Really Good Pumpkin Bread

As soon as there is a hint of chill in the air, I start craving pumpkin bread.

I am not a fan of pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin spice Oreos, pumpkin tea and other seasonal products, but a slice of pumpkin bread with a thick, crunchy layer of cinnamon brown sugar topping? That is something I can support.

Really Good Pumpkin Bread.jpg

So, on Sunday afternoon, as 20-degree wind chills (and a few random snow flurries!) sliced through Manhattan,  I dusted off the baking pans that see little action in warmer months. This also allowed me to get a jump on preparing for the Thanksgiving dinner we will host this Thursday (more on that later this week).

For my first years out of college, I made my mom's pumpkin bread recipe, which was yummy.  But a few years ago, I came across a recipe in Cooks' Illustrated called "Really Good Pumpkin Bread" - so it must be really good, right?  I tried it, it was awesome - and I no longer even look at other pumpkin bread recipes (sorry, Mom).

(Sidebar - Once I feel like I have my "definitive" recipe for a dish, I stick with it.  That's the way I also am with peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, pound cake and lemon bars, as well as "real food" like soups and veggies.  That frees me up to experiment with other dishes - and perhaps explains why I geek out over Cooks' multi-page descriptions of recipe testing.)

This recipe differs from my mom's and others I tried in two ways.  First, it includes buttermilk and cream cheese.  Second - and probably more significant - you cook the pumpkin on the stove before mixing up the batter.  If you want to know why this works, read about the science behind it.

This recipe requires the use of every single measuring cup and measuring spoon you have in your kitchen.  It is also super-easy because you mix the batter by hand - from start to finish - in a large saucepan in the stove. 

Here is the recipe. The only note I would add is this: Use Libby's canned pumpkin.  They are not paying me to say that, but I will not use anything else.  I used a store-brand canned pumpkin puree in this once, and it turned out two grayish loaves that were completely devoid of taste.  So, spend a tiny bit more to guarantee these will be "really good."



  • 5 tablespoons (2 1/4 ounces) packed light brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt


  • 2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar

  • 1 cup packed (7 ounces) packed light brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, cut into 12 pieces

  • 4 large eggs

  • 1/4 cup buttermilk

  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped fine


1.  For the topping:  Using fingers, mix all ingredients together in a bowl until well-combined and topping resembles wet sand; set aside.

2.  For the bread:  Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pans.  Whisk flour, baking powder, and baking soda together in a bowl.

3.  Combine pumpkin puree, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in large saucepan over medium heat.  Cook mixture, stirring constantly, until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, six to eight minutes. Remove pot from heat; stir in granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, and cream cheese until combined.  Let mixture stand for five minutes.  Whisk until no visible pieces of cream cheese remain and mixture is homogeneous.

4.  Whisk together eggs and buttermilk.  Add egg mixture to pumpkin mixture and whisk to combine.  Fold flour mixture into pumpkin mixture until combined (some small lumps of flour are OK).  Fold walnuts into batter.  Scrape batter into prepared pans.  Sprinkle topping evenly over top of each loaf.  Bake until skewer inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 45-50 minutes.  Let breads cool in pans on a wire rack for 20 minutes.  Remove breads from pans and let cool for at least 1 1/2 hours.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

What is your "go-to" recipe for holiday baking?  Please share it below!