My colleague Lan Lam calls pumpkin bread the John Doe of quick breads. The deep orange loaves that start popping up every year come October are usually not remarkably bad—but they're not remarkably good, either.
Pumpkin bread tends to be a little dense and dry, with one-note sweetness. That’s why cream cheese is ideal for slathering on slices: The milky schmear lends richness, moisture, and a gentle tang.
So when Lan had the genius idea to incorporate half of a block of cream cheese directly into her pumpkin bread batter, it made perfect sense.
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Why Cream Cheese Belongs in Pumpkin Bread
Enhancing the batter with cream cheese is an easy way to deliver a loaf with balanced pumpkin-y flavor: The tangy dairy tempers the sweet squash so that it tastes round and full. The rich cheese also helps to produce a lush texture—moist but not greasy, with a velvety crumb that is neither dense nor rubbery.
But Lan’s improvements don’t stop there. Since canned pumpkin can taste metallic and raw, she cooks the puree in a saucepan until it reduces, an easy step that transforms its flavor into something deep and rich.
And for a crunchy and flavorful complement to the bread’s moist crumb, she sprinkles a simple brown sugar streusel onto the surface of the loaf to give each slice a bit of sweet crunch.
This is a pumpkin bread that will make you sit up and take notice.
Watch Lan make it here:
Try the pumpkin bread for yourself using the recipe below.
The test kitchen’s preferred loaf pan measures 8½ by 4½ inches; if using a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan, start checking for doneness five minutes early.
5 tablespoons packed (2¼ ounces) light brown sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon salt
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 cup packed (7 ounces) light brown sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
4 ounces cream cheese, cut into 12 pieces
4 large eggs
¼ cup buttermilk
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped fine
1. FOR THE TOPPING: Using fingers, mix all ingredients together in bowl until well combined and topping resembles wet sand; set aside.
2. FOR THE BREAD: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pans. Whisk flour, baking powder, and baking soda together in bowl.
3. Combine pumpkin puree, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and cloves in large saucepan over medium heat. Cook mixture, stirring constantly, until reduced to 1½ cups, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove pot from heat; stir in granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, and cream cheese until combined. Let mixture stand for 5 minutes. Whisk until no visible pieces of cream cheese remain and mixture is homogeneous.
4. Whisk together eggs and buttermilk. Add egg mixture to pumpkin mixture and whisk to combine. Fold flour mixture into pumpkin mixture until combined (some small lumps of flour are OK). Fold walnuts into batter. Scrape batter into prepared pans. Sprinkle topping evenly over top of each loaf. Bake until skewer inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Let breads cool in pans on wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove breads from pans and let cool for at least 1½ hours. Serve warm or at room temperature.