On this cold (27 degrees F, to be exact) February day, nothing sounds quite as good as a warm slice of pumpkin bread and a steaming cup of tea. And the sweet smells of pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg wafting from the oven make my apartment feel that much cozier.
But wait--I hear you skeptics asking--isn't it a tad too late for pumpkin goodies? October harkens the arrival of pumpkin lattes at Starbucks and November welcomes mountains of pumpkin pies (and cakes and cookies and muffins...). So abundant, in fact, are the fall pumpkin offerings, that by February most of us are rather pumpkined-out.
Not me. As long as the weather is cool and there is canned pumpkin available in the grocery stores, I am game for a pumpkin baking project. Years ago I set out to find the perfect recipe for a pumpkin layer cake. I wanted a cake that was tender yet resilient, moist, flavorful--full of spices and studded with nuts--and slathered in tangy cream cheese frosting.
The recipe that did the trick (and that has since become my standby) was from...drumroll please...Betty Crocker! (Seriously. And no, it does not involve a cake mix.) Her Harvest Pumpkin Spice Bars not only met every single one of my criteria, but the recipe is extremely versatile. I have tweaked the recipe over the years and have discovered that it works equally well as layer cake, bundt cake, muffins (or cupcakes, depending on whether you use frosting), or loaf bread.
Today I decided to make muffins and a loaf of bread--the recipe below makes enough batter for two dozen muffins or one dozen muffins + one loaf pan. Making both muffins and bread is nice, because you can either eat the warm muffins and give the loaf away, or vice versa. The bread freezes really well, so if you prefer not to eat it all in one sitting (which I do not recommend!), wrap up the loaf as soon as it cools and stash it away in the freezer for a future unorthodox pumpkin craving.
PUMPKIN BREAD (AND/OR MUFFINS) FOR A COLD DAY
(Adapted from Betty Crocker's Harvest Pumpkin Spice Bars)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 (15-ounce) can pureed pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1 cup golden raisins (or dried cranberries)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin and a 9x5" loaf pan.
Beat the eggs, sugar, oil, and pumpkin in a large bowl until smooth, using a hand-held mixer. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.
With the mixer on low speed, add half the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and mix until almost combine. Add the rest of the flour mixture and mix until smooth. Stir in the raisins and the walnuts.
Fill the muffin cups 3/4 full and pour the remaining batter into the loaf pan. Place the muffins and the loaf pan on the center rack in the preheated oven.
Bake the muffins for about 20-25 minutes or until the tops are puffed up and a toothpick comes out clean. Leave the bread in the oven for an additional 35-40 minutes or until the top has risen and is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
For both the muffins and the bread, let cool for 5-10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a cooling rack to continue cooling.