Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pumpkin Bread

For everything there is a season, as the canonical writer Qohelet once penned. Unfortunately in Ireland, the unseasonal rain of an Irish Summer literally puts a dampner on the season for pumpkins, with the orangey fruit appearing only in the weeks leading up to Hallowe'en. In Australia the khaki 'Jap' pumpkin is ubiquitous in greengrocers, and one of my favourite ingredients in salads, soups, breads and tarts, so the presence of the brassy squash in my kitchen and meals at this time of year carries with it great nostalgia. Pumpkins have an inherent magic for me, born likely of their cameo appearance as a gilded carriage in Cinderella and on the head of Jack Pumpkinhead in the 'Oz' books, and I always find myself reluctant to cut them open and chop them up, reducing their magnificence to a pile of chopped (and very delicious) orangey flesh.

Nonetheless, the brief moment of guilt as I slice the potential vehicle or head of a fictional animated jack-o-lantern into pieces is alleviated by the joy of having an ingredient so flamboyantly coloured and beautifully flavoured to play with in the kitchen. It seems like a long time since last October, so this year I have been jealously hording pumpkins purchased from Denis Healy in the kitchen, and reluctantly chopping them up and turning them into pumpkin bread, muffins, buttercream, pies and soup. The most difficult to use are the 'carvers' with the stringy flesh being bland, watery and tasteless, but I put out a twitter-plea for a pumpkin bread recipe and was pointed in the direction of the fabulous and perennially busy Molly from Orangette and a delicious pumpkin bread recipe adapted from The Joy of Cooking. I have tweaked it a little, but it is my new favourite way to use the pulpy innards of pumpkins destined to be lanterns.

Pumpkin Bread

1 ½ cups plain flour
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp cake spice (or mixed spice)
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup water
½ tsp pure vanilla extract or one tsp vanilla essence
6 T unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar, I used brown, but caster would work too
2 large eggs, off the shelf
1 cup raw pumpkin finely chopped or grated (some stringy bits are ok)
½ cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts or walnuts
1/3 cup sultanas

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Grease a baking tin. I used a 24cm x 24 cm square tin as I was after something of a flatter 'biscotti' shape, but you can also use a 24cm x 12cm tin for a 'loafier' result.
Steam the pumpkin in a colander over a pot of boiling water until soft and then puree until smooth.
Mix all dry ingredients except the sugar together in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, mix water and vanilla extract.
In a large bowl, beat butter until creamy, about 30 seconds.
Gradually add sugar, and beat on medium speed until lightened in colour and texture, about 3 minutes.
Beat in eggs one at a time.
Add puréed pumpkin, and beat until just blended.
Add the dry mixture in three parts, alternating with the water-vanilla mixture in two parts finishing with the dry mixture, beating until smooth and just combined.
Gently fold in hazelnuts and sultanas.
Pour batter into pan and flatten across the top with a spatula.

Bake for forty-five minutes for the bigger tin or one hour for the smaller, or until a skewer comes out clean when pierced into the bread. Remove from oven and let cool slightly in the pan for five or ten minutes before unmolding to cool completely.

Great with afternoon tea and makes the whole kitchen smell beautifully festive. Can be made with sweet potato when pumpkins are out of season.

Pumpkin Bread, ready to be dispatched to the office.

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