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Mixed Review: Crate and Barrel Pumpkin Quick Bread

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[Photographs: Carrie Vasios]

Is it just me or does Halloween get busier every year? The big issue is obviously finding a costume. I'd love to throw on a polo and some mittens, call myself a presidential candidate, and call it a day, but then again, I always end up wearing some stupid pun that no one understands. Gang Green. Get it? We're all wearing...Oh hand me the candy.

Instead I'll spend too many hours trying to find something that is both witty and attractive because apparently that is what Halloween is all about. And in between, there will be pumpkin picking escapades, because no one seems to realize that pumpkin picking isn't like apple picking and well, not really that fun. (They're already cut off the vine and how many giant gourds can you fit on your windowsill?) Then we'll have to carve said pumpkins and someone will lose a thumb trying to make this guy.

Whew! With all these seasonal activities, I can see how someone would need to turn to a shortcut to get their sweets on the Halloween party table. How someone might pick up a box of Pumpkin Quick Bread Mix because they saw the words Quick Bread and thought, oh man, the original recipe for that is definitely not quick enough.

Luckily, there are quite a few options on the market, including just such a mix from Crate and Barrel, where you might already be shopping for some faux gourds, pumpkin candle holders, or scary mugs.

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The mix requires three ingredients which you'll already have in your Halloween-ready kitchen. Because doesn't everyone hand out little butter packets to trick-or-treaters, egg houses, and resuscitate themselves with water the next day?

Assembly of the bread is extremely straightforward. You preheat the oven, butter a loaf pan, and combine the dry mix, eggs, water, and melted butter in a bowl. Sure, this is easier to do as written, but my insider's tip is to whisk together the eggs, water, and butter together in the bowl before adding the dry mix, then stir to combine with a spoon. That way you'll be sure to evenly incorporate all the ingredients without over-mixing the dough. From there, it needs 50 minutes in the oven.

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This bread mix definitely gets points for speed of assembly and does pretty well in keeping down the number of dirtied bowls. You'll even have time after cleaning up to make that Martha Stewart bat mobile you saw on her website because if I can't wear a pun gosh darn it I'll hang it from my ceiling.

The question is, how does it taste?

I'm surprised to say that the answer is that it doesn't taste like much. I can't think of a store-bought pumpkin product I've had that wasn't guilty of too much flavor. Those flavors aren't always good—most are guilty of going too heavy handed on the spices and the pumpkin taste is distinctly artificial. But I suppose that, if not the bright squashy taste of actual pumpkin, I at least expected the bread to have nice warming, autumnal spices. A better taste of the cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg which the box assures me is inside.

The tip off should have been the way the powdered mix smelled, which was only slightly of spice and highly of flour. On the positive side, it doesn't taste artificial. It tastes like a loaf you might have bought at a school bake sale, only to get home, unwrap it, and find out that it tastes like practically nothing at all. The bread also has a good texture— it has a soft crumb and isn't overly greasy as so many quick breads are.

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This bread definitely won't stand up next to all the candy you'll serve at your Halloween party (unless maybe you put some inside the bread), and, on any other day, you're probably just going to want pumpkin bread with more flavor. Those going the semi-homemade route could add some fresh ginger, or perhaps a teaspoon of cinnamon. Whether you want to spend $8.95 on the base is up to you.

About the author: Carrie Vasios is the editor of Serious Eats: Sweets. She likes to peruse her large collection of cookbooks while eating jam from the jar. You can follow her on Twitter @carrievasios

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