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.
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)
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.