Flavors of the season

in the oven: Versatile bread dresses up with favorite combo of nuts, chocolates or dried fruit

October 17, 2012 

For me, nothing signifies the end of summer as poetically and viscerally as seeing pumpkins in a patch. One look at that field and I start salivating for all of my favorite pumpkin dishes.

I love the earthy simplicity of pumpkin pie. And I feel like a pioneer when I wash the seeds that I have taken out of my carved pumpkin and roast them. No surprise, but that was always my favorite part of carving a pumpkin when I was a kid. Pumpkin and sage also dress up cheese grits this time of year, and I’ve even added pumpkin to chili. But I never thought of adding chocolate to pumpkin until last year.

For some reason, I became obsessed with baking chocolate pumpkin bread and asked everyone I knew if they had a good recipe. I was looking for a dense quick bread with a deep pumpkin flavor that could stand up to lots of add-ins. I love slicing a loaf of bread and seeing the cross-section of fruit and nuts and chocolate.

After I tried a few that were less than stellar, I mentioned my quest to an industry friend, who gave me a pumpkin muffin recipe that turned out to be excellent. I adapted it to make pumpkin bread, but you could easily use my version for muffins as well. It is an oil-based quick bread and I use untoasted walnut oil, but you can use any neutral vegetable oil.

I also reduced the sugar a bit and added light brown sugar and extra spices to give the loaf a deeper flavor that would stand up to the dark chocolate chips and walnuts that I used. When I make this bread closer to Thanksgiving, I add dried cranberries for a seasonal touch, but the bread also is good with the addition of golden raisins and dried cherries.

Finally, I decorate the top of the bread with whole walnut halves or a layer of chopped walnuts. I love the look and the texture of this extra touch. It dresses up a simple loaf of quick bread and gives it a rustic, homemade but professional presentation.

A note about pumpkin — I have tried every type of pumpkin, from roasting my own and making puree to testing all of the brands out there. I will never roast a pumpkin for baking again. The pulp was watery and did not have that concentrated flavor that I love. I also suggest staying away from pumpkin pie “filling.” I prefer Libby’s pure pumpkin puree.

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