We are one week into September, which can only mean one thing: Let the Fall pumpkin onslaught begin! I have a finite tolerance for pumpkin every year. I love it during October and November, and after Thanksgiving, I am so done. This year, I’m starting a little early due to our accelerated baking schedule for Baking Sunday Mornings… I made this Pumpkin Croissant Bread Pudding last year for the holiday, and I did not care for it– until the next day, when it was absolutely delicious. When it comes to pumpkin, sometimes I either really like things or really don’t; I had the exact same experience with this recipe for Chocolate-Chunk Pumpkin Bread Pudding from the Pumpkin chapter of Baked Elements. On the day of baking, the pumpkin was so pungent and overpowering– I took one bite and didn’t care to have any more. I was pretty bummed, as the pumpkin bread was really good. But THEN, when I brought the pudding to work to foist onto others, I tried another serving… and it was freaking delicious! The pumpkin had mellowed, allowing the chocolate to shine, and the flavors had melded beautifully– very aromatic and perfectly autumnal.
First off, the recipe calls for pumpkin purée, which you can make yourself, or you can just use canned pumpkin. I find raw pumpkin purée to be the most foul-smelling substance probably in my entire pantry; I definitely had no intention of messing with raw pumpkins for this. (Although in fairness, maybe they don’t smell as bad as the canned stuff…) But even if I wanted to make it from scratch, since I actually made this recipe just prior to September 1, there were no pumpkins to be found at the store, nor at the farmers’ market. In fact, it was even difficult to find cans! Fortunately I had one can from last year and managed to locate another at the store, so off I went to make pumpkin bread…
Despite my fickle relationship with pumpkin, I do so love Fall baking– it is by far my favorite season for baking, cooking, and pretty much everything. Opening up those Fall spices, and especially grating fresh nutmeg, is always the ceremonial ushering-in of the season for me. This recipe is made in two parts: first you will make a delicious and moist chocolate-chunk pumpkin bread, then you’ll make a pumpkin custard with which to soak and bake the bread.
As is the case with many a quick bread, this recipe is extremely easy to execute. You will first combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and all the spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger) in a bowl. Then the oil and pumpkin purée get whisked in a separate bowl, with subsequent additions of sugar, eggs, vanilla, and water. Don’t worry if the mixture looks curdly or separated at first; it will come together as you add the ingredients. Stir the chocolate chunks into the wet ingredients. By the way, I recommend using hand-chopped chocolate from a block for this; it’s great to have different sized pieces of chocolate laced throughout the batter.
You’ll then fold the dry ingredients into the pumpkin-chocolate mixture. The recipe explicitly says not to over-mix, so I was concerned about the many flour lumps in the batter, but they dissolved during baking with no issues. The loaf baked up dark and handsome in 87 minutes. I’m usually on the lower end of baking time for BAKED recipes, and I was tempted to pull the pumpkin bread out of the oven earlier a few times, but then I remembered what happened when I made Honey Banana Poppy Seed Bread, so I made myself be patient, even though it felt like the exterior might be slightly overdone. Must. Wait. For. Middle. To. Bake.
Once the bread has cooled, you will cut it into cubes, which must then be toasted in a 325°F oven. Of course I couldn’t resist tasting the bread– it was quite lovely and moist. (In fact, the loaf maybe could have spent a few more minutes in the oven, but it didn’t matter much for this recipe.) I used 72% dark chocolate for the chunks, which worked very nice with the strong pumpkin flavor. (It probably helps that I let the bread sit overnight and tasted it the next day.) The toasting took an extra 5-10 minutes longer than the prescribed baking time in the recipe, for a total of about 30-35 minutes. Once they cooled, their texture resembled croutons.
While the bread cubes are cooling, make the pumpkin custard. Again, super quick and easy. Use a giant bowl for this if you have one– I recently picked up one of those really wide, shallow metal bowls at a restaurant supply store. Though it was excessively large, it was perfect for this step, because in any of my smaller bowls, I would have had wet bread cubes all over the kitchen counter.
Anyway, whisk the eggs, egg yolks, and brown sugar in the bowl. Add the half-and-half, pumpkin purée, and 5 tablespoons of melted butter, and whisk together. Then add salt, vanilla, and another slew of Fall spices (cloves, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cayenne– yes, really). Here’s why you need the huge bowl: you’ll stir in 6 cups of the toasted bread cubes. Toss them in the custard so that all are covered, and let them soak for about 30 minutes, tossing a few times to redistribute the liquid. I had lots of little chunks of butter that had re-solidified, which I was little worried about, but the mixture was fine once everything baked together.
You’ll now assemble the bread pudding. I’ve been on a “minis” kick lately, and I decided to make this bread pudding into individual servings like I did last week with Crunchy Peanut Butter Banana Bread. The recipe intro suggests baking this pudding in ramekins for a more elegant presentation, but I decided to use the pretty “tulip” baking papers that I’ve had forever. (It was mad fun last week using the mini loaf pans– I can’t be stopped now.) I placed 12 tulips in a muffin pan, each of which allows for a jumbo individual serving.
The last step in putting together the bread pudding is to toss the remaining 1 cup of bread cubes with the rest of the melted butter. Set these aside for a moment while you fill your baking vessel with the custardized pumpkin cubes. I was able to fit about 6 or so cubes into each tulip cup, along with some of the custard liquid. I ended up with quite a lot of custard left in the mixing bowl after filling the papers, so I was worried that they’d be dry (but that was not at all the case). Finally, scatter the buttered cubes on top of the pudding mixture. I managed to get one cube into each tulip cup.
The book says that individual servings should bake in 25 minutes, but these took about 40 before the toothpick came out mostly clean. I kept checking them, and they just looked liquidy, with an excess of butter on top, until about 30 minutes in, when the puddings started to set.
They came out of the oven slightly puffed, with a lovely spiced aroma– this recipe seemed very promising! And they were very cute in their little paper tulips. I let them cool almost to room temperature in the pan, then split one open… This is where I became very sad.
As I mentioned above, the pumpkin was really overpowering, maybe even… bitter? I was not interested in a second bite, but I made myself try it again with some caramel sauce. Still a no for me (although my husband did really like it that first night).
Totally bummed out, I transferred the pudding cups to a container for transport to work the following morning (surely some pumpkin fiends would take them off my hands?), but forgot to grab it on my way out. I brought them the next day, and when I was hungry for a mid-morning snack, I decided to give it another try. What a world of difference! On Day 3, the bread pudding was very dense, rich, custardy, and moist– just perfect. It needed no sauce or other garnish, as the pudding had developed a really lovely balanced flavor. Happy pumpkin baker. 🙂
I’m still not sure what the purpose was of tossing a cup of bread cubes in butter and placing them on top– maybe it distributes some extra butter on the pudding surface? At any rate, I would call this recipe a belated success; it taught me that I can’t judge a pumpkin recipe on the first day!
While it was very tasty, one thing it is not, is photogenic– the pudding is very dark in color and not much to look at, especially with poor kitchen lighting. This was one of the hardest recipes to photograph and edit– I should’ve dusted some powdered sugar on there to lighten it up and give it some contour. Fortunately, that doesn’t much matter when you’re shoveling it into your mouth!
To start off your Fall pumpkin fix right, head to Baked Sunday Mornings for the Chocolate-Chunk Pumpkin Bread Pudding recipe, and check out everyone else’s puddings too. Incidentally, you can also just bake the wonderful chocolate pumpkin bread on its own. We have a couple more pumpkin recipes coming up before we move on to the forthcoming Baked Occasions book in November– can’t wait! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2014.