These words just go together for me. We can't have a Christmas or Thanksgiving without this bread, and I can't have this bread without thinking about home, family, and holidays growing up. A warm, delicious, soft, incredibly moist, cake-like bread that melts in your mouth with fall spices and pumpkin goodness. The top forms a thin, almost gooey layer of pumpkin that my brother and I would secretly cut off in pieces, like little mice nibbling away at the best part. This recipe has become almost a part of my family identity- it's right up there with steamy Baltimore summers, Cape Cod vacations, New Hampshire lakes, and long car rides in Ford station wagons- and I almost thought about not sharing it to keep the family secret. But, good food is best shared, and so, I give you... the best pumpkin bread ever. My mom's. ;-)
In our family, on Christmas morning, we didn't tear into gifts the minute we woke up. From the time we were little, my mother instituted a rule: presents after breakfast. And this wasn't just rushed cereal or toaster waffles. NO! Not in our house! This was a full-on, sit at the fancy dining table with a leaf or two added in to fit all the extended family members, with a centerpiece of flowers and lit candles, full-spread brunch. I think it was the pumpkin bread alone that willed me through til almost mid-day, when most other families were long finished opening gifts, and we were still cleaning up from brunch, waiting to rush into the wonderland of a living room.
In addition to gracing all our family holidays, my amazing mother would make this bread for friends and teachers some years as holiday gifts. I remember lugging giant loaves around to very lucky, very special recipients. And then, when I was away at college, I remember getting a loaf freshman year, still fresh, and it was like my mom was in my college dorm room, giving me the best piece of home ever. I proudly took on the pumpkin-bread-baking responsibility and have shared this with roommates, friends, and new family over the years, offering up this bread like a warm welcoming to my family and my best holiday memories.
There are a few secrets to this bread, a few features that make it the best pumpkin bread ever. One is the cooked-to-perfection moistness. Two is the top of the bread- as I said, it's like a little layer of pumpkin topping that just completely makes the bread, setting it apart from others. This comes mostly I think from a special trick in storing in the bread. Three is the bread's perfect texture and taste, from a secret ingredient. Are you ready for the secret ingredient????
We don't use pumpkin. What???? Ok, we used canned pumpkin PIE MIX. And it has to be Libby's. I actually blew the secret ingredient a few posts ago, but indulge me and act surprised if you happened to read my pumpkin persimmon cookie post.
Libby's Pumpkin Pie Mix is essential here. If you don't have it, you won't have the best pumpkin bread ever. Sorry, that's just how the bread crumbles.
I think it goes without saying that when I went vegan, it was pretty crucial to be able to perfectly replicate this bread. I attempted 3 times last year, testing out different vegan variations. The first time was fine but not quite the same, the second was an epic failure that didn't rise, and the third only worked as mini muffins. This year, I realized the moisture content needed to be reduced a little in the vegan version, and I found just the right egg replacement options. I even subbed in some spelt flour -how daring am I, right? ;-) - to make it a tad healthier. The end result came out tasting exactly like Mom's. (Dare I say, even better??! I did add in a few additional dashes of spices that just rock this bread into pumpkin heaven.)
Patti's Pumpkin Bread, veganized
Makes 4 mini loaves (*See notes below)
- 1 and 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup Earth Balance or Smart Balance Lite butter
- 1 flax egg (1 Tbsp ground flax seeds plus 3 Tbsp water, whisked well)
- 3-4 Tbsp applesauce
- 2 cups Libby's Pumpkin Pie Mix (note: to be clear, you don't add anything additional to what's in the can; the mix instructions say to add eggs and milk, but for this bread, you just use what's in the can).
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup spelt flour (whole wheat may also work, or sub more white flour)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- dash of salt
- dash of ginger
- dash of pumpkin pie spice
- Mix together the sugar and butter until crumbly. Then add the flax egg (pre-mixed, I store in fridge for about 5-10 min until ready to use), applesauce, pumpkin, and water.
- In separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
- Mix the dry into the wet, stirring until very well combined.
- Preheat oven to 325F.
- Grease 4 mini loaf pans. Here's the best way: put a spoonful of butter onto a paper towel and wipe the loaves all the way around. Well greased is what you want. Then, add about a tsp of flour to each pan, and tap it around the sides so each is well coated. This will ensure the bread just pops right out of the pan.
- Bake for 40-60 minutes (*if you are baking in a convection oven, it should take about 40-45 minutes for a mini loaf. A regular oven will take closer to 50 minutes). Check with a toothpick- the bread should rise, the sides should brown a bit, and a toothpick should come out clean.
- Allow to cool in the loaves until cool enough to hold, then invert pans and tap lightly- the bread should easily come out. Cool on baking rack, and then wrap well in tinfoil (see below).
See the top of the bread? Moist pumpkin-layer goodness:
To get this top little layer of lusciousness, allow the bread to cool for about 1 hour, then wrap well in tin foil, making sure to fold over the edges to not allow any air in. Store overnight, and the next day, your pumpkin bread perfection, complete with that yummy top layer, will be waiting like a gift to be unwrapped.
Notes... and some more tips & tricks:
Since the original version isn't vegan, I guess I am saving the family secret after all. But vegan or not, this recipe tastes just like Mom's.
Flax seeds: Flax seeds may not be an item everyone has, but if you haven't ever tried them, I recommend it. On their own, they have a great nutty flavor and are chock full of omega-3's (I like adding them to oatmeal and cookies!); plus, they work as an egg replacer, as used here. If you have a coffee grinder, that's the easiest way to grind 'em up. (Just clean it out first, of course!). Make sure to store flax seeds in the fridge.
Rising and flailing: As mentioned, in last year's attempts, some of my large loaves failed to rise, and all I got was a thick heap of batter-like bread. Not what we're going for. Case in point, note this loaf that didn't work out so well:
Mini-loaves: Speaking of mega-loaves, I did stray from the original a bit here by making mini-loaves. I can't guarantee the recipe will work to perfection if you choose to make 2 regular sized loaves or 1 large loaf, but it should if you increase the baking time. What I'm not so sure about is if you double the recipe- vegan egg replacements tend to work just fine for one or two eggs, but when you get up to replacing 4 eggs, it's a little trickier. We used to make 2 giant loaves of this bread every year- it didn't matter how big they were, they'd both be gone in under 3 days. And yes, I was single-handedly responsible at least half a loaf by Christmas mid-day. But I like the mini-loaf option since they are easier to give away- for one, I always felt like I was lugging a brick around (albeit a very moist, delicious brick) when I gifted people an almost comically large loaf of bread. And second, you don't have to part with as much of the amazing goodness that is this bread. I mean, sharing is good, but giving it all away? That's just crazy.
For me, this pumpkin bread is like a warm Fall or holiday hug, a welcome home.
Thanks Mom! ;-)