I must admit, I struggle to understand exactly where we as a society are on the whole Pumpkin Spice Everything Backlash thing. Of course, I struggle with this in the same way that one might struggle to pass an exam they didn’t bother studying for. I’m unsure on the finer points of this argument: are we just mad about Starbucks’ PSL’s, or is it using pumpkin and cinnamon et al to make things that don’t need it/outright shouldn’t have it, like Oreos or Pringles, or are we also protesting baked goods with pumpkin, like scones or muffins and the like? All I really know is that Martha Stewart recently declared pumpkin spice everything “only for basic bitches” and she totally wins the internet for that.
All this to say, I’m assuming that pumpkin bread gets a free pass, given that it’s literally older than Starbucks itself. I know I partook of loaves my mom or friends’ moms would make, and in 2005 I made my first batch myself. Which was a very scarring experience, due to me being a very novice baker and not realizing that when a recipe calls for FOUR CUPS OF SUGAR and ALMOST 5 CUPS OF FLOUR, it absolutely will yield three full loaves of bread, and no, two people cannot finish them off no matter how gluttonous they might be feeling at the time.
I abandoned that recipe and have made many others in various ways: I’ve added bananas, or chocolate chips, or nuts, or a streusel topping. And pretty much no matter what, pumpkin bread is always yummy. I never found it transcendent, but definitely tasty. Until I tried Ovenly’s. I mean, they wrote the book on pumpkin bread (literally, they wrote a book) and I was content and certain that I could confidently hop off the pumpkin bread train at the Ovenly stop. That would be my go-to pumpkin bread for the rest of time.
I hope it’s not too hypocritical to say I stand by that statement while also saying that I stumbled upon Melissa Clark’s pumpkin bread recipe, and since it has words like Brown Butter AND Bourbon in the title, well, down the rabbit hole I fell. I’d like to think it wasn’t my fault because I couldn’t possibly have been expected to exert any self-control in a situation like that. Now I can have two go-to pumpkin breads in my arsenal, right? Because no one should be missing out on this one. It very much is transcendent, with a lovely background bite from the bourbon and both the brown butter and whole wheat flour accentuating the earthiness of the pumpkin. It’s just amazing. Enjoy!
½ cup (1 stick, 8 tbs) unsalted butter
½ cup bourbon
1 tbs vanilla extract
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree (or 1 ¾ cup if using homemade)
4 large eggs
½ cup canola or vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 ¾ cups brown sugar
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cardamom (can substitute ground allspice if you discover that your cardamom went rancid RIGHT before you were about to measure it out)
Preheat your oven to 350 F and arrange a rack in the center. Grease two 8×4-inch loaf pans.
In a small saucepan or skillet, preferably stainless steel, melt the butter over medium heat. Cook until it turns a nutty, brown color, smells heavenly, and the bubbling has started to subside. Watch it carefully as brown butter turns into burnt butter faster than humans blink. Set aside the butter and let cool slightly.
In a glass liquid measuring cup, combine the bourbon and vanilla. Add water until you reach the ⅔ cup mark. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the bourbon mixture, pumpkin puree, eggs, and oil. With a spatula, scrape all the brown butter from the pot into the pumpkin mixture and whisk to combine.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom (or allspice). Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and whisk or stir to combine.
Divide batter between the two greased loaf pans. Place them on a rimmed baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean. Let the bread cool completely before removing from pan.