A very great desire

Ladies and germs, it’s official. Autumn-Phase II has begun.

I was out walking with Mia on Monday afternoon when I noticed that something was wrong with the sky. It was faintly pink just over the rooftop of the church, even a little green, and everything beneath it, the trees, the cobblestones, the people on bikes, looked oddly grey. It was 4:17pm. Then, I remembered. We’d turned back the clocks. Nothing was wrong. The sky was doing what it always did, only earlier.

That measly hour that we toss back into the calendar each year has powers. It’s like a switch. It makes me do all kinds of things that twenty-four hours earlier never would have crossed my mind, like sizing up firewood, and pulling on my favorite knit gloves, and reaching for the can of pumpkin at the back of the cupboard that I hoped would still be there.

Before Autumn-Phase II, before the “falling back” that changes everything, comes Autumn-Phase I, of course. Autumn-Phase I is no time for pumpkin. That may be a rule only in my head, but since I spend 100% of my time in here, it’s one I live by. Apples, plums, pears, figs, late season berries: this is the stuff of Phase I that keeps me busy and baking and full, stuff I can tuck into a flaky crust or bury beneath a rubble of butter and flour and oats. During Phase I, cakes of any kind are barely justifiable, and pumpkin, pumpkin from a can, no less, it never enters my mind. Though, to be fair, pumpkin rarely enters my mind at all, ever, in any phase of any season, autumn or otherwise. Which is why, I suppose, it felt so noteworthy when on Monday, out of nowhere, a very great desire for pumpkin bread came over me. It’s why, I suppose, I wanted to share it here – and because the bread that came forth to sate this desire happens to be highly delicious.

To be clear, when I say pumpkin “bread” I’m talking about the cakey quick bread kind, like banana bread or zucchini bread, but with pumpkin instead. I wanted something dense and not too sweet, a cake so simple it would border on plain but for the spices that warm it up. I started with a recipe that my step-mom Amy gave me years ago for a pumpkin chocolate loaf and (chocolate lovers, avert your eyes!) stripped it of its chocolate. I also reduced the sugar, changed up the spices, and swapped in some rye flour. It hit the spot the night I made it. Then, while I slept, it did that thing that cakes sometimes do, the crumb settling down into itself, the spices locking together like interlaced fingers. Tuesday morning was very nice.

Pumpkin Bread
Inspired by this recipe from the Columbus Dispatch

I got the idea to swap in some rye flour here from pain d'épices, the classic French spice bread. This recipe should also work with all white flour, if that’s all you have on hand. By the way, if you're lucky enough to have some Pflaumenmus around, spread it on this bread. You'll be happy you did.

1½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup rye flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling; careful -- the cans often look quite similar!)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.

Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt in a medium bowl and blend with a whisk or a fork.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the pumpkin and vanilla and mix until well-blended, scraping down the sides as necessary, then add the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, level it with a spatula, and bake for 50-55 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool the loaf in the pan for at least 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

This cake is best on the day(s) after you bake it. Wrap in plastic to store.


la domestique said...

Hooray- love Phase II! I also like the idea of a pared-down pumpkin bread.

Megan Gordon said...

Yep! I went walking with a friend a few days ago and all of a sudden we both felt like we were in the twilight zone, as if we were walking home late at night from a bar ... yet it was 5:15. Here. We. Go. Hope all is well and warm and dry!

Anne said...

That's my favorite time of year, and your pumpkin bread seems perfect for that.
It took me a while before I realized that the key to great sweet bread was the number of eggs and now that I see that you use 3 eggs in this delicious and moist looking bread, I don't think I'm going to bake with 1 egg anymore.

Payal Shah said...

Yeay for the Pumpkin bread! I happened to make a couple of loafs yesterday as well. I used the same spices as you did and also swapped out part of my AP flour with a more rustic blend of flour. I also added chocolate chips and nuts to it. But cut down in fats, only 1 T oil and used yogurt as a leavener also. I am having it that bread by the mouthful chunks as I read your post. I would love to try your version of the bread soon.

talley said...

I love pumpkin season. And I agree that pumpkin is for phase 2, that period of short and cold days after Halloween. This bread looks and sounds perfect for a morning tea or a snack after an afternoon walk when the sun is barely resting on the horizon. I generally don't like the dark afternoons, but I have to remind myself that come December 22nd the days will get longer again. Love your photos in this post!

molly said...

And by gum if I wasn't just searching for a fine pumpkin bread recipe...

Jess said...

la domestique - I'm glad you think so, too. Poor pumpkin, always getting roped into complex recipes and flavor combinations. It's nice to have a pumpkin something that's simple as can be.

Megan - Here you go is right. I can't remember, is this your first winter in Seattle? Honestly, I never minded the rain when we lived there, but the darkness.. Oh boy. Excellent baking conditions, though. (As if you need an excuse.) xo.

Anne - Yes, this recipe is very nice with the three eggs. It's got a great texture, soft and moist. I love this time of year, too.

Payal Shah - Pumpkin bread, pumpkin bread! There must indeed be something in the air. Your version sounds wonderful.

talley - It's tough when the days feel so short. Ah well. Good conditions for being in the kitchen, at least, as I just mentioned to Megan.

molly - I think you'll like this one. And probably do something wonderful to it, if I know you...

Lucia said...

what would be a good substitute for the rye flour?

Jess said...

Hi, Lucia. I think you can substitute anything that would add some depth of flavor. Maybe oat or spelt flour, or whole wheat?