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What your bread was missing: ale

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST
Caption
(Slate photo by Juliana Jimenez Jaramillo)
Pumpkin bread made with beer lives up to the name bread, and deliciously so.

Pumpkin bread is one of those delicious baked goods that teeters on the border between bread and cake. It’s moist, sweet, warmly spiced and buttery. If you served it with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, you’d have dessert – but most people see it as breakfast or snack fodder (smeared with cream cheese, if you’re smart).

I’ve always liked pumpkin bread, but I didn’t think there was much else to be said about it. Then a vegan colleague brought in an excellent egg- and dairy-free loaf and revealed it contained both pumpkin and pumpkin ale, and my mind was blown.

Pumpkin-beer bread makes perfect sense. First of all, beer is an excellent liquid ingredient for baking. Beer bread – which, at its simplest, contains flour, baking powder, salt, oil, and a 12-ounce bottle of your favorite brew – has a fabulously yeasty flavor and moist texture, but is much simpler to make than actual yeast bread. And its deep, savory yeastiness is exactly what’s missing from pumpkin bread. Without beer, the dominant flavor of pumpkin bread is sweetness. With beer, there’s tartness and complexity mixed in. Pumpkin bread made with beer lives up to the name bread, and deliciously so.

Though my colleague’s vegan bread was exceptional, I generally prefer my baked goods nonvegan, so I came up with a recipe containing the usual suspects – butter and eggs – plus brown sugar and a smattering of gingerbread spices. (Cinnamon is nonnegotiable; you can omit one or two of the others or swap them out for cloves instead.) Canned pumpkin is my preference, but if you have the time and inclination to bake and mash fresh pumpkin, then bake and mash your heart out. It is, after all, gourd season – and so the obligatory choice for the beer is pumpkin ale.

This recipe is easy, as most quick breads are, but will likely leave you with the mild quandary of leftover beer and pumpkin. I hope I don’t have to tell you what to do with the leftover beer. As for the pumpkin, you can freeze it till Thanksgiving, stir it into vegetable soup or substitute it for some of the liquid in your next batch of pancakes, biscuits or French toast.

Pumpkin-Beer Bread

Yield: One 9-inch loaf (About 12 servings)

Time: 1¼ hours

Oil or butter for greasing the pan

1¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch ground nutmeg

Pinch ground allspice

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup pumpkin purée

1 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup pumpkin ale

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan. Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice in a large bowl.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat (or in a medium bowl in the microwave). Remove from the heat. Stir in the pumpkin and brown sugar, then stir in the eggs. Finally, stir in the pumpkin ale. Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and stir just until combined, then transfer the batter to the greased pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool thoroughly, then slice and serve.

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