Friday, December 6, 2013

Cinderella Approved: Pumpkin Bread with Walnuts

Thanksgiving is done-but the rest of the holiday season awaits. This probably means one of two things (or three, if you are in my case): you have stocked up on canned pumpkin, you have made a large quantity of homemade pumpkin puree, or your Mom and/or Grandma has made a large quantity of pumpkin* puree, frozen it, and has been offering it to you at every occasion possible. Well, either way, pumpkin puree is a great thing to have on hand. It is healthy, beautiful and versatile. But let's not get too carried away-I mean, it is only a week after Thanksgiving…and Christmas baking looms in the near future.
Moist, nutty, spicy and tender-all good qualities of well-prepared pumpkin quick bread.
*by "pumpkin", my grandma (9 times out of 10) really means, and I quote from the conversation that I have with her almost each year, that her favorite use of "squash that is not good enough to eat" is pumpkin pie or pumpkin bars. Who cares? Well, if you have a butternut squash handy, you could easily make the following bread with pureed squash that has been roasted (375F for 45ish minutes). And I bet you'd have some of that roasted squash left over for dinner too.

Pumpkin bread should be comforting. It should be darn easy to make (it isn't called a quick bread for nothin', as the "quick" refers to using chemical leaveners, like bicarbonate, to rise during baking-no fermentation required!) and produce a fog of spicy-pumpkin laced aromas while baking. The spices called for are most likely sitting in you cupboards, waiting to be loved. If not, splurge on some quality spices for the holidays: cinnamon, whole nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, garam masala, allspice and cloves are my favorite holiday standbys. If your kitchen is lacking in a spice grater, you should consider investing. I have gone through two Mircoplane spice graters over the past 6 years, and have not been disappointed.
Tower o' pumpkin bread.
 The bread is an instant breakfast (fortified with a nice latte or cup of tea-of course). Inclusions of chocolate chips and/or nuts are a bonus for flavor and nutrition (omega, poly and mono-unsaturated fats, soluble fibers and fat-soluble vitamins anyone?).  And like many quick-breads, is better the day after. What does all of this mean? Make this-now! Share with friends, tis the season after all.

That's a hand-frothed, nutmeg-cinnamon-honey latte. Perfect with the bread.
And a quick word on the fats and sugars used: I used half melted butter, and half olive oil. I prefer melted fats or oils to solid fats (and subsequently the creaming method) in quick-breads because the liquid oils efficiently and thoroughly cover gluten proteins, which reduces gluten formation. Tough quick-breads are bad quick-breads, so I recommend you jump on the liquid fat bandwagon. Additionally, I understand the importance of being light-handed with refined sugars. If cutting back on sugar in this recipe, be especially wary of over-mixing, as sugars reduce gluten formation by hogging water from the gluten proteins (which again, need water to form gluten), adsorb moisture, which all result in a tender, moist bread. The addition of molasses and/or honey introduces a touch more hygroscopic sugars to draw more moisture into the bread as it ages….as if it will stick around for a long time!

Spiced Pumpkin Bread with Walnuts
Makes 1 loaf

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 heaped teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
pinch garam masala (optional)
pinch cloves (optional-acquired taste buds my be required for this spice)
1 heaped teaspoon dried ground ginger
1 heaped teaspoon freshly grated ginger (optional, but strongly suggested)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
1 cup pumpkin or squash puree
1/4 cup granulated sugar 
1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/2 stick butter (4 TB) melted
1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil (or, use 1/2 cup melted butter or oil)
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons molasses or honey
2/3 cup milk 

Optional inclusions:
1 to 1 1/2 cups toasted nuts (walnuts and pepitas are great here)
1 cup dark, bittersweet chocolate bits
3/4 cup raisins, soaked for 15 minutes in 1 cup hot water optionally spiked with a shot or two of brandy, rum or whiskey, then drained before adding to batter 
Roasted and chopped walnuts-with additional cinnamon for good measure.
2 large bowls
rubber spatula
measuring cups and spoons
loaf pan (approximately 9" long, 4" deep, 4" wide)
parchment paper


Grease and flour the loaf pan, or line with parchment as I did. In a large bowl, sift the flour, spices, salt, baking powder and soda.

In another bowl, mix the eggs and pumpkin puree thoroughly. Add the sugars, molasses or honey, melted butter, oil and milk and mix until smooth and combined. If adding inclusions, add them to this mess of wet ingredients-you'll have less of a chance for floury-bits to stick to the inclusions (especially nuts with cracks and crevices).
Nothin' like mole-asses! 
Now, add the wet mess into the sifted dry ingredients, and mix thoroughly until combined-but do not over-mix. If over-mixed, the bread will have "tunnels" of over-formed gluten, and be tough.

Pour into the prepared loaf pan and sprinkle with additional spices of your choice (optional), and bake for 1 hour, or until a knife, wooden skewer, or piece of un-cooked spaghetti emerge without gooey batter. Cool, slice, enjoy.
It is hard to not look forward to getting out of bed in the morning when you have pumpkin bread waiting for you!

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