan and put it back into the oven. Immediately turn the oven down to 425F.
    • Bake for about 40 minutes with the lid on, then remove the lid and continue to bake for a further 10 minutes, or until the bread is a deep golden brown.
  12. Cooling: Remove the bread to a footed rack to cool for about an hour before removing the string. To do this, Cathy says it best:
    To remove the strings, cut them with scissors and carefully pull them a little bit at a time. If you pull too fast, the string will leave residue. A small knife works well for scraping the string off as you go. Once the strings have been removed, allow the loaf to continue cooling completely before cutting into the loaf; it is still cooking internally when first removed from the oven! If you wish to serve warm bread (of course you do), reheat them after they have cooled completely: To reheat any uncut bread, turn the oven to 400F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread into the hot oven for about ten minutes. This will rejuvenate the crust and warm the crumb perfectly.
    Set the bread on a rack and (this is one of the hardest parts of bread baking) keep your hands off that beautiful crusty bread for at least an hour, or until it is completely cool. You will be dying to cut into that gorgeous warm bread, the crust crackling as it cools, but remember that it’s still cooking inside; the crumb is still jelling, and the crust still developing. The crust will soften partway through the cooling time, but it will crisp again as it cools completely.
    – Thomas Keller, ‘Breads: Cooling’, Bouchon Bakery


Baking Temperature and Time: Please remember that our oven is different from yours, so the baking time and temperature may need to be different.

Most domestic ovens, whether gas, electric, fan assisted or solid fuel, will bake bread quite adequately. But, not surprisingly, some are better than others. […] [T]he temperature in the oven may have to fall by as much as 30°C before the thermostat calls for renewed heat, so the item being baked is subjected to a constantly oscillating temperature. […] The knobs and dials on domestic ovens are notoriously unreliable. Even where they indicate a precipe temperature rather than a rough guide or a regulo number, you should regard the setting as approximate. […] [A]ll that is really required is to know what setting gives a cool, moderate or hot oven. […] [I]f you understand roughly what heat a loaf requires (e.g. pretty hot for a big, wet, rye sourdough, moderate for an enriched sweet bread), you won’t go far wrong
– Andrew Whitley, Bread Matters, Chapter three: Taking Control


BBB October 2021

Bread Baking Babes BBB: Let's Keep BakingRustic Pumpkin-Shaped Bread

Cathy is hosting October 2021’s Bread Baking Babes’ project. She wrote:

For October, we’re making pumpkin-shaped bread. […] Since some of you may have already made this one, let’s change things up a bit and make a rustic version by adding in different grains for color, flavor and/or texture.
– Cathy, in messages to BBBabes

We know you’ll want to get out your string to make pumpkin-shaped bread too!

To receive a Bread Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site: make the filled bread in the next couple of weeks and post about them (we love to see how your bread turns out AND hear what you think about it – what you didn’t like and/or what you liked) before the 29 October 2021. If you do not have a blog, no problem; you can also post your picture(s) to Flickr (or any other photo sharing site) and record your thoughts about the bread there. Please remember to contact the Kitchen of the Month to say that your post is up.

Please note that it’s not enough to post about your bread in the Facebook group. Because of the ephemeral nature of Facebook’s posts, your FB post may be lost in the shuffle. Please make sure to directly contact the kitchen of the month if you want to be included in the BBBuddy roundup.

For complete details about this month’s recipe, the BBB and how to become a BBBuddy, please read:

Please take a look at the other BBBabes’ October 2021 poviticas:


I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. […] eh bien, tant pis! […] And if the food is truly vile […], then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile – and learn from her mistakes.
– Julia Child, My Life in France, p.71

Yay!! No mistakes this time! (If you don’t count the ridiculous lateness of this voluminous report.)

Butcher String, Nasturtiums, and Basils_800x650

5 responses to “Shape-shifting with String (BBB October 2021)

  1. Katie Zeller (Thyme for Cooking)

    I had just hit ‘post’ when I flipped over to FB and saw this….. Talk about cutting it close lol

    edit 17 October 2021, 16:22: It must be because we are using the Elizabethan calendar – the one that is one day later than the standard calendar. (It’s not as crazy as the Gregorian calendar though. 🙂 ) – Elizabeth

  2. Karen (Karen's Kitchen Stories)

    Great crumb! You definitely tied it tighter than I did. It really looks beautiful. and so “pumpkin-y.”

    edit 18 October 2021, 08:44: Thank you, Karen! We’re quite pleased with the crust. And the crumb is amazing. I can’t believe how soft it is. – Elizabeth

  3. Tanna (MyKitchenInHalfCups)

    I LOVE your loaf, gorgeous color and shape with beautiful crumb! Beautiful loaf. I think pretty much anybody considered butternut a pumpkin.
    50 grams is all you used, I used 200 grams and didn’t really taste pumpkin and the spices were really beautiful.

    edit 18 October 2021, 08:47: Thank you! …I didn’t know that butternut was considered a pumpkin, Tanna – even though I know that lots of brands of tinned “pumpkin” include it in their ingredients lists. I thought a pumpkin had to be in the shape of this bread…. That’s good to know that the pumpkin taste isn’t really apparent if you use 200 grams instead of 50 grams. Next time, I’ll try using a little more squash. – Elizabeth

  4. Kelly (A Messy Kitchen)

    Oh, truly beautiful for both crust and crumb! And hey, that sage stem should have imparted some delicate sage essence?

    edit 18 October 2021, 08:53: Thank you, Kelly! When I stuck the sage branch in, I thought maybe it would impart a little sage flavour. But no. We didn’t detect even a hint of sage. The nigella was nicely apparent though, and went really well with goulash last night. – Elizabeth

  5. Cathy (Bread Experience)

    Beautiful pumpkin bread! I’m glad you had fun with this one. Love the idea of adding pepitas to the dough! I had forgotten about the Pompeii bread. I need to try that one again.

    edit 18 October 2021, 08:57: Thank you, Cathy! It really was fun, and this recipe with its shaping method is a keeper. We finally found some of the pepitas last night. They weren’t in the center of the bread as I’d hoped. They had floated up to the top – sort of near the middle, close to the “stem”! – Elizabeth

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