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."

Ingredients

Topping:

  • 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

Bread:

  • 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

Method

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! 

Happy National Chocolate Chip Day!

Did you know today is National Chocolate Chip Day?

We celebrate all of the major holidays here in the Sewell home and the Shop with Style office.  So I couldn't let the holiday pass without again sharing my all-time favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Nothing complicated here.  Just a few simple tweaks to the classic Nestle Toll House recipe. Although I must disclose that there is a waiting period involved to allow the dough to rest in the fridge (and develop all of that rich, toffee goodness that makes these cookies so yummy).

There is actually a separate Chocolate Chip Cookie Day - only 81 shopping days until August 4! - and while there are many uses for chips, 90 percent of the chocolate chips in our home go into this recipe.

If you bake them, please comment below and let me know what you think.  Happy baking!

What I'm Baking: Lemon Bars

My mom made amazing lemon bars.  The tangy, melt-in-your-mouth kind, with a buttery shortbread crust.

She only made them at Christmas, and stored them in our downstairs freezer.  If you wanted one, you had to go down and sort through her Christmas baking stash of chocolate peppermint brownies, thumbprint cookies and other treats, and wait for what seemed like an eternity - maybe 15 minutes - for it to thaw enough to eat.

Now, my sweet mother-in-law often makes lemon bars at Christmas - since she knows I associate these with my mom.  While I have my mom's recipe, it usually only occurs to me to bake them in December. 

But with warm weather finally springing up in New York - which also triggers a taste for all things lemon - I decided to whip up a batch today.  I often take dessert to our Tuesday night gatherings with friends from church, and decided to switch things up from the usual chocolate chip cookies or cream cheese pound cake I usually take.

Also, with Mother's Day this Sunday, it seemed an appropriate time to make them, so here is the recipe.

Ingredients:

Crust

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened

Filling

  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a 9 x 13 baking dish by lightly buttering bottom and sides or lining with parchment paper.  Sift flour and powdered sugar together, and cut in butter (I use a pastry cutter) until mixture forms small crumbs.  Press into pan, and bake for 25 minutes.

For filling, combine eggs, sugar and lemon juice; beat well.  Sift flour and baking powder together, and stir into egg mixture.  Pour over baked crust, and bake 25 to 30 minutes.  Allow to cool for at least an hour.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar before cutting and serving. 

If you try it, please comment below and let me know what you think.  Happy baking!

Need Some Kitchen Inspo? 3 Books to Get You Cooking

Living in a city of great restaurants (and some not-so-good ones), it is easy for going out to eat to become the norm.

If you have read this blog, though, you know how much I love to cook - especially after a long TV tour of eating airplane food or dining in hotels and restaurants.

That said, every once in awhile, I need a little motivation to get into the kitchen and try something new.

Reading other people's culinary experiences does that for me.  Reviewing our bookshelves the other day, I came across these three cooking "memoirs."  They are all three to five years old, but the inspiration and info are timeless.

I bought them in hardcover when they were new, but you can now pick them up in either paperback or digital formats, or even at the library.

Any one of these will give you a little inspo to dust off your recipes.  Happily, the seriously descriptive subtitles leave no doubt about the topic of each book:

"The Art of Eating In:  How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove," by Cathy Erway

The entertaining story of a Brooklynite who swore off restaurants and take-out food for two years, almost exclusively eating food she had prepared herself.

"The Kitchen Counter Cooking School:  How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks," by Kathleen Flinn

The title pretty much sums it up.

"An Everlasting Meal:  Cooking with Economy and Grace," by Tamar Adler

Novice and experienced cooks alike will enjoy this practical and philosophical look at cooking. One of the things I love about this book is her belief that the "best meals rely on the ends of the meals that came before them," whether that is eating leftovers, or using the bones, peels and skins that often get discarded when cooking.  

Happy reading!  What are you cooking and reading this weekend?

Friday Favorites: Home Offices, Nutella Brownies and NYC Etiquette

A round-up of some of my favorite posts and articles from the last week!


Love this cheerful home office from A Beautiful Mess.  Most "home office" makeovers simply show a sleek desk with a laptop and vase of flowers, but happily, this office looks like someone actually works there.

Photo by Janae Hardy and Emma Chapman for A Beautiful Mess

Haven't tried this yet, but this 2-Ingredient Nutella brownie recipe from The Kitchn is totally going to be my next baking experiment.

When it comes to updating your spring wardrobe, these tips for smarter shopping from Cupcakes and Cashmere are spot-on.  Because sometimes, smart shopping means not buying anything at all.

This article from A Cup of Jo is actually two years old - but the messages about New York City etiquette are timeless and hilarious!

Illustration by Nathan W. Pyle, "NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette"


Have a lovely weekend!