11 December 2013

Brown Butter Kabocha Spice Loaf

Oh my, it's cold. And with that, I could only think of one thing: baking a loaf of something, preferably something familiar. The shear idea of loaf breads evoke warmth to me. Snow falling, temperatures dropping, wreaths everywhere, slices of pumpkin bread on mornings where the only effort necessary is cutting bread and pouring hot coffee. Frozen, it can be tucked away, too.

I've made pumpkin bread and I've made pumpkin bread and a few weeks ago little pumpkin coffee cake loaves that disappeared in a flash. But the other day, when it snowed and rained, I made a this glistening brown butter kabocha spice bread and I think it deserves a note.

As soon as this loaf came out of the oven snowy Monday, I wanted to rush to the page to tell you about it. Life and work got in the way so it's two days late, but all the better. I got to taste it the next day, after it had rested overnight, and got to see some smiling faces as theater buddies pinched off pieces of a thick slice at rehearsal. Of course, I also practiced restraint originally, and allowed it to cool for a good hour before cutting off a slice and spreading  a light dollop of plum preserves atop before enjoying a slice solo on the cold afternoon. And confirmation was made, peace was experienced.

The bread was tweaked slightly from Heidi's popular loaf, but I skipped the nuts,
opting for just a sugar crust atop (delicious slim crunch layer), and used a blend of spelt and all purpose flours for the batter, as well as traded the garam masala route for some straightforward but strong ginger, cinnamon, and even a pinch orange zest. Well pureed homemade kabocha purée (you can use butternut or acorn, too) is also one of the things that distinguishes the loaf. Not only does it lend an inimitable earthiness of fresh roasted winter squash that bakes into a hearty yet light and tender crumb, but the deep sunset hue of kabocha really makes it more bright orange than lots of loaves that tend turn out browner. Although I've creamed butter for the last few pumpkin loaves, and saw a nice fluffy rise, the nutty brown butter is also your friend here. It adds moist depth. Cinnamon, ginger and clove imbue the loaf with the classic scent and you know it is time to slice when, having cooled down, the loaf fills your kitchen with that perfume.

Lightly hand mixed, the thick battered cake takes just a smidge of time to put together. Brown the butter, and keep an eye while you set up the other ingredients. Mix dry and wet, fold together,  and once you get it into the oven, you let go and come back to find a sparkling loaf and it brings you home.

Brown Butter Kabocha Spice Loaf
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1/2 cup + scant 1 Tbsp /125g unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1 cup / 115 g spelt flour
scant 1/2 cup / 55 g  all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp each ground cloves + ground ginger
Small pinch each fresh grated ginger + orange zest
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup / 5 oz / 140 g fine grain natural cane sugar or muscovado sugar, + 1 tablespoon for topping
2 large eggs
1/2 cup / scant 125 g well-pureed roasted winter squash
1/4 cup / 60 ml milk

Melt butter in a small pot over medium heat until it's light brown and gives off a deliciously nutty aroma but do not burn. This can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool. Preheat oven to 350F  with a rack in the top 1/3. Butter/parchment a 1-lb loaf pan, roughly 9x5x3-inch.

Whisk flours, baking soda, dry spices, and sea salt into a large bowl. In another bowl whisk sugar, eggs, squash, and milk. Whisk in melted butter, but make sure it isn't hot to the touch. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture, and fold/stir until just combined. You want most of the flour gone with a patch here or there.

Pour batter into prepped pan, sprinkle with extra sugar, and bake for about 50-60 minutes. Check at 50. Mine took 55. Look for browned edges and a center well set. Use a cake tester. Cool in pan, for 15 minutes then on a rack to room temperature. 

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