Thanks to this bake-off, my year has officially peaked. I’ve always wanted to uncover the best pumpkin bread recipe on the internet to find out once and for all if there really is a difference between them. Like many, I’m a pumpkin bread fiend. At the sight of the first falling leaf, I’m ready to break out my flannel and toss pumpkin spice around like confetti.
To be fair, if you look at the ingredients between most recipes, it’s hard to imagine there would be a difference. They all include some variation of flour, sugar, spice, pumpkin, and eggs. So with a little extra time on my hands (and an extra craving for comfort with the drop in temperatures), I decided it was time to determine which of these popular internet recipes is truly the best pumpkin bread recipe ever.
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For this bake-off, I stuck to well-known food publications that are reliably great recipe sources. And after polling my friends, most have tried at least one of these recipes. (Be sure to scroll to the bottom where I’m sharing a few more of my favorite pumpkin bread recipes from some of the best bloggers and bakers on the internet!)
Here’s how the best pumpkin bread recipe bake-off shook out, should you want to host one of your own.
Rules of the Road
Some of the recipes I baked ask for optional toppings or mix-ins, but for the sake of comparison, I wanted a clean slate.
Must Follow Recipes EXACTLY
As someone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen, I’m used to taking a few liberties and inserting my own interpretations of recipes. However, for the sake of this bake-off, I stuck to the exact directions as written. That meant that even if I disagreed with the method or measurements, I ignored my personal opinions and followed the recipe exactly.
In the spirit of continuing to find fun and inventive ways to socialize with friends during this fall season, I invited a few friends to participate in the pumpkin bread tasting. My taste testers, my foodie friend Kristin, her husband Mark, and my friend Ka all had different expectations for what they thought made for the perfect pumpkin loaf, so I used their feedback to help guide my decisions.
Testers said that a pumpkin loaf should be different than banana bread. It should be slightly moister and have a nice crust in addition to a sharp pumpkin flavor. The ranking below is MY personal decision based on what I look for in a pumpkin loaf slice, aka, the perfect loaf.
- A nice rise and signature loaf look.
- A perfectly moist crumb.
- Heavy on the spice.
- Pumpkin flavor comes through.
- Does this loaf pass the second day test?
To be fair, all of the loaves I baked were good. I would even be content baking any of them again with some minor tweaks here and there. It really came down to the small differences that made some recipes better than others.
So without further ado, here is my ranking and the winner of my best pumpkin bread recipe bake-off!
#5 Epicurious Spiced Pumpkin Bread: For the Doorstep Drop Off
Pros: A very well-defined crust and was surprisingly moist for days after baking. Would be nice with coffee.
Cons: A little too sweet for me. And despite the spices, I didn’t get much flavor other than sweetness.
This was the densest loaf and it didn’t quite achieve the rise that the others did. Unfortunately, I could barely taste any of the spices. Instead, all I got was an overwhelmingly sweet flavor. Some of my testers enjoyed the flavor a bit more, calling it “molasses-y,” which if you like that kind of flavor is nice.
I didn’t realize until I was getting ready to bake, but this recipe actually makes two loaves. Which hey, is great if you’re down to bake a loaf for yourself and another to deliver to a friend. The recipe also calls for (optional) chopped walnuts. Perhaps I would have liked this one more if it had the added texture of the walnuts and punched up the spices a lot, but overall, this one was average and ranked the lowest among the group based on flavor.
#4 Food52 Pumpkin Bread: For the Beginner Baker
Pros: Easiest to follow directions, great rise, good crust, alright flavor.
Cons: Dry crumb.
Food52 says “Pumpkin bread should be quick to come together, confident in pumpkin flavor, and moist as can be,” all things I was looking for in a pumpkin bread. This was the one recipe that I did not use a stand mixer for. In their directions, Food52 has you add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients in just a bowl (a technique that I was also surprised by as I’m used to adding dry ingredients in parts to wet ingredients). But again, I was following these recipes to a T.
This was also the ONLY recipe to ask for pumpkin pie spice rather than individual spices. Taste testers did like the pumpkin-y flavor here as well. I was super impressed with the bake and rise on this loaf as well. I actually didn’t mind this loaf, but was slightly disappointed as this was the driest crumb of all the loaves. The crumb did not improve in moistness the following days either. Perhaps I would try baking five minutes less than the written directions next time to see if that helps maintain a bit more moistness in addition to punching up the spices. I would have ranked this one higher if it had only delivered on its moist loaf claim.
Pros: Moist crumb, slightly savory flavor, stayed moist and light for days after baking. Shortest bake time.
Cons: Not much pumpkin flavor.
I actually didn’t mind this loaf on its own! If I wasn’t comparing this loaf to others, I would be totally content with a slice of this pumpkin bread. My friend Kristin even ranked this one as her number one loaf and “the loaf I would want to eat with my morning cup of coffee!”
HOWEVER, this recipe only calls for one cup of pumpkin. My biggest pet peeve with any pumpkin recipe during the season is if I can use the whole can of puree or not. It also resulted in a very faint pumpkin flavor. The texture on this loaf is really nice though—it was the only loaf to rely on the creaming method of beating the butter and sugar together which added some nice lightness to the loaf. In the end, this was just a good, basic pumpkin bread recipe. Not disappointing, but not show-stopping either.
#2 Bon Appétit Pumpkin Bread: For the Flavor Fiend
Pros: Great flavor, great crust.
Cons: Could have a slightly moister crumb given the use of olive oil. Longest bake time.
This loaf caused the most conversation of the bunch and it was a close call between having this one be ranked #1 or #2. Some of my tasters loved this one. My friend Mark said this loaf had the best texture of the bunch, but others ranked this one in the middle of the road based on flavor.
Personally, I liked this loaf for a few reasons. It had the most complex flavor among the loaves, leaning on fresh grated ginger and heavy on the spices, in addition to the use of olive oil. It was the most artisanal of the group. My friend Ka didn’t love that the olive oil took away from the flavor of the spices and pumpkin, so my recommendation on this loaf is to ensure that you use really good olive oil because you will be able to taste it. The rise on this loaf was great as well. Some taste testers wanted slightly more moistness from the loaf, but agreed that the complexity in flavor made up for it.
#1 New York Times: For the Pumpkin Purist
Pros: Extremely moist texture, purest pumpkin flavor, great rise.
Cons: Want more spices.
And our winner came from NYT! What set this loaf apart from the others was the texture. The sour cream adds to the moist texture while also cutting through the sweetness from the very slight tang. This loaf also had the truest and purest pumpkin flavor. However, that is most likely from the fact that this loaf only uses cinnamon as its spice. This was the only callout from testers who all asked for more spices. As someone who also likes lots of spice, I will definitely add extra pumpkin pie spices to the batter next time.
The loaf stayed moist for days and even a week later which was truly impressive and made for a great morning coffee treat. I would recommend baking for five extra minutes if you prefer a loaf that’s a bit cakeier rather than moist. Overall, this loaf ranked high and won the “best pumpkin bread recipe” accolade for its texture and pumpkin flavor.
Pro Tip: If you find yourself getting sick of pumpkin, know that you can sub in sweet potato puree or butternut squash puree and you’ll barely be able to tell the difference.
p.s. If you’re in search of some different pumpkin loaves, here are a few more that I have made and loved.
This post was originally published on October 12, 2020, and has since been updated.