This spiced pumpkin loaf cake is an easy pumpkin bread recipe to make with canned pumpkin, flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves, yielding a perfect moist pumpkin bread for fall baking. It's made with canola oil but you can use butter instead. Feel free to add dried cranberries to this recipe.
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Loaf cakes are easy, but they're harder to bake than muffins
Sometimes the easiest recipes are hard to get right. Loaf cakes fall into this category. Most of them are made with the easiest two-bowl mixing method, just like muffins, and yet it can be a real challenge to balance the wet and the dry ingredients properly for a loaf cake. While muffins are small and have a lot of edge to them, meaning a lot of contact with the hot baking pan, loaf cakes are thick, made with a lot of batter and baked in a deep pan. This can lead to problems achieving the perfect cake crumb that's not too dense, and not wet.
You'll notice a lot of slices of pumpkin cake and banana bread in photos and in cafés and bakeries have a dark line towards the bottom of the slice: that line is a layer of "gummy" batter where the heat of the oven didn't quite reach. It's a sign that the cake is under-baked and of cake collapse where the structure of the crumb wasn't set enough before taking the cake out of the oven to cool.
The first time I wrote about a pumpkin bread was in 2010 when I tried to improve an existing recipe for pumpkin bread that didn't work for me. The original recipe not only had pumpkin purée, which has a high moisture content, but it also had a lot of liquid (orange juice), which made it next to impossible to bake the cake properly in the middle without having to bake it for an hour and a half or more.
After years of testing and improving on that base recipe, the recipe you see here looks nothing like the original because it has more pumpkin, more flour, and different amounts of chemical leaveners. This is the best version of the pumpkin bread recipe yet.
Pumpkin is acidic
Pumpkin loaf cake recipes and banana bread recipes are VERY similar. When I set out to develop this recipe, I expected a pumpkin bread to work just like banana bread. I thought that you could simply replace the volume of mashed banana with the same volume of pumpkin purée. Both pumpkin purée and mashed banana fall in the same pH range, below 7 and slightly acidic.
Actually, pumpkin is around 4 and banana is around 5, so they really aren't the same pH. Pumpkin is more acidic than banana. And while I was quite successful at eliminating the baking soda in banana bread without much trouble and replacing it with baking powder, that didn't work as well in pumpkin bread!
Taking my basic banana bread recipe and replacing the banana with the same amount of pumpkin purée led to very long baking times and also a slight gummy layer on the bottom. I had to bring back the baking soda in the recipe, but small amounts didn't cut it. I finally settled on using equal amounts of baking soda and baking powder, so 1 teaspoon of each. That's a lot of baking soda for a loaf cake recipe, if you ask me, but using this combination yielded the best results: a perfect pumpkin bread that was soft, moist, flavourful, and properly baked, even in the middle. No gummy layer here!
Pumpkin purée can be very watery
I really didn't want to have to tell you to pull out the cheesecloth and strainer, but I think you *may* have to. Depending on the brand of canned pumpkin or the type of pumpkin or squash you baked to make your purée, the pumpkin purée you have *may* be watery, so strain it through a cheesecloth to remove as much water as possible. Do this for at least 30 minutes to an hour, and give it the occasional squeeze, stir, press to make sure you are evenly removing water from all the purée and just not a part. This is especially important if you are baking with homemade pumpkin purée.
Now, it's true, that most canned pumpkin is dry enough: Libby's and E.D. Smith canned pure pumpkin don't need straining. But when I tested a third brand that was organic, I realized what I had was thin almost like apple sauce and was too watery to bake a pumpkin bread with. Straining it, I found that over a third of the volume was water! If you are in doubt, take the extra time to strain the pumpkin just to make sure it's dry enough for most recipes. If no water comes out, great! If tons of water comes out, then this wasn't a total waste of your time.
This is the same technique I use with defrosted bananas when I'm making a basic banana bread, otherwise it might end up gummy on the bottom. Same goes for pumpkin. Realistically, any type of squash or pumpkin purée will work in this recipe. Mashed sweet potato will also work. Just make sure to stick to the quantities of each ingredient listed and measure carefully.
Buttermilk makes for a tender pumpkin cake but...
Because I had a moisture issue with my recipe, in the final version, I made sure to use either canned pure pumpkin (which is more dry than homemade) or strained homemade pumpkin purée. A lot of pumpkin bread recipes have you add extra liquid, either milk or buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream, or even orange juice. This never works for me and always leads to a wet gummy layer on the bottom, prolonged baking times, and even loaf cake sinking. In the end, I opted to focus on increasing the amount of pumpkin in the recipe, rather than adding another liquid. This worked very well and saves you a trip to the store for buttermilk! You won't miss it in this recipe, to be honest.
Bake loaf cakes for a long time
Your pumpkin bread will take over an hour to bake. Be patient: pumpkin is considered a "heavy" ingredient that can weigh down the batter. More pumpkin means it takes more time to evaporate/dry the crumb of the cake and set the structure. You don't want to end up with a gummy unbaked layer at the bottom of the loaf. Some people are okay with that, but to me, that is unacceptable. Also, if you are planning on adding cranberries, use dried cranberries because fresh and frozen cranberries causes pockets of gumminess in the cake surrounding the berries. Not good.
Remember to use a few methods to check if your cake is done baking before you remove it from the oven. Otherwise, if the crumb is even a little under-baked, you will notice cake collapse, which is most obvious when you cut into the loaf: you will see a thin line of dark dense cake. That's under-baked moist cake batter that collapsed.
