Recipe Alteration and Pumpkin Bread

Look what I found at Whole Foods on our recent shopping trip:

IMG_0353My American friends will recognise this very comforting product. Overpriced as it was, I was delighted to stock up with a few tins of this and am hoarding some until Thanksgiving. However, I wanted to use one for some early autumn baking: pumpkin bread! (This is a sweet, cakey loaf flavoured with spices and a tin of pumpkin.)

I already mentioned that one of my autumn plans is to bake more, including trying to make some slightly healthier recipes that could serve as breakfast foods. Eating sweet baked goods for breakfast seems to be a primarily American habit, and it suits me fine, except for the issue of consuming that much sugar first thing in the morning. I have a hard time finding anything, short of a cooked breakfast (with attendant protein and fat), that doesn’t leave me feeling woozy and sick by 11:00 or earlier once the sugar rush turns into a crash. And I’m aware that it isn’t just sugar per se that’s the problem, as I don’t tend to eat super-sugary foods for breakfast, but also the fact that refined carbohydrates are metabolised pretty much the same as sugar, leading to the highs and lows I have so much trouble with, as well as being generally hard on the body. So one of my goals was to try finding a pumpkin bread recipe that would be a little lower on the glycemic index and perhaps included more than simple carbohydrates.

The internet makes recipe-hunting very easy, and is now my first source to check if I have ‘recipe requirements’ like using a certain kind of flour, and there are so many vegetarian/vegan/dairy-free/gluten-free/whole foods recipes out there that I can often find one that suits my particular goals. However, I wasn’t able to find a pumpkin bread that hit the right spot between healthy and tasty. I’m all about the coconut oil and alternative sweeteners, but…I’ve yet to be convinced that these full-on healthy baking recipes actually taste that good.

So I decided to try altering an existing recipe to my own specifications, resulting in something that veered towards healthier but still had a texture and sweetness I’d enjoy (as well as not costing me an arm and a leg buying coconut flour – sheesh!).

In the final result, this pumpkin bread is a recipe I’m quite proud of, because it’s one of those ‘blogger’ recipes people always post – ‘my grandmother’s recipe that I tweaked into my own’, etc. Well, this is based on my mother’s recipe, which I have on a printout from when she typed it up and emailed to me. I already knew the recipe would be successful and delicious, and it was very basic, which seemed like the ideal type of recipe to alter.

I’m not new to adjusting recipes, but adjusting baking recipes is trickier because the chemistry is complicated and a lot of it goes on while baking – so you only see the results when it’s too late to do anything about it. So while I’ve been maverick all my life about altering baking recipes, the results have usually not been stellar.

I’ve learned a few things over the years, however, about making successful changes to recipes, particularly for baked goods, which might be useful to anyone who feels like doing the same:

  • Instead of simply altering one recipe, find multiple recipes and recombine their elements for a better chance of success. My pumpkin bread recipe alteration was inspired by a gingerbread recipe I had made previously. I started with the pumpkin bread but adjusted the proportion of sweeteners closer into alignment with the gingerbread recipe.
  • Changing plain white flour usually works reliably well on a 50/50 principle: 50% of the plain flour called for in the recipe can be substituted with another kind of flour. I regularly use half whole wheat flour in this way, but sometimes I even mix it up further and add some ground oats and/or ground almonds in place of part of the wheat flour. With a denser type of bake, such as a syrupy cake or chewy cookies, I think this actually improves the texture and gives it more ‘tooth’ than plain flour alone.
  • Where a recipe calls for oil (such as muffins often do), you can, I believe, substitute butter. This may not seem healthy, but as far as I’m aware, butter is actually healthier than many of the ‘cooking oils’ around – but do your own reading on this subject!
  • In a similar vein, I’ve tried substituting coconut oil for some of the oil or butter in a recipe (our Sainsbury’s has just started stocking coconut oil for the first time!). Up to about 25% at least, this seems to work without messing up the original recipe’s flavours.
  • It seems to be okay to reduce the sugar in a recipe by about 25% without it having too much negative effect on the overall result, but I hesitate to reduce it any further, because it will start to affect the texture of the final product.
  • Similarly, it’s possible to replace some of the sugar with a sweetener like honey or molasses, but I don’t attempt this at more than about 25% of the original amount of sugar called for, because liquid sweeteners will start to change the texture of the final result.

In my pumpkin bread recipe, I reduced the sugar, added blackstrap molasses (another comforting Whole Foods find, similar to dark treacle), and used a mix of flours including some plain flour, whole wheat, ground oats, and ground almonds. I also substituted a little coconut oil for some of the butter. I could have made more drastic changes, but didn’t want to do too much without seeing how it turned out first.

I was really pleased with the results. The final bread is more dense and syrupy than the original recipe, but in a pleasant sweetbread way, and the molasses gives it a malty flavour while the grains and almonds actually make it quite filling. Definitely comfort food for cool mornings.


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