For many New Yorkers, the first days of Fall means emptying their ovens after a long summer of sweater storage (not this NYC girl). The air gets a bit crisp and in Central Park turns from a swath of green to a patchwork of gold, yellow, orange, and red. It’s the time when the world goes crazy for pumpkin spice. I’ll pass on the pumpkin spice Pringles and foot deodorizer (why did anyone ever think that was a good idea?!), and go straight to the autumn treats that started it all: baked goods flavored with real pumpkin and lots of warm spices. Pie is great and who doesn’t love a quick pumpkin cookie? But it’s a pumpkin quick-bread studded with dates and chunks of dark chocolate that holds the top spot in my fall baking rotation.
I started fiddling with my favorite pumpkin bread recipe a few years ago; it was delicious, but a bit heavy, with lots of sugar and not enough spice. I looked at a lot of other recipes, but most called for a lot of oil and nearly as much white sugar as flour. The idea is that oil keeps the bread moist, but I found many loaves bordered on greasy, and since flavor always wins in my book, so I swapped the oil for butter and reduced the amount. I also cut back the sugar and made half of it brown, which helped with those moisture issues and enhanced the caramelly flavors of the pumpkin. And that’s what I call a win/win situation.
This perfected recipe produces a loaf with a moist, tender crumb, a crisp crust, and intensely spiced pumpkin flavor. If you don’t have cardamom in your spice cupboard, you can do without it; however, it is an excellent spice for the fall and winter seasons (amazing in hot chocolate or even just some steamed milk!), so now would be an ideal time to add it to your collection. Oh, and about those dates. You can leave them out and no one will cry, but they are like nature’s caramel. Baked into this bread, the melt into soft bits of sweetness; it’s worth a try, even if you think you’re not a date fan. I like to use whole pitted dates that I chop myself rather than buying packages of chopped dates; those always have added sugar or chemicals that prevent the pieces from sticking together, but that translates to gritty dates. And that’s not perfect.
This recipe can be used to make loaves, muffins, or even mini bundt cakes. Or all of the above.
Perfected Pumpkin Spice Bread
- 10 tblsp. butter, softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 15 oz. can pumpkin
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 3 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- pinch cloves
- 1/4 tsp. allspice
- 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
- heaping 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
- 3 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 cup dates, chopped (optional)
- 1 1/2 cup chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350°F. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter, both sugars, salt, and vanilla with the paddle attachment. The mixture may seem a bit sandy and dry at first, but set the mixer at medium low speed and allow it to continue mixing for a minute or so, until the sugar and butter come together and begin to look creamy. Scrape down sides of the bowl and add the eggs and 1/3 cup milk.
- Add pumpkin and spices and mix well, scraping down sides of the bowl at least twice. Add one cup of flour along with the baking powder and baking soda. Stir until just combined, then add second cup of flour; stir until just combined again and scrape down sides of the bowl. Add final cup of flour and stir until smooth, scraping down sides of the bowl. Chop dates, if using, into pieces just bigger than chocolate chips; dates are sticky, so the easiest way to do this is with a small, sharp paring knife. Cut dates in half lengthwise, then slice those halves into thirds (or fourths, for large dates). Add chocolate chips and stir until evenly distributed throughout batter; batter will be thick.
- Amply grease bakeware with cooking spray. Fill loaf pans or muffin tins no more than half full. Bake at 350°F until a toothpick inserted into the loaf comes out with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it (at least 40 minutes for a large loaf pan, 30 for small loaves, and 18 minutes for muffins).