It’s that time again!
Halloween! My favorite holiday!
When my mind automatically turns to thoughts of rotund fiery orange gourds! There is just something about them – all orange and stripety – that makes me happy!
How can anyone resist a smile when they look upon a jack-o-lantern?
Pumpkins seem to call to fall. To warm soups and bracingly crisp winds! They seem to summon steam from cooking pots and smoke from chimneys. It is pumpkins that hale the turning of the leaves. Sweater weather.
And it is their cooking scent that seems to cut the ribbon on the opening of “Holiday Season.”
I have been seeing them in stores. Gingerly peeking from behind flowers and potted plants. Easing their way towards the spot light. Pumpkin patches are beginning to spring up like mushrooms and with them the candy isles are filling with orange and black.
The pumpkins are calling to me as well. They beckon with soft promises of creamy baked pies and cinnamon scented breads.
I am helpless against their siren song!
So the collection of recipes begins. The planning for casual but intense fall trysts. The careful, loving selections of this seasons must haves.
So many recipes to choose from. Some with ingredients a mile long. Some so basic and simple that they demand to be made right now!
I had been wavering! Waffling between making pie or custard; all the while secretly lusting after deep ochre loaves of pumpkin bread. In the end, it was a simple recipe that caught my attention. It came from the aptly named “Simply Recipes” which is a lovely site. Not only does Elise keep true to the site name but she also keeps an eye out for bargains in cooking essential (ok… I consider Le Creuset a cooking essential).
What caught my attention in her adaptation of the Fanny Farmer Cookbook was how pure it was. Pumpkin, spices and not much else. This was of course attractive because I could go ahead and muck with it as much as I wanted. The simpler the recipe the easier it is to play with.
And though I didn’t mean to, I ended up changing it completely.
In my head I envisioned a loaf filled with an ooey-gooey ribbon of cinnamon spiced cream cheese. Which of course did not match the reality that cooking a loaf like that would likely render the top charcoal and the bottom somewhat underdone. Especially in an already moist quick bread.
Remembering that all quick breads can be muffins and all muffins can become quick breads, I quickly found a way out of my dilemma. *Ahem* So I could have my cake and eat it too.
I also added dried cranberries because they go so well with pumpkin. And vanilla to re-hydrate the cranberries (mostly because I can’t stand to make baked goods without a good quantity of vanilla). With that I changed the spices to simply ginger and cinnamon letting some of the complexity of flavor be carried by the vanilla. The white sugar got swapped out for raw cane sugar to highlight the fall-like notes of caramel that pumpkin evokes. And lastly I changed the water to light coconut milk to provide the most pleasant of softly sweet background harmony.
The result was a perfect, moist crumb. Not too sweet and airy light. They were almost in themselves creamy, a result no doubt of the olive oil, the illusion heightened by the addition of a cream cheese center. While not necessary by any means, the recipe is good enough to stand on its own; the cream cheese nugget sent these muffins over the top. From just simply good to simply sensational.
I managed to actually get a hold of one muffin for myself. The rest vanished without a single trace. This from a family of self avowed pumpkin haters.
All in all a keeper recipe
Pumpkin Muffins or Bread
1 ½ cups (210g) whole wheat pasty flour (or all purpose flour)
½ teaspoon of salt
1 cup (200 g) raw sugar 
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (1/4 L) pumpkin purée
1/2 cup (1 dL) olive oil 
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup light coconut milk (or almond/soy milk or water)
½ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla
½ cup (1 dL) dried cranberries or cherries
1 8oz package Neufchatel or light cream cheese
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
Combine the vanilla and cranberries. Allow to stand for 15 minutes.
Combine the filling ingredients and stir with a fork until completely combined. Add more cinnamon if necessary.
Microwave the spices for 1 minute on high to heighten their flavors. Mix the pumpkin, oil, eggs, coconut milk, and spices together. Add the cranberries and sugar to the pumpkin mixture and stir thoroughly. Allow to stand while you prepare the flour. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Then combine he dry ingredients with the pumpkin mixture in 3 steps. Do NOT over mix. Mix just until combined.
Grease 16 regular muffin tins. Fill each muffin tin 1/3 full. Place 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each muffin. Add additional batter to fill the tins ¾ full, making sure that all of the filling is covered. Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Pour into a well-buttered 9x5x3 inch loaf pan. Bake 50-60 minutes until a straw poked in the very center of the loaf comes out clean. Turn out of the pan and let cool on a rack.
Makes one loaf or 16 muffins
 Raw sugar does not melt well on it's own. To help it along, put the sugar in the food processor or spice grinder and process untill fine.
 I used orange infused, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil. It is OK because the pumpkin has a distinctive flavor but in general a light olive oil might be better.