Mixing cake batter: creaming method vs muffin method
I have tested both the traditional creaming method for making this loaf cake and the muffin method, and both work great:
- If you want to use softened butter (room temperature butter), then go for the creaming method, whereby you beat together butter and sugar, add eggs one at at a time, then alternate wet and dry ingredients to form a smooth, fluffy cake batter. You could use either a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer.
- If you want to use melted butter or oil, use the muffin mixing method, which only requires two bowls (one for the wet ingredients and one for the dry ingredients), as well as a whisk and a spatula. It's easy and the cleanup is minimal and I think the results in this case are just as good as with the creaming method.
The pumpkin bread recipe below has canola oil instead of butter. If you want to make a baking substitution and use butter but you don't feel like hauling out the mixer to cream the butter and the sugar, stick to the muffin method of mixing! Use melted butter, or a mixture of melted butter and oil. It will work. If you are highly motivated, you can use room temperature butter and revert back to the traditional creaming method. All roads lead to cake but I will let you choose your own adventure.
The final recipe for pumpkin loaf cake is great and I know the recipe by heart because I've tweaked this recipe so many times. And if you want to add cranberries, stick to dried cranberries, otherwise with fresh or frozen cranberries, you will get some gumminess around the baked fruit, which I find unpleasant. And if you want an eggless version, try this healthier pumpkin bread. It's a dairy-free and vegan pumpkin bread, made with a little less sugar too.
Pumpkin loaf cake
- 250 grams (2 cups) bleached all-purpose flour
- 5 mL (1 teaspoon) baking powder
- 5 mL (1 teaspoon) baking soda
- 5 mL (1 teaspoon) ground cinnamon
- 5 mL (1 teaspoon) Diamond Crystal fine kosher salt
- 2.5 mL (½ teaspoon) ground ginger
- 1.25 mL (¼ teaspoon) ground cloves
- 1.25 mL (¼ teaspoon) ground nutmeg
- 375 mL (1½ cups) pumpkin purée or strained homemade pumpkin purée
- 150 grams (¾ cup) light brown sugar
- 100 grams (½ cup) granulated sugar
- 125 mL (½ cup) canola oil
- 2 large eggs
- 5 mL (1 teaspoon) pure vanilla extract
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin purée, brown sugar, granulated sugar, canola oil, eggs, and vanilla.
- Pour the dry mixture over the wet ingredients. Fold the ingredients with about 16-20 stirs just to combine them.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it out. Bang the pan on the counter to help remove any air pockets.
- Bake the pumpkin cake until a cake tester inserted into the centre comes out clean. This takes about 1 hour 15 minutes. Keep checking it every so often.
- Place the pan of baked pumpkin bread on a cooling rack and let it cool for 15 minutes before unmolding it on the rack to cool completely.
- Most canned pumpkin purées are pretty dry, but some are watery. To be sure you aren't adding excess liquid to this pumpkin cake recipe, strain the pumpkin before measuring it. To do so:
- Set a strainer over a deep bowl and line it with a couple layers of cheesecloth.
- Place the pumpkin in the lined strainer and let drain for at least 30 minutes.
- Occasionally, give the pumpkin a stir, a press, or a squeeze to help remove any excess liquid.
- Once the pumpkin is thicker and less watery, you are ready to measure out the cup for this recipe.
- If you are using defrosted pumpkin purée, you may notice the water will separate upon defrosting. Again, this is a good reason to strain it before using.
- The baking times suggested are for a cake baked in the OXO loaf pan from Amazon with similar results, yielding a taller loaf cake.
Troubleshooting pumpkin bread recipes
It's unlikely this recipe will yield a dry cake, even if you over-bake it a little (in an attempt to avoid the dreaded soggy bottom!). If your cake is dry, it's possible you may have mis-measured the oil or the pumpkin purée. Even if you forgot the eggs, the recipe would still work since it's actually almost exactly the same as this eggless healthier pumpkin bread!
A dry cake texture could also indicate that you overworked the cake batter by stirring it too much. This would develop the gluten network leading to a dryer texture. Stir just until the wet and dry ingredients are combined, and don't keep stirring.
It's too delicate
This pumpkin cranberry loaf cake is not dense, and it is very tender, so make sure to cut it into thick slices! Still, if you find your cake is falling apart when you go to serve it, this means there's a problem. Did you mix your ingredients together properly and enough?
Of course, you don't want to over-mix cake batters and you don't want to develop the gluten network too much, but if you haven't properly whisked together your dry ingredients separately from the wet ingredients, there's a possibility that the batter was uneven and not homogenous, which could lead to weak spots in the cake. In the same way, an over-mixed cake batter may yield a dry cake that may be more prone to crumbling.
Another reason your cake might be falling apart is if you didn't smooth out the batter in the pan and remove air bubbles. This would lead to larger holes in the crumb of the cake, making it more prone to collapsing.
It's wet or gummy on the bottom
With recipes like banana bread and pumpkin bread, the goal is to incorporate as much fruit purée as the batter can handle. Too much will throw off the ratio of wet to dry ingredients. This means you may not have enough flour to absorb that moisture, leading to a gummy bottom on your quick breads.
Similarly, if you don't bake your quick breads for long enough, you may also noticed a line of gummy batter on the bottom of the loaf. Remember to use a few methods to check if your cake is done baking before you remove it from the oven. Otherwise, if the crumb is even a little under-baked, you will notice cake collapse, which is most obvious when you cut into the loaf: you will see a thin line of dark dense cake. That's under-baked moist cake batter that collapsed.
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