I once had a roommate, Laura, whose mother would send each of us mini-loaves of pumpkin bread, plus a larger loaf for the entire apartment, every Halloween. It was a thoughtful gesture, and one that I looked forward to every fall. At a certain point, we all grow out of trick-or-treating, but we never lose our taste for comforting sweets when the chilly weather hits. Especially whey they're pumpkin-flavored.
A few weeks ago, a Trader Joe's moved to my Brooklyn neighborhood. Unable to contain my excitement, I went on opening day and came home with a boatload of groceries purchased entirely on impulse: diet pomegranate soda, barbecue-flavored soy chips, jarred artichoke pesto. I also picked up a box of Trader Joe's Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Mix ($2.99), probably because it was right around the time Laura's mom would have sent us our annual loaves.
Later that same week, I stumbled upon a recipe on the King Arthur Flour website for Pumpkin Yeast Bread. Never one to fear excess (especially when it comes to baking), I decided to make the Trader Joe's mix and the King Arthur's homemade version at the same time and compare the results.
Trader Joe's Version
Like most quick-bread mixes, the Trader Joe's Pumpkin Bread was a cinch to prepare. You just add eggs, oil, and water. After an hour in the oven, the loaf came out moist, spicy, and the color of molasses. Friends devoured it, though we all agreed the flavor was more reminiscent of gingerbread or generic spice cake than of pumpkin. In general, we were pleased that it wasn't overly sweet--often boxed mixes have a terrible, cloying taste--but the Trader Joe's version could almost be served alongside a meal of soup or chili, instead of cornbread.
Obviously, the King Arthur Flour recipe took much longer to prepare: the process involved kneading and two rises, and yielded two loaves. While my bread baked up perfectly, with smooth tops, a pillowy interior, and a lovely orange hue, it--like the Trader Joe's Mix-- lacked that true pumpkin flavor I craved. Perhaps it needed more spice (next time I'll try increasing the ginger and cardamom to one teaspoon each). All that said, after sitting overnight, it tasted a bit more like pumpkin in the morning. I determined my homemade version would make exceptional French toast when slathered with maple syrup and sliced bananas.
So in the end, while both pumpkin bread versions I tried were good, neither compared to the one that exists in my memory. My experiment was a little disappointing, but then, what did I expect? Store-bought and home-baked can never compare to mom-made.
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 2 packages (2 tablespoons) active dry yeast
- 2/3 cup warm milk (whole or low-fat)
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 1/2 cups puréed pumpkin, either fresh or canned
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 6 1/2 cups (approximately) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
In a large bowl, stir yeast into water to soften. Add milk, eggs, pumpkin, oil, 4 cups of flour, brown sugar, salt, ginger, and cardamom. Mix vigorously with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes.
Gradually add remaining flour, a little at a time, until you have a dough stiff enough to knead. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead, adding flour as necessary, until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Place dough in a large bowl coated with oil or nonstick cooking spray. Turn once to coat, then cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Turn dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide dough in half. Shape dough into loaves and place in well-greased 10 x 5-inch pans. Cover again and let rise until almost doubled, about 45 minutes.
While the loaves are rising, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Bake the loaves for 30 minutes. Check the internal temperature of each with an instant-read thermometer; a reading of 190ºF means that they are done.
Immediately remove bread from pans and allow to cool on a wire rack.