When the weather turns chilly in the fall, the warmer spices, such as cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, seem like natural additions to our diet. It's no coincidence that these spices turn up in pumpkin recipes.
Pumpkin is neutral enough to allow small quantities of these spices to go a long way, yet pumpkin also provides a complementary flavor that embellishes the effect of these spices.
Pumpkin's other great attribute is its usefulness in baking. Pumpkin's texture is stout enough to support the filling of a pie yet the pulp also can be blended into bread, pancakes and other flour-based recipes.
While I've never been a pumpkin purist -- someone who insists on cleaning a pumpkin to get pulp for baking -- I do think we miss an important part of the baking process if we resort to canned pumpkin that already has been spiced. When we let the Green Giant wield the spices for us, we lose touch with how the interaction between the pumpkin and the other ingredients produces the final effect.
For that reason, I'm suggesting unspiced pumpkin puree as the base ingredient in our fall pumpkin baking. To get us started, I'm offering a pumpkin bread recipe from Sheila Lukins' "All Around the World Cookbook." Not only do spices play off of the pumpkin, but the pumpkin also provides a backdrop for such textured ingredients as dried fruit and nuts.
Moroccan Pumpkin Tea Loaf
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted dates
1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-inch-by-5-inch-by-3-inch loaf pan and dust it with flour, shaking out the excess.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, beat the butter, sugar and honey together with an electric mixer until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix to combine. Add the pumpkin and yogurt and mix until just blended. Stir in the dates, apricots and walnuts.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 1/4 hours.
Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the bread and turn it out onto the rack to cool completely.
Makes 1 loaf.