Monday, November 7, 2011

‘Tis the Season–for Baking

I promised a loaf of pumpkin bread for Halloween, but Halloween came and went and still I had not cut the pumpkins. So finally the day came. I had to slice and dice those pumpkins because the bottom of one of them was starting to look a little squeamish. Now it’s been a long time since I have baked from scratch. There was a period in my life when I gave serious consideration to becoming a pastry chef. Baking was fun. The only bad part was I ate my endeavors and after escalating in weight, I thought better of this career choice and went on to become a photographer and writer. I wouldn’t have ventured back into this realm now except for the fact that two lovely sugar pumpkins came into my hands and I just couldn’t bring myself to use them for decorations. Thus begins my saga of creating pumpkin bread.


First of all, find a recipe that works for you. Do not contact your niece in Florida for the recipe she wrote about on Facebook because it may tax your mathematical abilities. That was my first mistake because, while the recipe in itself is just fine, it calls for ingredients to make three loaves of pumpkin bread. I only wanted to make one loaf. I actually was fairly sure that I would not have enough pumpkin for more than one loaf. I was wrong on that point but more about that later.

I surveyed the recipe and tried to figure out how to do the math that would result in ingredient amounts for one loaf. HA! It called for expertise in fractions and maybe even Algebra. Now I flunked fractions in the 5th grade. That was year that Dad died and I had to change schools three times. No matter how many pies my mother cut up trying to teach me fractions, it was to no avail. And as to Algebra, well, heck., come on, I didn’t even pass fractions! And to this day I am not much of a pie lover.

So my decision was final. I would make three loaves.


I guess the pumpkin gods wanted to make sure their progeny had long lives because they certainly supplied them with thick skin. I approached my pumpkins with my finest large knife. I pressed the point down on the top of the pumpkin near the stem. Don’t do this. Especially if you suffer at all from a bad back as the instant jarring from the fact that the knife goes nowhere is not good for thoracic levels 6 and 7, not to mention Lumbar 4 and 5. You will not want to explain to your orthopedic doctor when he asks, “How did you injure your back?”

“Ah, trying to cut open a pumpkin.”

My next approach was to grasp the knife as if I were intending to kill someone and stab at the pumpkin midway down from the stem. This was somewhat more successful. The knife did go into the pumpkin. But that was all. I could not make it cut down at all. I couldn’t move it at all. And it was impossible to get it out of the pumpkin. What should you do in this case? Get a hammer.

Firmly grasping the pumpkin I swung the hammer down on the part of the knife sticking out of the pumpkin. It moved. It was actually cutting. I swung the hammer again and each successive swack moved the knife through the pumpkin. Eventually I was able to cut all the way around the beast and pry it open. Now I had to get rid of the seeds and strings.


The healthy pumpkin, not the one that was going a bit squeamish, was not too bad for getting the seeds out and scraping judiciously at the stringy stuff with a tablespoon eventually got most of that removed. Squeamish pumpkin on the other hand did not go as well. The seeds were not the problem. But no amount of  scraping with the tablespoon would totally remove the strings. The spoon just slid over them without pulling them out. What to do? I took the large kitchen shears and began to cut at the strings. Kind of like giving a haircut on the inside of someone’s skull. I got as much out as I could and then decided that what was left would most certainly get broken up in the blender. Yeah.

By now I had quite a bit of pumpkin pulp in a bowl. Actually it was almost overflowing with pumpkin pulp. I looked at my recipe. It called for 15 ounces of pumpkin puree. Hmmm. Short of piling the mush onto my old Weight Watchers scale, I had no idea how much pulp I had. But I was now pretty sure I had more than enough for three loaves. A short note on the recipe said something about putting it into zip-lock baggies and freezing it. I made a mental note of that.

(By the way, I cut out the squeamish part of pumpkin number two and only used the healthy part. Now, you didn’t really think I would serve up a molding pumpkin bread, did you?)

In retrospect I now think that the best way to cut a pumpkin is with a hatchet. Furthermore there must be some special seed-and-stringy removal tool on the market and if not, someone really should invent one. Short of these tools, my recommendation is to buy pumpkin puree in a can and let the food processing plant handle the cutting and gutting.


I took my overflowing bowl of pumpkin pulp to the blender and spooned in a bunch that reached halfway up the glass holder. I secured the top and hit the puree button. Nothing moved. It was noisy. I turned it off and took off the top and felt around with the spoon. Nothing felt pureed. I tried again and this time I could see a bit of movement at the base of the blender container. There was too much pumpkin in the container. I opened it again and took out half the amount, plopping it back into the overflowing bowl. I hit puree again. A little more action, but still, it wasn’t looking like anything pureed. I repeated the action several times and finally got about half a cup of pureed pumpkin. At this rate it would take a couple of hours to puree all the pumpkin that was in the bowl. I abandoned the blender.

It was time for the mixer. I got my portable mixer out of the back of the drawer it has been stored in since I gave up baking from scratch. It still worked so I was set. Except now I had to transfer the pumpkin pulp to a larger bowl since inserting the mixer in the bowl the pulp was in would make the mash fly all over the room. Now I had two bowls to clean up not to mention the pile of seeds and strings.

But using the mixer was the solution. At least I hoped so. I’m not sure the pulp actually turned out as pureed, but in my estimation it was close enough.

Note to the cooking public. Get a food processor not a blender.


Now it was time to put together all the ingredients. Two more bowls were necessary. I combined my wet ingredients in one bowl – pumpkin puree, four eggs, oil, water – the bowl was filling up. In the second bowl I put three and one half cups of flour – hmmm, the bowl was three-quarters full – baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and what the heck, I added pumpkin spice. Now both bowls were pretty much full. I could tell that inserting the mixer would cause a disaster with gloppy pumpkin bread ingredients oozing all over the table. It was time to dig out a bigger bowl. This meant transferring the gooey wet ingredients from the first bowl as well as the dry ingredients from the second bowl. Try this. You tell me if you can do it without getting wet and dry ingredients all over the place. So now I had the original bowls to clean, the seeds and strings to dispose of, and glop all over the table. Sigh.


Next step – grease the pans. Messy. What can I say? Messy. Wash your hands with Dawn dishwashing liquid. It really does cut grease.

Flour the pans. Hmmmm. I never used to do this step when I baked. Perhaps it is a good idea, I thought. No. It was a BAD idea! I’ve seen floured baking pans that other people have done – you know, on the cooking channel. They looked nicely, evenly floured. I scooped out a teaspoon of flour and tossed it into one of the pans. It did not spread nicely and evenly. It fell into the pan in lumps  and no amount of tossing the pan around would spread it because it stuck to the grease. I added more flour and tried again. (Don’t do this) Same result. All three pans turned out the same with lumps of flour. Sigh.

Since I now couldn’t remove the flour I decided it would have to do and I poured the mixed ingredients into the overly floured pans and popped them into the heated oven. Fifty minutes later I pulled one out and inserted a toothpick into the middle. Still gooey. Back into the oven for 10 more minutes.


What do you know? They turned out pretty good. After they cooled I popped them out of the pans onto a large plate. “Uh oh, what is that white stuff on the bottom?” Yes, it was that flour. So I had to scrape that off of all three loaves, but no harm was done. After all, it only looked bad, it was flour, not mold.


Five bowls, spoons, measuring cups, the mixer, et al – to be washed. The table – to be scrubbed. No, I don’t have a dishwasher. Sigh.

But gee, that pumpkin bread sure tasted good. In two days I polished off one. I guess I had better deliver the other two to the people I promised them to. Not to worry, I have enough pumpkin pulp left over to make three more loaves!
Pumpkin bread 001

No comments: