I will never forget the first time I baked pumpkin bread. I was in 6th grade, and my teacher Ms. Pasceri announced that the day before Thanksgiving, the class would be baking pumpkin bread together. She told everyone to bring in a clean leftover coffee canister and said she would take care of the rest.
When the day came, she broke us into groups of three, handed us the recipe and the ingredients and walked us through the process step by step, helping us carry our batter-filled coffee canisters to the classroom oven.
I had baked before that day, but I think that was the first day I realized that baking, food, meant a lot more to me than most of the other kids in the class. My partners haphazardly threw the ingredients into the bowl and thought it was funny to mush the ingredients together or throw them at one another. I didn’t want to be a square or a tattle-tale, but all I could think was, “This is food we’re dealing with here! Don’t make a joke of it — don’t you want to see how it comes out?? It will be delicious!”
And it was delicious, despite the mushing and throwing and indifference of my buddies. It was warm and sweet and spicy. I couldn’t wait to bring my canister home to share with my parents and brother.
In the many years that have passed since that 6th grade project, I’ve baked many pumpkin breads, all delicious but none seeming to taste quite as good as that first batch. I’ve since lost Ms. Pasceri’s recipe, but I’m sure it’s the same as any standard pumpkin bread recipe. What made it special wasn’t necessarily the bread itself, but the fact that I’d learned to make something new, something I could say “I made.”
This time of year, I invariably start craving some fresh, home-baked pumpkin bread, and in the spirit of my recent push to eat “light” ahead of Thanksgiving, I found a great recipe in Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Light Desserts. The cake is light, tender and perfectly spiced, and one bite takes me back to a Wednesday in November all those years ago.
Pumpkin Loaf Cake
Adapted from Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Light Desserts
Malgieri calls this a pumpkin cake, but it’s really more like a pumpkin bread. The use of cake flour keeps the cake light and tender, something many “light” loaf cakes lack. If you can’t get your hands on cake flour, such as Softasilk, you can substitute 7/8 cup flour + 2 tablespoons cornstarch for each cup of flour (so in this recipe 1 3/4 cup + 3 1/2 tablespoons flour, and 4 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch). I’ve never tried this substitution, but it’s one Regan Daley recommends in her book In the Sweet Kitchen, and her substitutions have never failed me.
2 1/4 cups cake flour (spoon the flour into the measuring cup and level off with a knife)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
Center a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spray a 9″x5″ loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, stir together the first seven ingredients (the cake flour through the nutmeg). Sift the mixture onto a large sheet of wax paper (this aerates the dry ingredients).
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg to break it up. Add both of the sugars and beat with the whisk for about 1 minute, to lighten the mixture. Whisk in the oil, pumpkin puree and buttermilk.
Sift the flour mixture over the pumpkin mixture and, using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ones, until there isn’t a trace of dry ingredients (but be careful not to overmix). Don’t worry if your batter looks a little lumpy.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
Cool the loaf in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.
This is perfect for brunch or tea. Malgieri also notes that you could also use this batter to prepare muffins, adjusting the baking time to about 20 minutes at 375ºF.
For more pumpkin bread recipes, check out these links:
Pumpkin Bread by Elise at Simply Recipes
Pumpkin bread with hazelnuts and golden raisins by Orangette
Pumpkin Bread with Cranberries by Sassy Radish
Gluten-Free Pumpkin Bread by Something in Season