Fall is here. The leaves are starting to turn and drop onto the sidewalk. I traded my sundresses and sandals for long sleeves and boots. And we finally put our air conditioner unit in storage, the true mark of the weather turning cooler.
I love feeling the brisk air and watching the leaves change. I love walking through our neighborhood and smelling the first lit fireplace of the season. I love pulling on a cozy sweater, needing to wrap an afghan around my shoulders while watching TV. But there's something melancholy about fall. As I watch the piles of leaves grow larger and larger, I can't help but think about the months of winter ahead--dirty, slushy snow, and sweating under a puffy coat, and the way our neighborhood turns from lush and leafy to drab and barren. I think winter kind of sucks, if you couldn't tell already.
Like spring, autumn is fleeting and beautiful and you have to enjoy its weather and rituals while it lasts. I'm not much for carving jack-o-lanterns and putting out cinnamon brooms and all of the other decorations that pop up this time of year. I like edible reminders of the season. All I need is a sturdy loaf of pumpkin bread filling the house with the smell of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg as it cools on the counter. It's one of the coziest things you can make on a Saturday in fall. I up the coziness factor by wearing fleece-lined slippers, but that's just me.
1. Replace liquids with orange juice
Whether your favorite recipe calls for milk or water, try using orange juice. It gives the bread more flavor and a slight citrusy undertone which is lovely with spice. A little fresh orange zest is nice too, if you have it.
2. Use pumpkin pie spice
If you have ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger on hand, by all means, use them in your batter. But sometimes I'm out of one of those--or all of them. Instead of searching my cabinet for each jar and measuring them all out, I like using pumpkin pie spice. Most varieties have all of the spices you need, plus allspice. For the recipe below, I suggest starting with one tablespoon and tasting the batter first, then adjusting if you need more. I like a very spicy bread with about two tablespoons of pumpkin pie spice.
3. Use chopped nuts, and coat them with flour
I like nuts, particularly pecans, in my pumpkin bread. If you do too, add them to your dry ingredients instead of at the end, when your batter is done. Coating the nuts with flour will keep them from sinking to the bottom as your loaf bakes, giving you a more equal distribution of nuts in each slice. This is a tip that's handy for any quick bread (banana, zucchini, etc.) with nuts.
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking.
1 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1⁄4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice (or 11⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1 tsp. ground ginger, 1⁄2 tsp. grated or ground nutmeg, 1⁄4 tsp. ground cloves)
1⁄2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/3 cup orange juice (or water or milk)
1⁄2 tsp. vanilla extract
6 Tbsp. (3⁄4 stick) butter, softened
1 cup sugar plus 1⁄ 3 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup cooked or canned pumpkin puree (or squash, yams, or sweet potatoes)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.
In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, spices, and pecans. In a small bowl, combine the orange juice and vanilla. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in each egg, one at a time. Add the puree and mix until combined.
Add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the juice mixture, beating on low speed or stirring with a rubber spatula until smooth and scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes before unmolding to cool completely on the rack.