I love autumn in Western Washington. It is by far the region’s most prominent season, with the kaleidoscope of red and yellow leaves, cool, crisp air, and bubble gum pink sunsets that seem to precede dinner almost overnight. Cozy blankets and SmartWool socks woo Northwesterners back indoors to prepare for the drizzly, dark doldrums of winter. On the up side, it also marks the return of beloved scarves and knee boots, individually packed holiday candies, and malty seasonal beers. Fall is essentially a list of my favorite things.
Amid the leaves and warm beverages, there is an autumn standout – the pumpkin. Pumpkins truly define fall. Piles of chubby orange spheres line grocery storefronts on beds of crunchy leaves, awaiting their transformation into a uniquely carved Halloween lantern. They are found on doorsteps, mantles, window stickers, and $3.00 Old Navy tees. However, the best way to enjoy pumpkin is in a dessert.
Last year, Lucienne and I bonded over Smitten Kitchen’s to die for Pumpkin Cupcakes. They were the catalyst for this very blog. This year’s standout pumpkin dessert is the Joy of Cooking’s classic Pumpkin Bread. To summarize this recipe in two words: flavorful, and a word many women abhor, moist. This melt in your mouth seasonal quick bread pairs nicely with coffee or orange juice for breakfast, or with red wine for a post-dinner treat.
Below is the original recipe, listed with my preferred variations (e.g. butter instead of shortening).
PUMPKIN BREAD from the Joy of Cooking
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.
1 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1⁄2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves
Combine in a small bowl:
1⁄3 cup water (or milk – I used water and it turned out well)
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla
Beat in a large bowl until fluffy:
6 tablespoons (3⁄4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar plus 1⁄ 3 cup packed brown sugar
Beat in one at a time:
2 large eggs (be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl with a spatula)
Add and beat on low speed just until blended:
1 cup cooked or canned pumpkin puree (I used Trader Joe’s organic pumpkin puree)
Add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the vanilla/water mixture, beating on low speed or stirring with a rubber spatula until smooth and scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.
1⁄2 cup chopped pecans
Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes before unmolding to cool completely on the rack.