The last three weeks of rain, rain, and more rain has driven me indoors where I am cozy in my kitchen, laughing in the face of damp cold weather. It’s easy to be smug when I know my comfort foods have got my back.
My own favourite foods-to-protect-me-from-rain can be anything from roast chicken to curried lentils to apple pie. But none so comforting as fresh pumpkin loaf in October.
This recipe is really my mother’s recipe. She made it without fail every October while we were growing up – a sweet, moist pumpkin loaf, crusty with sugar and fragrant with spices. It would be devoured in a matter of hours. Maybe it was so good because of the extra ground cloves included in her recipe that I have never seen in other recipes for pumpkin loaf. Or possibly it was because she made it with her very own home-grown sugar pumpkins, baked, scooped, and pureed lovingly by her own hand.
Not that home-grown pumpkin puree is necessary. I have many times made this recipe with canned pumpkin, and it’s delicious. But the satisfaction that comes from using your own fresh pumpkin, along with its special sweet pumpkiny flavour, can’t be had from a can. (I’ve also made the loaves with mashed squash – excellent!)
Although I have altered a few ingredients in the recipe, the spirit of my mother’s pumpkin loaf is still within. It’s still deliciously crusty, moist on the inside, fresh pumpkiny, fragrant with cloves, and utterly comforting. My children devour a whole loaf in an afternoon – I often make four loaves just so that I can stock some away in the freezer for a mid-winter snack.
When I posted about my pumpkin loaf last week on my facebook page, many fans asked for the recipe. Since it’s too good not to share: here you are, fans o’mine!
FRESH PUMPKIN LOAF
Makes 2 loaves or 24 muffins.
This recipe can be made with canned pumpkin, or with homemade squash or pumpkin puree. Directions for making your own puree from sugar pumpkins is included in the recipe.
2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted (melted until nutty brown, like ghee, if desired)
1-1/3 white sugar
1 -1/3 cups light brown sugar (yellow sugar)
2 cups pumpkin or squash puree, canned or homemade
2/3 cup water
3 cups (15 oz) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1.25 oz) whole wheat flour
½ cup (1.25 oz) wheat germ (OR 1/4 cup [1.25 oz] flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1½ tsp salt
1 tsp EACH ground cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon
½ cup raw green pumpkin seeds for sprinkling on the tops
OPTIONAL ADDITIONS – 1 cup dried cranberries, toasted pecans, toasted walnuts, raisins, or chopped candied orange peel
If making loaves, butter the bottom and sides of two 8-inch by 4-inch loaf pans and preheat the oven to 325 F.
If making muffins, butter two muffin tins and preheat the oven to 350 F.
To make your own pumpkin puree: purchase small sugar pumpkins, available at most farm stands and some grocery stores. They are quite small and sweet with dark orange flesh. Definitely do not use jack-o-lantern pumpkins for this recipe! Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, place cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in a 350 F oven until soft (a fork or skewer can easily pierce through the skin). Let pumpkins cool, scoop out the cooked flesh and place in a food processor. Discard the shells/skins. Puree the flesh until smooth.
(I have to say that I generally do this the day before, or even several days in advance. Pumpkin puree can also be frozen for later use, although it’s usually a better idea to make the pumpkin loves and freeze those. They stand a much better chance of getting used up.)
To get on with making loaves or muffins: Melt the butter and set aside to cool slightly. I usually brown the butter, which means I keep cooking it until the milk solids in the butter have caramelized, as they do when making ghee. This takes about 10 minutes longer than regular melting, but it’s just enough time to get everything else mixed and ready.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, wheat germ, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg until evenly combined. The nutmeg I usually grate fresh from a whole nutmeg, but pre-ground is fine.
In a separate large bowl, whisk together the four eggs, pumpkin puree, white sugar, light brown sugar, and water until smooth. Add the melted butter (if using browned butter, be sure to scrape in all the caramelized mild solids from the bottom of the melting pan) and whisk again until smooth.
Now add the dried mixture to the wet mixture, along with any of the optional additions. Use a spatula to fold the ingredients together until just combined. A few dry streaks are fine. This batter is more forgiving than usual muffin-style batter – even if you over-mix the batter, the cooked loaves will not have big holes in them.
Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans, or two muffin tins. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of raw green pumpkin seeds over the top of each loaf, or a teaspoon over the top of each muffin. Place in preheated oven.
Bake loaves for about 1 hour and 20 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes, or until risen, brown on the outside, cracked on top, and a toothpick instered in the centre comes out clean. Rotate the pans half-way through baking. Let cool in loaf pans on a cooling rack for 10 to 20 minutes before running a thin knife around the edges and releasing the loaves. Let cool completely before cutting (if you can wait that long!)
Bake muffins for about 25 – 30 minutes, until brown and top springs back when lightly touched. Rotate pans halfway through baking. Cool in muffin tins for 5 minutes before removing individual muffins to a cooling rack.
Loaves and muffins freeze beautifully (slice loaves first for easy thawing – individual slices can be popped into the toaster as desired). Or they last for several days at room temp, wrapped in plastic.