when all cakes turn into pumpkin

The transition from autumn to winter is marked by a few routine things. Leaves go from green to red to simply bare. Markets go from selling vegetables that only need a little salt and olive oil to ones that require an oven and a good hour of roasting. And as autumn becomes winter everything that I bake seems to begin by roasting pumpkin or squash.

This pumpkin season I've already made pumpkin brownies, pumpkin ice-cream, pumpkin pie and, the star of this season, brown butter pumpkin bread. I've made all of the above more than once, but I cannot stop making this pumpkin bread. It satisfies my cravings for all things autumn and for all things comforting.

I'm back in Munich after two months in Venice. Venice pulled at my heart-strings more than I could have imagined. Before this two month stint, I had only had one-night stands with Venice and I was always left rather unimpressed. I thought that it was over-rated and that its canals were stinkier than they were beautiful. However, this time around I was smitten. My camera and I were part of the annoying crowd blocking pedestrian traffic over bridges as we couldn't stop admiring the city's views. Beyond the city itself, I became smitten with the people I shared it with and I like this brown butter pumpkin bread all the more because of who I cooked it for and who I ate it with. 

 Eating is a shared experience. Even when we prepare a meal just for ourselves it is part of a web of sharing - from the ingredients we use and how we got them (be it from a neighbour's garden to a big-box grocery store) to the recipes we follow or the cooking techniques we use. Therefore, it only makes sense that meals are often the most satisfying when they are shared. Breakfast with a friend or lover. Lunch with friends. Dinner with family. However, sharing a meal can also become complicated. Health issues, dietary restrictions and preferences can make a meal something that is exclusive rather than shared and unfortunately the sad state of our food industry has made this even more so. Never before have food allergies been so common. Robyn O'Brien, a food activist and author, has written and lectured extensively concerning food allergies and how so much food actually makes us sick. Her TED talk is a good introduction to the subject. 

I am lucky to have no problems with dairy, gluten or meat. I have no food allergies or sensitivities. All I ask is that my ingredients be honest and fair. That said, I seem to be among a small number of people who can say such a thing these days. Because I like to share meals, I'm happiest when I cook something that everyone can eat. So when a friend asked if I could make gluten-free pumpkin bread for American Thanksgiving I of course said yes. In addition to being able to include more people in the experience of sharing a meal, I find it quite the adventure to discover that I can use ingredients such as chickpeas instead of flour, brown rice syrup instead of sugar, apple sauce instead of eggs and almond milk instead of dairy. 

What makes this pumpkin bread special is chestnut flour. The chestnut flour also makes it gluten-free. You can certainly make this bread with all purpose flour or spelt, but please make it at least once with chestnut flour. You won't regret it even though I admit that chestnut flour wears a big price tag. I reckon that it would also be quite easy to make this cake vegan. Just use coconut oil instead of butter, 2 tbsp chia seeds or flax seeds mixed with 6 tbsp of water instead of eggs (just let the mixture set for 15 minutes so that it is thick enough to bind together the batter), and nut milk. Just adjust this recipe until it suits you.

Also, this happens to be recipe number 100 on Paper Doll Parade. Small victories! Yes, dear reader, I have also baked this cake for you and I'm sure that no matter your food preferences and allergies that you can eat it. However, if you don't like pumpkin there isn't much I can do (or want to do) about that. I guess you could always use bananas, but banana bread is obviously just not the same as pumpkin bread.

Regarding the type of pumpkin/squash, here in Germany I use Hokkaido squash at the Germans grow it in generous amounts. In Venice I used a green pumpkin that was grown on the island of Sant'Erasmo. It is on this island that Venice grows most of its fruit and vegetables and what gorgeous fruit and vegetables they grow! Use whatever type of pumpkin or squash makes sense where you are. As a kid I grew up eating pumpkin pies that were made from canned pumpkin so I am not one to judge. It is only because I moved somewhere where pumpkin isn't sold in a can that I started making puree at home. That said, these days I am a firm believer that something fresh and local always beats something canned. It is easier than pie to make pumpkin puree and the instructions are below.    

Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread

adapted from 101 Cookbooks


1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, plus a tad more for the pan
1 tbsp melted coconut oil (or hazelnut or almond oil, or just more butter)

1 1/2 cups (170g) chestnut flour 
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (or freshly grated nutmeg) 
1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract) 
pinch of sea salt 

1 cup (140 g) unrefined brown sugar, plus 1 tbsp for sprinkling on top 
 2 large organic eggs 
a very generous packed 1/2 cup (130g) of pumpkin puree, instructions are below 
1/4 cup (60ml) milk (dairy, almond, rice, soy et cetera) 
1/3 cup (30 g) toasted almonds, chopped into chunks 

In a small pot over medium heat melt the butter and let it cook until it is brown and smells nutty. This will take anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes depending on the heat of your stove. The butter solids should be toasted but not burnt. Once the butter is browned, stir in the coconut oil and set aside to cool.

While you are browning the butter preheat the oven to 350F / 180C / gas mark 4. Butter a loaf pan and either dust it with some (chestnut) flour or line it with baking paper.

Combine the chestnut flour, baking soda, spices and salt in a large mixing bowl and then set aside. In another mixing bowl combine the eggs, sugar, pumpkin and milk. Once the browned butter has cooled, whisk it in with the rest of the wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just combined. Fold in 3/4 of the almonds and then pour the batter into the greased pan. Sprinkle the top with the remaining almonds and 1 tbsp of sugar. 

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the center is well set. However, do not over-bake as this cake is at its most charming when moist. 

* * * * 

How to Make Pumpkin Puree

Make sure to use a small pie pumpkin. Ask your local farmer if you are not sure. Larger pumpkins are much better used for Halloween decorations than they are for pie (as the Italian sign above on the left reminds us).

Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C / gas mark 4. 

If you pumpkin looks like it has just come directly from the farm, rinse it under warm water to remove any dirt. Cut the pumpkin in half with a sharp knife and then use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.

Lay both sides of the pumpkin face side down in a large baking dish and cover the bottom of the dish with about 1/4 inch of water. 

Bake the pumpkin until just tender, about 40-60 minutes. The time will depend on the size of the pumpkin. Use a fork to check if the pumpkin is done. When it is easy to pierce the pumpkin with the fork then the pumpkin is ready to puree. 

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Once cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh with a fork and then mash until completely smooth. Discard the skin.

Store the pumpkin puree in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

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size too small  – (December 7, 2012 at 4:54 PM)  

i love pumpkin baked goods- i'm definitely going to give this bread a try.

Shirin  – (February 24, 2013 at 4:42 PM)  

Wow. Just made this and am eating a warm, buttered slice. The chestnut flour and pumpkin taste incredible together!

Sasha  – (February 24, 2013 at 6:51 PM)  

So glad you tried it! Yes, chestnut flour and pumpkin were totally meant to be. Let`s eat this together with some Kaffee one of these days!

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