Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread

Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

It has been a time of changes around here lately. Just as the fall weather peeked its head in Portland, Jonah and I were off to Chicago, where summer raged. There we got married: in his parents’ backyard, under the chuppa, crying and laughing and dancing. It was everything that a wedding is supposed to be. The days before and after were packed with events, with tooling around the city seeing friends and gathering with family. The sense of joy and celebration, the high from all the love, felt like it would last forever.

And then, two days after the wedding, it came to a halt: we got a call that Jonah’s grandmother had passed away. At the wedding she had looked so beautiful and strong. She sat chatting with the other grandmothers and blowing bubbles. She stuck to her values, walking right past the dance floor and saying to my now sister-in-law, “Did you see that? I’m a good Mennonite.” The morning after the wedding, we sat with her and unwrapped a beautiful quilt that she had been saving for us, called “Around the World.” We hugged and kissed her goodbye and said we’d see her at Christmas. You see, Jonah’s grandparents lived in a small town in Minnesota and, despite over seven years together and many Christmases with his family, I had never been. Jonah wanted me to see it, to see the town covered in snow, to take part in the holiday traditions his family holds so dear. I told him that this would be the year to go, since I didn’t know how much longer Grandma would be with us.

We balanced the rest of our time in Chicago – friends distracted us, even continued the celebration while being sensitive to the loss. We made plans with Jonah’s family – when was the service? Should we go straight from Chicago? We decided, in the end, to fly home on our previously scheduled flight, and then flew out to Minnesota a couple of days later. I didn’t know what to do, how to help. In situations like this, when I feel helpless, I turn to the kitchen, to something I can have some control over. I went back to my traditions: when we celebrate, we eat; when we mourn, we eat. The slight nip in the air in those two days at home settled in my belly, and while I picked the last hauls of sungold tomatoes from our garden, I started to crave soups, roasted chicken, and squash in all forms. So I decided to bake this pumpkin bread. It is a bread of changes too: pale gold butter becomes a caramel, nutty, liquid. A soft, sparkly batter turns into a moist, dense loaf with a perfect crunch on top. It may not have been much, but it was what I could offer. Grandma, I promise to keep my new family well-fed.

When we heard the news, I emailed our wedding photographer to see if she could send any photos of Grandma from the wedding. She sent a handful of beautiful pictures, but this for some reason stands out to me. That’s her on the right, talking to Jonah’s other grandmother, as they watch the dancing.
Photo credit: Anna Zajac.

Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups pumpkin purée
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts (optional)
2 Tbsp turbinado sugar (optional but highly recommended)

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 350°F with a rack in the bottom third of the oven. Butter two 9×5 loaf pans.

Put the butter in a small saucepan (preferably with a light colored bottom, like ceramic or steel) over medium heat. The butter will melt, then start sputtering and foaming – hold out! When it starts to take on a caramel-like golden brown hue and smell of nuttiness and all things beautiful, set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment (or a normal bowl with a strong arm), mix the eggs and sugars until glossy and light in color. Add the cooled brown butter and mix to combine, and then add the pumpkin purée, mixing again to combine until smooth.

In two additions, add the flour mixture to the egg and pumpkin mixture, mixing to combine after each addition. It will be a bit thicker than you might think a sweet bread batter like this should be. I promise you’re doing it right. Fold in the nuts if using. Split the batter between the two loaf pans, and sprinkled 1 Tbsp of turbinado sugar over each loaf.

Bake for 45-60 minutes, until the top looks golden brown and an inserted skewer, toothpick, or whatever you’re using comes out clean. Cool for a few minutes in the pans, then remove and transfer to a rack to cool the rest of the way. Slice and enjoy warm with tea or milk. (I bet it would also be delicious topped with cream cheese or good butter.)

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