Perfect Pumpkin Bread

November 14, 2011

Sometimes I have a moment when I am in line at a coffee shop.  I’m usually a little hungry (I use coffee as my mid-morning snack) and things in the pastry case start to look very tasty.  I never actually purchase any of those things though because I know how deeply disappointing they can be.  For some reason, scones, quick breads, and muffins go through some kind of metamorphosis when they are mass produced, and something that is lovely in the home becomes nothing more than sugar and air.  How can something that looks like pumpkin bread have none of that subtle squashiness and spice that real pumpkin bread has?

The dreary days have just started here in Seattle.  After a crummy winter, a terrible spring, and a summer that didn’t really get going until August, we were due a nice fall and we got one.  It has been lovely.  I don’t remember every having much sun in November and this year, there have been more sunny days than rainy.  But once the rain starts, it stars and those damp days combined with very little daylight make things like pumpkin bread all the more sweet.  Without really realizing it, I have been searching my whole baking life for the perfect pumpkin bread.  Of all the quick breads, it is my favorite.  I have made many in my life and, while all have been tasty, not one of them has been quite right in my book.  I’ve made them with fresh steamed pumpkin, fresh roasted pumpkin, canned pumpkin, nuts, bran cereal, raisins – even chocolate chips.  I liked them all but either the flavor or texture, or both, was not what I wanted.

I’m happy to say I found my perfect recipe and even happier to tell you that it comes from a Seattle source.  Grand Central Bakery has been a Seattle fixture since 1972.  I remember it from my childhood as one of the few places in town that my New Yorker parents thought you could find a decent sandwich.  We used to go down to Pioneer Square almost every weekend and sit at a balcony table eating sandwiches and pickles.  Grand Central has grown as our city has and now there are several locations here and in Portland.

Last summer I went to a baking class in Grand Central’s south Seattle bakery, and one of the perks of doing so was receiving a copy of their book, The Grand Central Baking Book.  The baking department of my cookbook collection is large, and growing, but I have to say that most of my books are kind of on the fussy side.  I get lured in by pretty pictures and delicious sounding recipes only to realize, once I have bought the book, I don’t really bake that way.  I am a home baker – I love simple and delicious things best.  There is a time and a place for terrific chocolate cakes but most often what I want is something on the simpler side.  Like pumpkin bread.

This bread really tastes of pumpkin, it is incredibly moist, and it has a wonderful spiciness to it.  I actually bumped up the spices a bit since I love the flavors of cinnamon and ginger in baked goods.  In addition to all of those wonderful things to recommend it, I was delighted to realize that you only use 1/3 cup of vegetable oil for two loaves.  If you have ever made a quick bread, you know it is usually an oil bomb.  Over the years, I have started the practice of substituting ½ of the oil with applesauce in an attempt to make a morning or afternoon treat not be a dessert’s worth of calories and fat.  Here, no substitution is necessary.  Perfect recipe found.

One Year Ago:  Three Cheese Mini Macs
Two Years Ago:  Gianduja Mousse
Three Years Ago:  Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Pumpkin Bread

Adapted from The Grand Central Baking Book
Makes 2 loaves

This recipe is written for two 9×5-inch pans.  I have also made it in two 8×4-inch pans.  The smaller pans will give you a taller loaf but can also be a little difficult to remove.

3¼ cups flour
1½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1½ tbsp. pumpkin pie spice (recipe follows)
1/3 cup vegetable oil or canola oil
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 cups pumpkin puree (1 15-ounce can)
4 eggs
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease and flour two loaf pans (either 9×5-inch or 8×4-inch).

Measure the flour, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice into a bowl and whisk to combine.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the oil, granulated and brown sugars, and pumpkin puree on medium-low speed until well-blended, about 2 minutes.

Crack the eggs into a liquid measuring cup and whisk together.  With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour in the eggs, incorporating each addition completely before adding the next.  Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.

Add one-third of the dry ingredients and mix briefly on low speed, then add the water.  Mix well and repeat, using half of the remaining dry ingredients and all of the buttermilk.  Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix just until combined.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and then divide batter between the prepared pans.

Bake for 60 to 75 minutes, rotating the pans every 20 minutes or so.  The loaves should be dark golden brown with cracked tops, and a skewer inserted in the center should come out clean.


Pumpkin Pie Spice

¼ cup ground cinnamon
2 tbsp. ground ginger
1 tbsp. ground nutmeg
1 tbsp. ground cloves
1 tbsp. ground allspice

Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir with a fork until well combined.  Store in a cool, dry place for up to 3 months.



  1. Ooh, the bread sounds lovely, as does your increasingly rainy and “gloomy” weather, at least to this desert-dweller! ;) I have The Grand Central Baking Book, so I will definitely be giving this a try. My favorite recipe in the book is the Irish soda bread. It is a perfect not-too-sweet treat with a cup of tea.

    Comment by Holly E — November 15, 2011 @ 12:48 am

  2. I looove pumpkin bread! And this one looks gorgeous. I find loaves can be crumbly sometimes but this one looks like it sliced really nicely. Love that you upped the spice. I can’t wait to try this. :)

    Comment by Ashley — November 15, 2011 @ 1:12 am

  3. My old roommate had a pumpkin scone at Starbucks the other day and was appalled at how awful it was. You’d think that with all the calories and sugar and butter they must use that the baked goods would at LEAST come out edible. Not so. Homemade all the way!

