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Il faut cultiver notre jardin

“Pangloss disait quelquefois à Candide: ‘Tous les événements sont enchaînés dans le meilleur des mondes possibles; car enfin, si vous n’aviez pas été chassé d’un beau château à grands coups de pied dans le derrière pour l’amour de Mlle Cunégonde, si vous n’aviez pas été mis à l’Inquisition, si vous n’aviez pas couru l’Amérique à pied, si vous n’aviez pas donné un bon coup d’épée au baron, si vous n’aviez pas perdu tous vos moutons du bon pays d’Eldorado, vous ne mangeriez pas ici des cédrats confits et des pistaches.’

‘Cela est bien dit,’ répondit Candide, ‘mais il faut cultiver notre jardin.’”

—Voltaire, Candide

Like Voltaire’s Candide—who slogged his way to the good life through a haphazard and mind-boggling maze of hardships, mistakes, traps, and lost loves—I often wonder at the strange, seemingly slapdash chain of events that delivers us into each second of our lives. Take, for instance, the following: if I hadn’t gone to my dear Northern California college, I might not have gone to Paris in 1999; if I hadn’t gone to Paris, I wouldn’t have befriended Keaton; if I hadn’t befriended Keaton, I wouldn’t have felt so happily inclined to come to Seattle in 2002; if I hadn’t befriended Keaton and come to Seattle, I wouldn’t have met Kate; if I hadn’t met Kate, I wouldn’t have met Nicho; if I hadn’t met Nicho, I wouldn’t have been given bags and coolers full of his homegrown vegetables; and if I hadn’t been given those homegrown vegetables, I might not be here today, typing these words. I might well have starved to death, martyring myself in the name of rent payments and meager monthly contributions to NPR.

But as fate would have it, all but the last did miraculously occur. And today, I feel infinitely lucky to cultivate this Seattle garden, both human and vegetable. After all, we know it could have turned out otherwise.

As befits the season, I’ve recently been showered with Swiss chard and pumpkins, the garden's bounty. For Halloween, Nicho bestowed upon me a generous-sized pumpkin with a picture-perfect curly stem, cut from his yard that very afternoon. Then, a week or so ago, he called to ask if he could bring over "raw materials" and cook dinner with me. This, dear reader, ranks among the greatest questions in the history of mankind. You can well imagine my answer.

Nicho arrived twenty-four hours later with a bagful of Swiss chard, stubby dirt-flecked carrots, two enormous acorn squashes, and a bunch of mystery greens (which his mother claims is spinach, but it looked more like leafy geranium stems, minus the flowers). He also selected three varieties of sausage at Whole Foods, as well as a couple Belgian beers in tall glass bottles. He knows how I feel about sausage, and he delivers. That is friendship.

I need not tell you how delicious it was; that much is clear. But even better, later in the evening, after I saw him to the door, I discovered that the bag of Swiss chard remained, nearly full.

I slept very, very well.

The next evening, I cut the Swiss chard into a rough chiffonade and sautéed it with thinly sliced onion, stirred it into eggs beaten with salty grated cheese, and cooked it gently on the stovetop, a Swiss chard version of a zucchini-and-Pecorino frittata. It was barely golden, full of sweet onions and bitter greens. Delicious that night, it was even better as room-temperature leftovers, eaten on a couch in the art school café while talking applied anthropology and local scandal with Robert.

But Nicho’s pumpkin remained. It was aging well, although it took up acres of counter-space in my small kitchen. I knew it was a sugar pumpkin and thus ideal for baking, but I was indecisive: cheesecake? Pie? Bread? Then, one night shortly before Thanksgiving, Keaton arrived for cocktails with a pumpkin in her shirt, pregnancy-style; now there were two. The situation was dire. Not being a huge proponent of pumpkin pies and mousses, I set my sights on pumpkin bread, which offered the added benefit of perfuming my apartment with spice and toasted nuts.

A dusty orange color, spotted with crunchy hazelnuts and translucent golden raisins, the bread was tender and moist with a very delicate crumb. It’s sweet and spicy, with an earthy pumpkin flavor and a warm note of ginger. And it would make a lovely gift.

Go cultivate that garden.

Pumpkin Bread with Hazelnuts and Golden Raisins
Adapted from The New Joy of Cooking

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp baking powder
1/3 cup water
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
6 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup pumpkin purée (or cooked, puréed—until very smooth—winter squash, yams, or sweet potatoes), at room temperature
½ cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts
1/3 cup golden raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease (with butter or cooking spray) a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan.

Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and baking powder until thoroughly blended. In another bowl, mix water and vanilla extract. In a large bowl, beat butter until creamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, and beat on medium speed until lightened in color and texture, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add pumpkin purée, and beat on low speed until just blended. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the water-vanilla mixture in two parts, beating on low until smooth and just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Fold in hazelnuts and raisins. Pour batter into pan and spread evenly across the top.

Bake about one hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a rack for five or ten minutes before unmolding to cool completely on the rack.

Note: You’re not obligated to use a loaf pan, of course. You could make muffins, for example; for a standard-sized muffin, bake 18-20 minutes. And this bread freezes beautifully.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Molly, if you are a fan of Voltaire's _Candide_ and have never heard of Bernstein's _Candide_, then as your friend, I feel it is my duty to direct you to this gen of an operetta: http://www.leonardbernstein.com/

I think you will enjoy it.


8:51 PM, December 13, 2004  
Blogger Mark said...

When I read your posts, I don't want them to end! You are such a good story teller! When's your first book coming out??

9:05 AM, December 17, 2004  
Blogger Tom said...

This, truly, is the best of all possible posts.

9:58 PM, August 04, 2006  
Blogger sharon said...

i'm a faithful reader, but have never before taken the next step to try your recipes. but when faced with the task of creating an appropriate not-so-keen-on-valentine's-day-but-still-want-to-make-something-sweet treat, i decided to go with this pumpkin bread. and let me just say, heart shaped cookies have nothing on this bread.

11:11 PM, February 13, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good. This is the best pumpkin bread recipe I have found. Unfortunately, My kids do not care for the nuts but they found it much better than Starbucks pumkin bread. Thank you for the detailed recipe. It made a difference.

4:37 PM, December 05, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My son, Lysander, is a pumpkin FREAK loves loves LOVES it. I am always doing pumpkin recipes for him and then he tells me, Mom, it is the pie I love really. I should have figured he has asked for it for his birthday for years.

I like to grow them and last year grew a good batch; thinking the Grandkids would come and harvest from my yard. Yet the call of the wonderful pumpkin patches with *activities* won out and they didn't get mine- and many were wasted. Near the end with one nice one still remaining, I finally get my son to get it baked-and baked-and baked some more. He left the oven on all night. Such a sad sad tale.

Ever heard of the recipe where you use a cake baked and torn to bits mixed with pumpkin pie ingredients and baked with pecans added & a lot of extra butter on top? It’s finished with a cream cheese whip cream type frosting and pecans. It is a very dense cake- I often hear it referred to as “pumpkin stuff”- fitting name indeed.

9:35 AM, April 08, 2009  
Blogger Xan said...

I've got seven 30" sugar pumpkins ripening in my backyard. Thank goodness for the recipe archives.

1:20 PM, September 05, 2009  
Blogger Amanda said...

I mde this with toasted pecans instead of hazelnuts and took it on a prairie to watch the sunset with spiked hot cocoa. It was delicious.

I'm making my second loaf right now!

5:28 PM, October 07, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michele said...
I made the Pumpkin Bread recipe using local See Canyon (Central Coast of California) roasted winter squash baked with honey and cinnamon, then blended. I substituted the water with strong coffee. I roasted half pecans until toasted and didn't cut them smaller. I used 3 kinds of sugar: brown, white, and Turbinado. The next time I will use French baking spice from French Market Spice for a twist on the flavor. I will bake it a little longer too. But definitely a five-star recipe. Thanks.

8:04 AM, November 05, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a delicious recipe, even the kids loved it. We omitted the nuts and raisins and it was still EXCELLENT! Thanks Saveur, we can always count on your recipes!

6:08 AM, January 29, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I made this the other day & it was good--will use this as my standard pumpkin bread recipe. I wanted to make one similar to the ones they sell at Starbucks (which is not too sweet). I only used 1 1/2 cups of sugar (inc. 1/2 cup brown). I also left out the nuts and raisins.

8:40 AM, November 18, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I mean, I only used 1 1/2 cups of sugar for the DOUBLED recipe.

8:42 AM, November 18, 2010  
Anonymous Ena said...

I liked it the first day but I thought some other recipe I used previously was a bit better, BUT since I didn't have time to eat it the second day, I packed it to bring on a trip, it was so amazing on the 3rd and 4th days. So moist, melting in your mouth, even being a bit sticky. Yummy!

5:14 AM, November 20, 2010  
Blogger Sara said...

I love this bread! I have also made your buckwheat pancakes (from A Homemade Life) so many times that I have the recipe memorized. I just started adapting it to add about 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree (I increase the flour by 1/2 cup, add pumpkin spice, make the leavening amounts heaping, and increase the milk a little.) Then I have about a cup of puree left to make this bread. :)

8:31 AM, January 10, 2015  

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