After last week’s post on slowing down and given the season, I figured this would be a good time to share my recipe for pumpkin bread, titled “No-Shortcuts Pumpkin Bread” or “Slow Pumpkin Bread.”
This bread is a project; it takes a full afternoon to complete, plus then it has to stand overnight to be fully delicious. (Don’t worry, three-quarters of the time is just waiting for stuff in the oven.) But I think it’s a fun project, and it’s a great way to step outside the hectically-productive-and-efficient box many of us find ourselves in daily for a little while. (Not that I think being efficient is a bad thing; but too much of anything is a bad thing.) This recipe accomplishes that by explicitly rejecting all the mixes and canned components and conveniences that would let us make a similar but worse bread in an hour. It’s also the best pumpkin bread I’ve ever eaten, and I’m a pumpkin-bread fan, so there’s that.
Admittedly perhaps in slight contradiction of this philosophy, you do need a blender or food processor or something creative capable of pureeing, and an electric mixer is assumed but you could do without it.
- 4 lbs. orange pie pumpkins (about 2 small)
- 3⅓ c. flour
- 2 t. baking soda
- 1½ t. salt
- 1 t. cinnamon
- 1 t. nutmeg, freshly ground
- 3 c. sugar
- 1 c. vegetable oil
- 4 eggs
- ⅔ c. water
If possible, get the pumpkins from an orchard or farmer’s market. Squash suffers less degradation than most vegetables in the grocery store, but local ones right from the source will still be better. And don’t buy the big kind you carve faces in for Halloween; the flesh is perfectly edible but nearly flavorless compared to the small baking pumpkins. If you spend 3 hours roasting it, you’re guaranteed to be disappointed.
Note: A previous version of this recipe incorrectly listed the amount of flour as 3½ cups rather than the odd but correct figure of 3⅓ cups.
Preparing the pumpkin
This will require approximately 30 minutes of intermittent active time and another 2–3 hours of baking, so grab your pumpkins and find a nice rainy autumn afternoon.
Cutting open winter squash can be a tricky and even dangerous endeavor; here’s how to do it easily and safely.
Preheat your oven to 425° F.
Find your pumpkins, a large cutting board, a meat cleaver, a tea towel, and a rubber mallet. If you don’t have a rubber mallet, a hammer and a second towel or handkerchief placed over the business end will do (but pick up a rubber mallet next time you’re at the hardware store: they’re really useful!). If you don’t have a cleaver, use a chef’s knife, but sharpen it just before beginning and be careful it goes into the pumpkin perfectly straight (there’s a slight risk of bending the blade if you’re not careful).
Split the pumpkins
Remove the stems. If you can’t snap a stem off with your fingers, turn the pumpkin so the stem is parallel to the counter and tap it from above with the mallet. Put the towel on top of the cutting board and snuggle the pumpkin into it, just-removed-stem-side up (this is to ensure it doesn’t jump off the cutting board). Place the knife across the top of the pumpkin and gently rock it so it sinks in about an eighth of an inch, then take the rubber mallet and carefully pound the knife in, multiple times if necessary, until the pumpkin is nearly sliced through. If the blade sinks all the way in before your cut is complete, you can hold the knife handle at the end and hit the portion right next to the pumpkin with the mallet. Be careful that your fingers are clear if you push the knife without using the mallet; squash will often resist for a while until the knife suddenly breaks through and hits something you weren’t intending it to.
Clean and roast the pumpkins
Split the pumpkin completely in half and carve out the seeds and stringy goop with an ice cream scoop; the scoop is stiffer and holds more pumpkin goo than a spoon. If you like roasted pumpkin seeds, you can clean them and roast them with the pumpkin in a moment.
Rub the cavities and rims of the pumpkin halves with vegetable oil and place cavity-side-down on a foil-lined jelly roll pan (the kind of cookie sheet with a rim). Roast for one hour, turning the pan halfway through to ensure even cooking. Using a pair of tongs or a spatula, turn the halves face-up and return to the oven for 10 minutes to brown gently. The pumpkin should be a brilliant and slightly caramelized orange.
Puree the pumpkins
Reduce heat to 350°. Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool until the pumpkins are cool enough to touch (putting the pan on a wire rack can speed this up). Using a large spoon, scoop the flesh out of the skins into a small bowl. Remove any blackened or bad bits or stray pieces of skin. Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth; depending on the size of your blender, you may need to make two batches or stir several times. A few small bits of pumpkin are fine, but all the fiber and stringiness should be gone and it should flow smoothly. The puree will taste like watery pumpkin.
Reduce the puree
Line the baking sheet with clean foil and spread the puree evenly across it with a rubber spatula. It doesn’t need to be perfect, just roughly even. Return to the 350° oven to reduce.
Cook for about an hour, checking every 10-15 minutes after the first half hour. You are looking for a dark, thick puree with small cracks in the surface and a deep pumpkin taste. When done, remove from the oven and set aside. If you want to be precise, measure 15 ounces of pumpkin, but if you’re a bit over or under the bread will turn out fine. (If you have extra and don’t know what to do with it, it’s pretty tasty warmed on its own, or it goes well in oatmeal or polenta.) Leave the oven at 350°.
Tip: If you aren’t ready to make the bread, you can save the puree in the refrigerator for a few days.
Making the bread
Grease three 8×4×2 bread pans or two 9×5×3 pans.
Note: If you don’t have the right pan sizes, I’ve gotten other sizes to work, too; you just might have to play with the cook time. I’ve found it will rise at least three inches.
Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a medium-large bowl; set aside. Do not use pre-ground nutmeg if you want to make proper Slow Pumpkin Bread; buy the whole nutmegs from the grocery store and grate on a fine grater. It takes a couple minutes to grate a teaspoon of nutmeg, but it has a much fuller and more delicate flavor.
Combine sugar and oil in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium. It will be rather crystallized and won’t blend completely. Add the four eggs and beat on medium until fully combined into a thick, smooth base. Alternately add batches of water and flour mixture, beating on low just until combined after each addition. Add pumpkin and beat on low just until combined (be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan before considering it combined if using a handheld mixer – the flour and/or pumpkin sometimes settles). Pour batter into pans and shake pans to level.
Bake for 45–60 minutes (9×5 pans will take longer), or until a toothpick in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Do not overcook; it will reduce the moistness and the sticky, glazed top crust that makes pumpkin bread delicious.
Cooling, storage, and serving
Cool loaves for 10 minutes in pans, then remove to a wire rack and cool completely. Place each loaf in a Ziploc bag or wrap in plastic wrap and store overnight before slicing or eating. If you’re impatient, it’ll still be tasty, but it may not slice cleanly, it will be somewhat dry, and the texture won’t be as smooth. Wait overnight before judging quality.
If you’re not going to eat all the bread in a couple of days, pop the extra bags in the freezer; thaw a loaf on the counter the night before you need it and you won’t be able to tell it isn’t fresh. If you don’t eat a lot of bread at a time, you can cut the loaves in half first. (But be warned: it’s delicious enough that you might eat more than you expect!)
For extra credit, serve in thin slices with tea, hot cider, or milk. The bread is so light and moist that butter is optional and may just take away from the flavor. Don’t slice until you’re just about to eat the bread – it will get noticeably drier within an hour.
This recipe is based on that in the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book and on this article on pureeing pumpkins, to which you can refer for more details.