Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pumpkin Tea Cake

Tartine is a warm, inviting and busy San Francisco bakery. It sells outstanding bread, pastries and café fare, such as quiche and croque-monsieurs. In my mind, it is the perfect neighborhood bakery. I would go to Tartine everyday if only I didn’t live twenty-two long miles away across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Fortunately, Tartine’s owner/bakers have written two solid cookbooks: Tartine [2006] by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson, and Tartine Bread [2010] by Chad Robertson. An excellent recipe from Tartine is its Pumpkin Tea Cake. This cake is now a family staple enjoyed not only with tea, but also at breakfast, as a dessert and, of course, for elevenses.

Prueitt and Robertson present their bakery’s philosophy in Tartine; they are purists when it comes to ingredients and presentations: “we believe in keeping it simple. We want our cakes to look as natural as the flowers we use to decorate them, our pies and tarts and fruit desserts to change with the season, and our cookies to look like they’re made with loving hands. But most of all, we want everything we make to taste of what was used to make it.”

Tartine’s Pumpkin Tea Cake embodies the bakery’s philosophy of simplicity; it is a straightforward and delicious cake. Its crumb, as advertised in the recipe, is soft, even and moist. You can assemble this cake in less than 30 minutes.

A quick note on measurements. Prueitt and Robertson present three measuring systems: volume, avoirdupois and metric. Ounces and grams are rounded off. With care and consistency, each of these systems will yield fine results.
  • All-purpose flour         12/3 cups / 8 oz / 225 g
  • Baking powder         1½ tsp / 7 ml
  • Baking soda         ½ tsp / 2 ml
  • Ground cinnamon         1 tbsp + 2 tsp / 25 ml
  • Nutmeg, freshly grated         2 tsp / 10 ml
  • Ground cloves         ¼ tsp / 1 ml
  • Pumpkin purée         1 cup + 2 tbsp / 9 oz / 255 g
  • Vegetable oil such as safflower or sunflower         1 cup / 8 oz / 250 ml
  • Sugar         11/3 cups / 9½ oz / 270 g
  • Salt         ¾ tsp / 4 ml
  • Large eggs         3
  • Sugar for topping         2 tbsp / 30 ml

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan.

This recipe is easily mixed by a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or by hand with a whisk. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into a mixing bowl and set aside.

In another mixing bowl, beat together the pumpkin purée, oil, sugar, and salt on medium speed or by hand until well mixed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition until incorporated before adding the next egg. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. On low speed, add the flour mixture and beat just until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat on medium speed for 5 to 10 seconds to make a smooth batter. The batter should have the consistency of a thick purée.

Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and smooth the surface with an offset spatula. Sprinkle evenly with the sugar. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, and then invert onto the rack, turn right side up, and let cool completely. Serve the cake at room temperature. It will keep, well wrapped, at room temperature for 4 days or in the refrigerator for about 1 week.

Some final notes. Prueitt and Robertson warn not to overmix the batter or you risk a coarse, tough crumb. If you decide to make your own pumpkin purée, cut your culinary pumpkin in half and scoop out its seeds. Place the pumpkin cut side down on a baking sheet and roast in a preheated 350°F oven for 1 hour. (Roasting times will vary based upon the size and variety of your pumpkin.) Purée the cooked pumpkin in a food processer. You can freeze the unused purée for future use.

Freshly puréed pumpkin (depending upon the variety) can be watery. In their recipe for Pumpkin Pie, Prueitt and Robertson advise either cooking down the purée or draining it in a cheesecloth bag overnight. Your pumpkin variety will dictate if this step is necessary or not.

I enjoy the shape created with a rectangular loaf pan. When using this pan, I reduce the cooking time to 55 minutes. Finally, I prefer this cake after it has been refrigerated. But try it both ways and see what you enjoy.