    I have a lot of decadent dessert books as well, but the things I bake on a weekly basis are much more like this. Simply delicious.

    Comment by Joanne — November 15, 2011 @ 2:50 am

  4. We are certainly happy that after all your research over the years you have shared the perfect recipe with us. I also know what you mean about the sun never shining over the winter. I live in the Okanagan valley and we suffer from the “inversion factor” all winter. Of course we could go skiing in the mountains to get above the cloud cover.

    Comment by bellini — November 15, 2011 @ 3:23 am

  5. Oh god, can I relate. Those baked goods at Starbucks are always screaming at me! But they’re never as good as they look, I’ve been disappointed too many times. Not mention I always feel so guilty. I am blow away there’s so little oil in this recipe, yet it looks so incredibly moist! I can’t wait to try it.

    Comment by Clara — November 15, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

  6. Gregg will be so happy that you posted this. The pumpkin bread you brought over on Saturday was AMAZING. We are pumpkin bread lovers and this literally is the best we have ever had. Perfect Pumpkin Bread is very fitting title for this recipe. Hopefully mine will turn out as good as yours.

    Comment by Kelly — November 16, 2011 @ 5:02 am

  7. sounds fabulous, and i agree, love that its not an oil bomb. That is what keeps me from the the coffee shop cases. If I am going to indulge, it needs to be worth it, when it’s a bunch of tasteless oil merely there for ‘moisture’, count me out.

    Comment by sara — November 16, 2011 @ 6:35 am

  8. Oh I love pumpkin bread and have yet to make some this Fall. I will definitely have to make this for my family that is coming to stay with us this weekend. Thanks for the great recipe!

    Comment by Rachel — November 16, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

  9. This pumpkin bread does look perfect!! I have gotten sucked into baked goods at coffee shops (especially Starbucks… they just make you stand and wait by the case of cookies and cakes!). This looks so much better, though. Yum!

    Comment by Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — November 16, 2011 @ 4:05 pm

  10. I love Grand Central (one of the few places I like getting sandwiches from, turns out I’m kind of a sandwich snob) and so that cookbook is one of a few that I grabbed before giving it a trial via the public library. I love the pumpkin pie spice, the irish soda bread, I just tried a slightly modified version of the pie crust (I was in a hurry and skipped lots of the chilling) and it is my favorite piecrust yet. The cocoa nib cookies are so tasty… I could go on and on. I’m gushing. And now I want to make pumpkin bread instead of my planned apple bundt cake.

    Comment by Michelle — November 16, 2011 @ 7:34 pm

  11. I became a big fan of pumpkin bread while I was in graduate school, and I haven’t had it in years. Thanks for reminding me of how delicious it is–and for the perfect recipe!

    Comment by lisaiscooking — November 16, 2011 @ 8:18 pm

  12. This recipe is fantastic. I generally steer away from pumpkin bread (and muffins, and scones, etc) because I find them, uh, gnarly. Dry, fake-tasting, stale-seeming. This is moist and deliciously spiced (especially with extra!) and, like you said, actually tastes of pumpkin. A thick slice toasted with butter is wonderful: crispy-buttery on the outside, warm and almost custard-smooth and soft on the inside.

    Comment by Betsy — November 18, 2011 @ 7:33 pm

  13. I’m definitely going to try this one in the coming weeks. I’m the same – I rarely succumb to the pastry case in a chain shop or an unknown place, because I know it’s likely to be a disappointment and a huge waste of calories! (Starbucks is the WORST.) The one thing I will go for is a croissant, if it at least looks decent, because I would never make those at home.

    Comment by Hilary — November 20, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

  14. I baked this bread this weekend with gluten free flour and I have to say, Perfect Pumpkin Bread is the perfect name. It came out beautifully, tastes amazing and there isn’t a hint of gluten-free bitterness/sawdustiness. It is wonderful. I will make this over and over again. Many thanks!

    Comment by Suzanne — November 20, 2011 @ 9:50 pm

  15. Your pumpkin bread looks very good, but I love my own, so will probably stick with it. The shots of your deck with leaves is great–a lot like mine right this minute! I brush them off, but more are piled up again in about 10 minutes.

    Just wanted to stop by and wish you a happy holiday!

    Comment by nancy baggett — November 20, 2011 @ 10:26 pm

  16. Just realized I typed my website wrong, so am back to correct it. All best!

    Comment by nancy baggett — November 20, 2011 @ 10:28 pm

  17. i made this and loved it! do you have any suggestions on how to alter the time/temp to make minature loaves?

    Comment by karla — November 24, 2011 @ 12:22 am

  18. I will definitely make this – I am in nesting mode and this hits the spot!

    Comment by natalie — October 15, 2012 @ 4:58 pm

  19. Oh. My. I use to work at a hair salon next door many years ago. I loved their egg salad sandwiches along with their soups. I don’t recall the baked goods! It’s midnight in the Virgin islands and just had to bake this. I was 2 eggs short so there in some applesauce. Used coconut oil cuz that’s my oil of choice. Used 1/2 chickpea flour for fun. Can’t wait for the results! Ill Gift ir tomorrow! Thanks for the memories.

    Comment by Jodie tanino — February 8, 2013 @ 4:25 am

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