Here in Chicago, we’ve reached that time of year when the leaves on the trees are outnumbered by the leaves that pad the sidewalks, crunching underfoot (or, these days, under the stroller wheels). When dinner is increasingly eaten after the sunsets. When the farmers’ markets are winding down, or preparing to move to their scaled-down, winter locations. And when at least one early morning walk has required a big scarf or even a knit hat.
It’s when a panic sets in. After summer’s seeming endlessness, autumn, my hands-down favorite of all the seasons, is suddenly waning. I do the only sensible thing to combat such panic: I stockpile canned pumpkin and I preheat the oven. Or warm the waffle iron. Or set the soup pot over a flame. Well—you get the picture. This annual panic means that I start cooking and baking with pumpkin, and frequently. Halloween just ups the ante, emanating that candle-burnt-pumpkin-flesh aroma, which sends me straight into the kitchen.
First on my pumpkin list every fall is this quick bread. I’ve been making it for years. But it’s a recipe that’s evolved over time, like the best ones in your recipe file do.
I’ve played around with various flours (whole wheat is my favorite, for its heartiness and its healthfulness, and for the fact that I usually have it on hand), the sweeteners (Grade B pure maple syrup is my preference, but granulated or brown sugar work, too, and I’m confident that other sweeteners would make fine stand-ins), the fat (grapeseed oil is my go-to neutral oil, but canola or vegetable oil do the trick, too; olive oil, though, was a little too assertive for my taste), and mix-ins (chocolate chips have gone by the wayside in favor of a handful of granola or, best of all, toasted walnuts). The loaf will also happily accept a variety of pumpkin-pie-ish spices (I usually opt for just cinnamon), and it gets a boost from vanilla extract or, if I’m feeling extravagant, a glug of bourbon.
In other words, there are plenty of variations to keep me baking through these late fall days, coping with the panic one loaf at a time.
Pumpkin Walnut Bread
3/4 cup pure maple syrup (I use Grade B) or granulated sugar
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin puree
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1/4 cup yogurt or sour cream
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups whole wheat or all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted.
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a large (8-, 9- or 10-inch) loaf pan.
Combine first 6 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture, stirring just until moist. Stir in walnuts.
Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans on a wire rack, and remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.