Besides the occasional pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, I didn’t grow up eating a lot of pumpkin-flavored dishes. Instead, the women in my Japanese-American family made stewed kabocha (also called Japanese pumpkin) at this time of year. Whenever I see kabocha at the store, it takes me back to the delicious aroma of sweet kabocha stewed with soy sauce.
When I got to college and started cooking for myself, I tried my hand at the pumpkin soups, pies and baked goods I’d see in magazines at this time of year. Each time, I felt disappointed by the relatively mellow and mild flavor. Even the shade of orange was mellow and mild.
This year, I decided to make a kabocha challah for fall Shabbat dinners. The color is beautifully vibrant and the flavor has more depth and is more complex (savory and sweet at the same time!) than that of its sugar pumpkin cousin. You’ll have extra puréed kabocha left over that you can use to make this kabocha soup, which would be perfect on a Thanksgiving table.
Kabocha (Japanese Pumpkin) Challah
Makes: 2 large challahs
Total Cooking time: 5 hours
Active Cooking time: 1.5 hours
*can be made without Kitchen Aid mixer
1. Take 9 eggs out of the refrigerator.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, pour a half cup of the warm water.
4. Using a candy thermometer, check to make sure it is about 110°F. Pour in the two packets of dry yeast and one Tbsp. of sugar (from the 1/3 cup) into the bowl. Stir gently to dissolve everything into the water. Set the bowl aside for 15 minutes.
5. Your yeast mixture should look foamy at the end of the 15 minutes. If it does not, you need to get new yeast and start over or your challah will not rise. Better to find out now, rather than later!
6. Now that your yeast is activated, add the remaining lukewarm water to the bowl, then the remainder of the sugar, egg, egg yolks, honey, oil, salt and spices. Whisk on medium speed.
7. Once everything is evenly incorporated, add your kabocha purée and keep whisking.
8. Once the mixture is smooth, thick and bright orange, change out your whisk for a dough hook.
9. Add each cup of flour slowly on low speed. With a rubber spatula, scrape the bottom and sides down with each addition. When you’re on the seventh or eighth cup, the dough will become too thick for your mixer. At this point, you can start to knead with your hands. When you’re done, the dough should be smooth and stretchy but not super sticky. If you need to, add a bit more flour until you reach this consistency.
10. Oil the entire inside of a large mixing bowl with vegetable oil. Place dough in this bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. I like to put my dough in my oven (but not turn it on).
11. After one hour, punch the dough back down to remove the air and let it rise again for another hour.
12. Once it’s risen again for a second hour, punch the dough down again and knead it into a smooth ball on a floured countertop. Cut the ball in half with a pastry scraper.
13. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat the egg yolks and water in a small bowl with a small whisk.
14. Now it’s time for braiding! There are many different ways to braid challah, and I prefer the look of the four-strand braid because it’s simple but still looks impressive! I like to use Tori Avey’s Four-Strand Braided Challah tutorial.
15. Preheat your oven to 375°F. Using a pastry brush, generously apply egg wash to each of your challahs. Generously sprinkle them with everything bagel mix, and black and white sesame seeds in sections (see photo). Alternatively, you can also just season them generously with everything bagel mix and let them rise for 30 more minutes.
16. Bake challah for 40 minutes, but set your timer for 30 minutes. At this point, check on your challah to see if it needs to be rotated. If it’s browning quite quickly, you may need to cover it with foil for the remainder of the cooking time.