Pumpkin-Date Loaf with Cream Cheese Swirl

Recently, I became indebted to some wonderful people, and I needed to pass on a small token of my appreciation. What's a better bit of thanks than a loaf of bread?

A loaf of bread with cream cheese.

How about a loaf of pumpkin bread with cream cheese? And so here we are, relishing the glory of bread, glorious bread, with pumpkin and cream cheese.

Greg Patent, our book's author, won second place in the junior division of the Pilsbury Bake-Off, and ever since, he has been baking up a storm. As an adult he became a contributing editor to Cooking Light magazine; in 2002 Patent published this gem of a cookbook where he pored over nearly two centuries worth of American recipes in order to document America's relationship with the baked good.

Admittedly, this cookbook has been one of hit and miss for me. I suspect that because this cookbook is a bit on the more traditional side (and I attest that I am not much of a baker (what, with the measuring and all)) that this lack of target precision in some of the recipes is more the fault of the baker than the book. I am happy to report, however, that this recipe is a bullseye.

Overall, the recipe is simple, and the dates add little surprises of sweetness kept in check by the savoriness of the pumpkin. Patent recommends making the bread the day before you plan to serve it.  And, don't be shy about swirling in the cream cheese before baking. Admittedly my own diffidence kept me from stirring the cream cheese to the bottom of the loaf, and all involved claimed that the bottom half of the bread was a bit dry, especially in comparison to the otherwise yummy and (let's face it) pretty darn autumnal top half of the bread.

Finally, let's take a moment to think about the divinity of bread. For those of you who find your spirituality in fiction, which admittedly I do, let's turn to the high priest of the short story, Raymond Carver. While this story ranks among my favorites of the Carver oeuvre, it is a weeper. Read only if you are in the mood to be hit hard.

Truly, this pumpkin and date bread settled my debts, and the bread in Carver's story is all about connection in the midst of grief.

Might I recommend slicing a bit of bread (this recipe or any other), slathering on the butter, and settling in?

One Year Ago: Pork Loin Braised in Milk Bolognese
Pumpkin-Date Loaf with Cream Cheese Swirl
Adapted from  Baking in America

1 large loaf

For the cream cheese mixture:
4 ounces cream cheese (full fat or light, but not fat free)
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg

For the pumpkin loaf:
1 2/3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice*
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup pitted whole dates, each date cut into 6 pieces with scissors

*You can buy pumpkin pie spice pre-made or make your own with a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves.

1.  Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a bread loaf pan* or coat with cooking spray; set aside.

To make the cream cheese mixture:
2.  Beat together the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and egg in a small bowl with an electric mixer until very smooth; set aside.

To make the pumpkin loaf:
3.  Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice together; set aside.

4.  In a large bowl, whisk the eggs for 1 minute, until frothy. Add the brown sugar and whisk for about 1 minute more, until the mixture is creamy and thick. Whisk in the pumpkin and oil until smooth. Stir in the dates. Add the flour mixture and stir gently with a rubber spatula until thoroughly combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Pour on the cream cheese mixture and swirl it in with a spatula (be sure to swirl in through the whole loaf).

5.  Bake for 60-70 minutes, until the loaf is browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool completely, right side up, on a wire rack. Slice with a serrated knife.

*You can use either a 9x5x3 or a 10x4.25x3 inch pan.


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