a lesson in pumpkin gingerbread

I knew there was a difference between baking powder and soda, but this pumpkin gingerbread really hammered it home. Before trying two different versions, I just trusted recipes. Baking soda? Yes sir. Now powder? All right, you’re the experts. But good food is chemistry, and that means open to all kinds of experiments. Once you understand the basics, the possibilities explode.

I made one version of pumpkin gingerbread for my cousin’s visit last weekend. Unfortunately, we gobbled it up before I could get the Nikon to it, so it’s not featured here. I used a recipe in Prevention magazine, which I’d picked up at a talk given by the magazine’s fitness editor just days before. I was surprised by the breadth of the little magazine. In flipping through its pages for the first time, I found two recipes that looked worthy of a shot.

A fall dessert with only 1/4 cup of oil that uses pumpkin for sweetness and moisture? Sign me up. Not to mention the health benefits of the humble orange squash: beta carotene, potassium, vitamins A, C, B6, B3 and fiber.

The first round of this cake was dense and moist, with the warming flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg. It was popular, but I wondered if it would be better with a little more lift. Really I just wanted so badly to incorporate kefir, my new best friend. I went searching for a recipe that included an acid ingredient, and began to experiment.

Because I had this huge can of pumpkin puree to use up, I went at it a second time. I was amazed, it yielded an entirely different species of dessert. I used a muffin recipe that otherwise looked almost exactly the same, and adapted it to the baking pan. What I got was something resembling a gingercake more than a traditional gingerbread.

I’m no chemist, but according to Mark Bittman, when you’re working with acidic ingredients (yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, lemon juice) you use baking soda as your leavener. The acid reacts with the baking soda and causes the cake to rise. Baking powder is used when there is no acid–just liquid, eggs, and heat causing the leavening. By playing around with ingredients, you can create your own custom texture.

I leave you with the two experiments while I scheme about ways to finish off that still leftover pumpkin puree. My ideal for this particular gingerbread would lay somewhere in between. Until then, both, I assure you, are delightful with coffee on a day full of woodsmoke and crunching leaves.

Dense Pumpkin Gingerbread

1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (adding a few teaspoons of cornstarch to flour will make a substitute for pastry flour. I used King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat flour, mixed with a bit of cornstarch)
2.5 tsp ground cinnamon
2.5 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup chopped crystallised ginger (optional, I didn’t use)
2 large eggs
1 large egg white
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup molasses
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup canned pure pumpkin

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Coat a 9×9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.
  2. Combine flour, cinnamon, ground ginger, baking powder, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in crystallised ginger, if you’re using it.
  3. Whisk eggs, egg white, oil, molasses, and sugar in a medium bowl. Whisk in pumpkin. Fold into dry ingredients until just combined. Pour into prepared pan.
  4. Bake 35-40 minutes until gingerbread starts to pull away from pan sides and wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from rack and cool on a rack, or serve warm.

courtesy of Prevention

Pumpkin Gingercake

2 cups flour
1 T ground ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1.5 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup + 2 T pumpkin
1/2 cup + 2 T buttermilk or kefir
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
1 large egg
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup canola oil

  1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease a square (9×9) pan.
  2. Mix all dry ingredients together in a medium bowl.
  3. Whisk pumpkin, kefir or buttermilk, and vanilla together in another.
  4. In a stand mixer, beat egg whites and egg until foamy. Add brown sugar, beat until light, about 2 minutes. Beat in molasses and oil.
  5. Stir the egg mixture and the pumpkin mixture into the dry ingredients, working in alternate batches.
  6. Bake at 350 until cake pulls away from sides and a tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes to an hour.

adapted from epicurious.com

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