Pumpkin Bread Throwdown: Alton Brown vs Martha Stewart
Whose loaf will reign supreme?
It’s getting chilly here in New York, which means I get to wear my long coats with a big silky scarf-kerchief around my neck and look chic, even though underneath is just old leggings. It also means it’s! pumpkin! bread! time! If you spent any time at Starbucks in the early to mid-2000s, as I did (it was what all the coolest middle schoolers in my town did) you’re probably already a pumpkin bread fan. Now that I spend less time at Starbucks and more time in my kitchen, I make my own pumpkin bread. Sometimes I toast a slice in a butter-slicked pan, but usually I just eat it straight from the cooling rack, maybe smeared with some nut butter and a pinch of salt. As I walked home on a particularly chilly day a couple weeks ago, wishing I had a slice of warm pumpkin bread in my pocket, I knew another recipe throwdown was imminent.
In one corner, we have Alton Brown, whose name is pronounced “aal-tin,” not “awl-tin,” as I recently learned from the Sporkful Podcast. I made his Pumpkin Bread from the “Squash Court” episode of Good Eats. In the other corner, there’s none other than Martha Stewart, the domestic goddess who needs no introduction. I made her Pumpkin Bread from the “Pumpkin” episode of Martha Bakes.
“Pumpkin makes excellent bread,” Alton says in the episode from which this recipe hails. “Especially if you can get your hands on a smaller, more immature specimen.” Unlike a classic pumpkin bread, which usually call for cans of cooked, pureed pumpkin, this one calls for raw, shredded pumpkin. The pumpkin is mixed into a blend of eggs, sugar, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract. A cup of toasted pepitas are also included. To finish the bread, a dry mixture is folded in—sifted flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. You pour the batter into a 9x5-inch loaf pan and into a 325ºF oven it goes for an hour and 15 minutes. After that time elapsed, the center of the bread still seemed a little most, so I gave it another 7 minutes.
Next up, Martha. Her recipe seems more like my beloved Starbucks loaf. Canned pumpkin, eggs, butter, dark brown sugar, warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Along with granulated sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk, the orange batter makes two 8 ½-by-4 ½-inch or four 6-by-3-inch loaves. I made two, which baked at 350ºF for 80 minutes.
Alton’s bread didn’t smell nearly as autumnal as Martha’s, so I’ll admit I had low expectations. It looked sort of like a zucchini bread you’d find at a bake sale. It tasted like one, too. Which is not to say the bread was bad. In fact, it was pretty good. I didn't mind the pumpkin seeds, but everyone else who tasted the bread thought they made for a weird texture. I think the best way to do seeds in a quick bread is the Bon Appetit method, which calls for pumpkin seeds on top of the bread. [Editor’s note: the BA pumpkin bread is better than Alton’s and Martha’s, and would’ve therefore taken this recipe throwdown before it even started. So you should definitely make that one sometime.] Ultimately, the raw pumpkin in the bread didn’t add much other than moisture, which made the overall texture of the bread a bit gummy, to the point where it tasted sort of like a gluten-free loaf cake. Not bad, just not the pumpkin bread I’m looking for.
Martha’s pumpkin bread smelled like fall, and was a delightfully golden color. The cake was moist and sweet. Plus, it was pretty cool that for the same amount of work it usually takes to make one loaf, this recipe made two. It was very sweet, but if spread with salted butter or cream cheese it would be pretty close to perfect.