Monday, October 20, 2008

Composite Recipe: Pumpkin Bread

I played around with another composite recipe over the weekend: pumpkin bread. You might have guessed if you read my blog around this time two years ago that I love pumpkin. I even have some IQF diced pumpkin in my freezer right now. But since I was spending so much time comparing recipes (you believe me, right?), I got lazy and used canned pumpkin puree. That means that it's okay for you to too.

First, the ingredients:

IngredientsRecipe 1Recipe 2Recipe 3Recipe 4Recipe 5Me
oven temp350 F350 F350 F350 F350 F350 F
bake time50 – 60 min1 hr 10 min1 hr50 – 60 min1 – 1 1/4 hrs1 hr
ap flour3 cups3 cups3 1/2 cups3 cups3 1/3 cup3 cups
salt1 tsp1/2 tsp1 1/2 tsp1 tsp1 1/2 tsp1 tsp
baking soda2 tsp1 tsp2 tsp2 tsp2 tsp2 tsp
baking powder 1/2 tsp  2 tsp 
sugar2 cups3 cups3 cups2 cups3 cups2 cups
pumpkin puree2 cups16 oz16 oz2 cups2 cups2 cups
olive oil1 cup     
vegetable oil 1 cup1 cup1 cup1 cup1 cup
eggs4 ea3 ea4 ea4 ea4 ea4 ea
water1/2 cup 2/3 cup1/2 cup  
nutmeg1 tsp1 tsp2 tsp1/2 tsp1 tsp1 tsp
cinnamon1 tsp1 tsp2 tsp2 tsp1 tsp1 tsp
allspice1 tsp  1/2 tsp1/8 tsp1/4 tsp
cloves 1 tsp 1/2 tsp 1/4 tsp
mace    1/8 tsp 
ginger    1/4 tsp1/4 tsp
nuts1 cup1 cup1 cup1 cup1 cup1 cup + 1/2 cup
mixing methodmuffinmuffinmuffinmuffinmuffinmuffin

Note: Not all of the recipes yielded the same amount. Some were for one loaf, some for two. For ease of comparison, I have scale all recipes to yield two loaves. If you just want one, cut it in half.

This was an interesting recipe. The oven temps were the same across the board, and I can't say the bake times were all that different either. Flour, also largely the same. Salt, the same. Baking soda only deviated when baking powder was introduced into the picture.

And that's where I started wondering: which would be better? Baking soda or baking powder? Perhaps both? The baking soda, being a base, needs some sort of acid in order to actually produce any gas to provide lift. Baking powder has both a base and an acid, so it only needs moisture to activate. And bonus, I've found it near-impossible lately to find baking powder in the store that isn't double-acting. Double-acting baking powder adds a second lift when it meets the heat, which would add just a little extra lift in the oven.

Does pumpkin bread need all that much lift? It gets plenty from steam. How much acid is in pumpkin, anyway? I don't know. I kind of wonder if it actually does me any good to provide any sort of leaveners in the first place. Maybe I'll check it out... eventually.

I found it interesting that sugar was always at either 2 or 3 cups. Clearly, it didn't matter a whole lot, so I went with 2. The third cup adds sweetness that isn't needed, and when scaled for a commercial kitchen would just add extra cost for little to no benefit. America may be used to overly-sweet confections, but I prefer balance. Maybe with future batches, I'll be able to get it down to a cup and a half or less.

I found it interesting that the first recipe called for olive oil instead of veggie oil. This is also a recipe that calls for you to make your own pumpkin puree. I'm sure it was designed to be some sort of high-quality, better-than-sex pumpkin bread, but hey! I'm gonna feed this stuff to my kid! With any luck, it'll be a good couple of decades before she starts making that kind of comparison. Besides, olive oil is going to detract from the star of this dish: pumpkin. So I stick with veggie oil. (Irony: the recipe comes from some chick named Elise, which also happens to be my daughter's name.)

Eggs. Same across the board. Are we noticing a pattern here? But interestingly, the eggs apparently didn't add enough moisture for some people, so some recipes added water. I don't believe that water is going to bring anything to the table, either in terms of flavor or physics, so it stays out. It would probably just add to the cooking time anyway.

The place where each recipe really differed was in the spice arena. People have some very different feelings as to what constitutes a pumpkin spice blend. Everyone used nutmeg cinnamon, but that's where the similarities end. Allspice, cloves, mace and ginger all make appearances. The only one that I left out of my recipe was mace. I just don't have enough experience with it... yet. That will need to change.

You'll notice that while everyone else called for 1 cup of nuts, I call for that plus another half a cup. This is because when I actually baked for a living, we had a rule: no quickbread left the oven without some kind of garnish. This usually meant muffins, but pumpkin bread, banana bread, that kind of crowd also got something sprinkled on top. Usually nuts. In addition to adding a little something extra, it also gives the diner a clue as to what is actually in the confection. But I have a confession: while I did sprinkle pecans on top, I didn't stir any in. I chopped up a couple of discs of Mexican chocolate and stirred that in instead.

For those of you not familiar with it, Mexican chocolate is not the same as the chocolate that you're probably used to. It is not silky-smooth; it is gritty. It has maybe just a little too much granulated sugar in it, and is spiked with a bit of cinnamon. Most people I know only use it to make hot chocolate. I thought it might be complimentary to the pumpkin bread.

Okay, so I looked at the mixing instructions briefly on these recipes. Everything was more or less a muffin method, which is normal for quick breads. The procedure is easy: mix together all of the dry ingredients (not including sugar) in one bowl, mix together all of the wet ingredients (which includes sugar) in another bowl, then mix together the two bowls.

I think that other than the questionable spices, my recipe is a pretty basic implementation recipe. It will give you a basic pumpkin bread recipe that is easily adaptable to your needs. Other than the Mexican chocolate (which proved to be too sweet with the larger chunks), the sweetness balance was pretty much perfect. I'm going to have to spend some more time with pumpkin spices, but I thought the mix that I went with was pretty decent. Feel free to adapt it to your own liking.

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