Pumpkin-Pecan Braided Bread

1 cup pecan halves
1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees Fahrenheit)
1- 1/4 oz. pkg. active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (fresh, canned, or other winter squash, pureed)
1 cup soy milk, rice milk, or other non-dairy milk, plus additional for tops of braids
1/4 cup safflower oil
3 T. maple syrup
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 t. salt
safflower oil

Place the pecans on a cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant. Allow the pecans to cool, roughly chop them, and set aside. In a medium bowl, place the warm water and yeast, stir to dissolve the yeast and let sit for 10 minutes or until foamy. Add the pumpkin puree, soy milk, oil, maple syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and stir well to combine. In a large bowl, stir together both types of flour, cornmeal, and salt. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, along with the reserved pecans, and using your hands, mix thoroughly to form a soft dough.

Transfer the dough to a lightly-floured work surface. Knead for 8-10 minutes, adding additional flour as needed, to form a dough that is smooth and elastic. Using a little safflower oil, lightly oil the mixing bowl, and roll the ball of dough around the inside of the bowl to thoroughly coat it with the oil. Cover and place it in a warm place to rise for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in bulk.

Punch dough the dough and turn it out onto a floured work surface. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Using your fingers, roll each piece into a long 1-inch-thick coil. To assemble each of the braids: braid 3 of the coils together and pinch the ends together. Sprinkle a non-stick cookie sheet with a little additional flour. Transfer the braids to the floured cookie sheet, tucking the ends of the braids under slightly.

Cover and place them in a warm place to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in bulk. Remove the cover from the braids and brush the tops with a little soy milk. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes or until golden brown and the braids sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer the braids to a rack to cool completely.

Yield: 2 braided loaves


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