When October hits the Pacific Northwest and the Cascade foothills begin to turn iridescent shades of crimson, honey, and gold, I develop an intense craving for anything and everything pumpkin. This year, I’ve already created a new pumpkin bisque and salad, so I decided it was time to focus on something sweet. But I wasn’t up for anything too complicated or time-consuming, so the tea bread category sprang quickly to mind.
As luck would have it, I had on hand a cup of intensely reduced, fresh squeezed orange juice. I started with a quart and after an hour of simmering, ended up with a cup of thick orange essence. It was actually surprising how thick it was. The consistency was close to apple sauce. It tasted a lot like marmalade but without the cloying sweetness. I had intended to use this reduction to make Orange Caramel Syrup but with Cranberry Ginger Caramel Syrup already cooling on the counter and Spiced Apple Cider Caramel Syrup in the frig, I decided to change the plan.
You know where this is going. The orange essence went first into and then on top of this lovely tea bread, lifting the flavor to other worldly heights. If there is a better way to celebrate this most sensual of seasons than with an afternoon cup of hot cider or fragrant Darjeeling with a slice of this spicy, aromatic bread, I can’t image what it might be.
In a nod to the tasty tradition of slathering spicy quick breads with cream cheese just before eating, an optional accompaniment of whipped cream cheese and heavy cream is included here. The bread, however, actually needs no embellishment, other than the final brushing of orange essence. And, because it’s baked in a bread pan and has no icing, it’s perfect for taking to the office to share or wrapping a slice and tucking into a lunch bag.
Baking Note I under baked my first take on this bread by about 5 minutes. (Look closely at the pictures of the whole bread. The center is sinking just slightly.) Although dark baking pans are attractive, they conduct too much heat to the outside edges of the bread, thus overbrowning the edges and top, and making it appear that the bread is done when it isn’t. Next time I use these pans for a quick bread, I will wrap a couple of moist Magi-Cake Strips around the outside to eliminate this effect. BTW, I used the toothpick test but it came out clean for some unfathomable reason.
Pumpkin, Spice & Everything Nice Bread
This is almost a pumpkin gingerbread but not quite. Pumpkin plays the starring role and orange plays a strong supporting role, with just a hint of molasses. However, I didn’t hold back on the spices, even adding a bit of white pepper for zip. For extra tenderness and acid tang, thick, Greek-style yogurt is used. And, for crunch, there is a mother lode of walnuts.
You can also make this bread with cooked, mashed sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash, or any of the other orange winter squashes. Although it is delicious warm, less than an hour out of the oven, it is even better after mellowing for a day or two, tightly sealed in plastic wrap or foil.
2 cups King Arthur all-purpose unbleached flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground nutmeg
1½ teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground white pepper, optional
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
finely grated zest of 1 large orange (¼ cup zest)
1 cup Greek-style yogurt
2 cups fresh squeezed orange juice, reduced to ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (10 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cool room temperature
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs, cool room temperature, lightly beaten
1 scant cup pumpkin puree (½ 15-ounce can)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
Cream Cheese Panna Cotta (recipe below), optional
powdered sugar in a shaker, optional
- Butter and lightly flour (or spray with an oil and flour baking spray) a 10- by 5-inch, 8- to 9-cup capacity, bread pan.
- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 350°.
- To make the bread, in a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, pepper, cloves, and salt. Whisk thoroughly for at least 30 seconds to completely distribute the leaveners. Stir in the orange zest. Reserve.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, ½ cup of reduced orange juice, and molasses until smooth. Reserve.
- Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars together at medium speed until creamy and pale, scraping the sides of the bowl several times, about 5 minutes. Add the beaten eggs a little at a time, incorporating well after each addition.
- Add the pumpkin, a little at a time, mixing briefly between additions, just to incorporate. Add the vanilla. The batter will break and look curdled. Don’t worry, this is not a problem.
- Add the dry ingredients in 3 batches, alternating with the yogurt mixture, adding the final third of the flour last. Mix for a few seconds longer to ensure that all ingredients are incorporated. Mix in the walnuts. Remove the paddle attachment and finish the batter by folding it several times with a large flexible spatula. The batter should now look creamy and stable.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and level the top with a flexible spatula.
- Bake in the lower third of a 350º oven for about 55-60 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean but moist. If the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan, pull the cake quickly out of the oven. Ideally, you want to pull the cake before this occurs. (But be forewarned, the edges will pull away from the sides of the pan BEFORE the cake is done in the center, if a dark baking pan is used without a protective swathing of Magi-Cake Strips.) Over baking will cause the cake to be dry. The center temperature of the cake should read close to 210º (no higher) on an instant-read thermometer.
- Remove the cake from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
- While the cake is still warm, turn it upside-down onto a wire rack. Place another wire rack on top of the bread and invert so that the bread is now right-side up.
- Brush the top of the bread with the remaining 2 tablespoons reduced orange juice.
- Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of Cream Cheese Panna Cotta a dusting of powdered sugar, and a bit of the remaining 2 tablespoons reduced orange juice.
Makes one 5- by 10-inch bread; serves 8-12.
Sweet Cream Cheese Panna Cotta
I love the light and airy texture of this simple dessert accompaniment. It’s less cloying and much lighter than typical cream cheese icings, which contain butter. Try it with sweet quick breads, snack cakes, pound cakes, and even pies.
8 ounces best-quality cream cheese
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 cups very cold heavy cream
- Using a processor, pulse the cream cheese and sugar together until smooth.
- Add the cream and process until soft peaks form, scraping down the sides of the work bowl once or twice.
- Remove the mixture to a bowl or pastry bag fitted with a flower tip and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Makes 2 cups.