Thanks to this bake-off, my year has officially reached its peak. I always wanted to find the best pumpkin bread recipe on the internet to know once and for all if there really was a difference between them. Like many, I am a pumpkin bread demon. At view of the first falling leafI’m ready to take out my flannel and throw pumpkin spice around like confetti.
To be fair, if you look at the ingredients between most recipes, it’s hard to imagine there would be a difference. They all include variations of flour, sugar, spice, pumpkin, and egg. So, with a little extra time (and an extra craving for comfort with the temperatures dropping), I decided it was time to figure out which of these popular internet recipes is really the best pumpkin bread recipe in all the time.
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For this bake, I stuck to well-known cooking publications that are great sources for reliable recipes. And after asking my friends, most have tried at least one of these recipes. (Be sure to scroll down where I share some of my favorite pumpkin bread recipes from some of the best bloggers and bakers on the internet!)
Here’s how the best pumpkin bread recipe emerged, if you want to host one.
rules of the road
Some of the recipes I’ve made call for optional toppings or mix-ins, but for comparison purposes I wanted a clean slate.
Must follow recipes EXACTLY
Being someone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen, I usually take a few liberties and insert my own interpretations of recipes. However, for the purposes of this baking, I stuck to the exact instructions as written. This meant that even if I disagreed with the method or measurements, I ignored my personal opinions and followed the recipe exactly.
In the spirit of continuing to find fun and inventive ways to socialize with friends during this fall season, I invited a few friends over for the Pumpkin Bread Tasting. My tasters, my foodie friend Kristin, her husband Mark, and my friend Ka all had different expectations of what they thought they would make for the perfect pumpkin loaf, so I used their feedback to guide my decisions.
The testers said that pumpkin bread should be different from banana bread. It should be slightly moister and have a nice crust and a strong pumpkin flavor. The ranking below is MY personal decision based on what I look for in a slice of pumpkin bread, aka, the perfect bread.
- A nice rise and a signature bread look.
- A perfectly soft crumb.
- Heavy on the spice.
- The pumpkin flavor stands out.
- Does this bread pass the second day test?
To be honest, all the breads I baked were good. I would even bake them again with a few minor tweaks here and there. It really came down to the little differences that made some recipes better than others.
So without further ado, here is my ranking and the winner of my best pumpkin bread recipe!
Advantages: A very well defined and surprisingly moist crust for days after baking. Would be good with coffee.
The inconvenients: A little too sweet for me. And despite the spice, I didn’t get much flavor other than sweetness.
It was the densest bread and it didn’t quite hit the rise the others did. Unfortunately, I could barely taste the spices. Instead, all I got was an extremely sweet flavor. Some of my testers enjoyed the flavor a little more, calling it “molasses-y”, which is nice if you like that kind of flavor.
I didn’t realize it until I prepared to bake, but this recipe actually makes two loaves. Which is great if you’re willing to bake one loaf for yourself and another to deliver to a friend. The recipe also calls for (optional) chopped walnuts. Maybe I would have liked this one more if it had the added texture of the nuts and lots of spice, but overall this one was average and rated the lowest of the bunch based on flavor .
Advantages: Easiest to follow instructions, great rise, great crust, great flavor.
The inconvenients: Dry crumb.
Food52 says “Pumpkin bread should be quick to put together, be confident in the pumpkin flavor, and be as moist as possible”, all I was looking for in a pumpkin bread. This is the only recipe I didn’t use a stand mixer for. In their instructions, Food52 asks you to add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in one bowl (a technique that also surprised me since I’m used to adding dry ingredients in parts to the wet ingredients). But again, I followed these recipes to the letter.
This was also the ONLY recipe to call for pumpkin pie spice rather than individual spices. Taste testers also liked the pumpkin flavor. I was also very impressed with the baking and rise on this bread. I actually didn’t mind this bread, but I was slightly disappointed as it was the driest crumb of all the breads. The crumb also did not improve in moistness the following days. Maybe I’ll try cooking five minutes less than the written instructions next time to see if that helps hold in a bit more moisture as well as kicks up the spice. I would have rated this one higher if it had only delivered its wet bread claim.
Advantages: Moist crumb, slightly savory flavor, stayed moist and light for days after baking. Shortest cooking time.
The inconvenients: Not much pumpkin flavor.
In fact, this bread did not bother me on its own! If I wasn’t comparing this bread to others, I would totally settle for one slice of this pumpkin bread. My friend Kristin even ranked this one as her number one bread and “the bread I would like to eat with my morning cup of coffee!”
HOWEVER, this recipe only calls for a cup of pumpkin. My biggest pet peeve with any pumpkin recipe during the season is whether I can use the whole can of mash or not. It also resulted in a very light pumpkin flavor. The texture of this bread is really nice though – it was the only bread to rely on the creaming method of beating butter and sugar together which added a nice lightness to the bread. In the end, it was just a good basic pumpkin bread recipe. Not disappointing, but not mind-blowing either.
Advantages: Great flavor, great crust.
The inconvenients: Could have a slightly moister crumb given the use of olive oil. Longest cooking time.
This bread caused the most conversation of the bunch and it was a close call between this one being ranked #1 or #2. Some of my tasters loved this one. My friend Mark said this bread had the best texture of the bunch, but others rated this one middle of the road based on flavor.
Personally, I liked this bread for several reasons. It had the most complex flavor among the breads, relying on grated fresh ginger and heavy on the spices, in addition to the use of olive oil. It was the most artisanal of the group. My friend Ka didn’t like the olive oil taking away the flavor of the spice and pumpkin so my recommendation on this bread is to make sure you use really good olive oil as you will be able to taste it . The rise on this bread was also excellent. Some taste testers wanted a little more moisture from the bread, but agreed that the complexity of the flavor made up for it.
Advantages: Extremely moist texture, purest pumpkin flavor, good rise.
The inconvenients: You want more spice.
And our winner came from the NYT! What sets this bread apart from others is its texture. The sour cream adds to the moist texture while cutting the sweetness from the very slight flavor. This bread also had the truest and purest pumpkin flavor. However, this is most likely due to the fact that this bread only uses cinnamon as a spice. It was the only legend of the testers who all asked for more spice. As someone who also likes a lot of spice, I will definitely add some extra pumpkin pie spice to the batter next time.
The bread stayed moist for days and even a week later which was really impressive and made for great morning coffee. I would recommend baking for an additional five minutes if you prefer a bit softer than fluffy bread. Overall, this bread ranked first and won the “Best Pumpkin Bread Recipe” award for its pumpkin texture and flavor.
Pro tip: If you’ve had enough of pumpkin, know that you can add mashed sweet potatoes or mashed butternut squash and you’ll barely be able to tell the difference.
ps If you’re looking for different pumpkin buns, here are a few I’ve made and loved.
This post was originally posted on October 12, 2020 and has since been updated.