Best Pumpkin Pie Bake Off

Best Pumpkin Pie Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

Every year without fail, I find myself googling “best pumpkin pie recipe.” With this experiment, we set out to answer the question sans the endless searching.

Best Pumpkin Pie Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

Methodology

The recipe selection methodology was less formal than the scraping I did for the best pumpkin bread bake off or the chocolate chip cookie bake off–I basically selected all the recipes that I wanted to try anyway and added two of the winners from this epic pumpkin pie bake off.

All 12 pies were baked the day of the tasting (most crusts were made 1-3 days beforehand and refrigerated; two crusts (Flour and BraveTart) were pre-baked the night before). I made 8 of the pies, and three superstar friends helped me out with the other 4.

At the tasting, tasters ranked each overall pie, its filling and its crust separately on a scale from 1-10, and then answered the question “would you want to eat this again?”

Best Pumpkin Pie Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

Results

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Pumpkin Bread Bake Off

Pumpkin Bread Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

In this post, we attempt to sort through the thousands of pumpkin bread recipes on the internet to figure out the best, once and for all.

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Methodology

To start, I scraped 40 pumpkin bread recipes off the internet and analyzed them by percentage of ingredients. I then tried to select the 12 most unique recipes and then on one very long Saturday, my all-star baking friend, Jacqueline, and I baked all 12 loaves and held a tasting with 24 friends to see which one fared the best.

We omitted all mix-ins and toppings like nuts, chocolate chips and crumbles, unless it was a really simple topping like sugar for the purest pumpkin bread tasting experience.

Below, you can see the ingredient composition of each recipe, in order from lowest percentage of pumpkin to highest.

pumpkin bread recipes

Results

The far left of this data visualization shows the results to our question “how would you rank this pumpkin bread on a scale from 1-10?” Recipes are listed by score from highest to lowest (i.e. Tartine was #1 with an average score of nearly 8). The shaded bar represents the 25-75 percentile of ratings.

In the middle section, you can see how people ranked the moistness of each bread on a scale of 1-10 (1 being extremely dry, 5 being ideal, and 10 being overly moist). As you can see, the top-rated breads tended towards the moist side of the scale whereas some of the lower (but not all!) of the lower-rated breads were rated as dry. We had some problems baking Cook’s Illustrated, and Epicurious was tasted right out of the oven, which likely accounts for their high moisture rating–more notes below the chart.

Lastly, tasters were asked: “would you eat this again?” The far right column is pretty self-explanatory: the most desirable breads were generally the top-rated breads, and that percentage shrinks the father down the list you go.

pumpkin bread ratings

A few notes on some of the wonkier results since, disclaimer, we are not a professional kitchen or professional bakers:

  • Due to the time constraints of baking 12 loaves in one day, we baked the loaves two at a time. Smitten Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated went in at the same time (just after we raised the temperature from 325 for the first few loaves to 350 degrees for the remainder of the loaves). Unfortunately, both of these loaves exited the oven with dense, spongy bottoms (although the top half of Smitten Kitchen looked normal, and we tried to serve just the normal section to our judges). We’re still not too sure what happened (any enlightenment on this front is welcome!) but in any case, you should especially take Cook’s Illustrated’s rating with a grain of salt–I assume the rankings could have been very different had both loaves been baked properly, and this is probably a factor in why CI’s was rated so moist.
  • Also due to time constraints, Epicurious came out of the oven last and in the midst of the tasting. Can room temperature pumpkin bread hold a candle to warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven pumpkin bread? Unlikely no, so assume Epicurious’ ratings are a little inflated (though I still think it’s a very good bread), and that it’s probably a little less moist than indicated above.
  • I included Cookie and Kate’s “healthy” recipe and Joy the Baker’s vegan recipe out of curiosity if tasters would be able to detect the difference between more traditional pumpkin breads. Obviously, they definitely, definitely can. However, I think if you made these breads on their own, they are perfectly respectable breads!

And now, my extended thoughts on all the breads in order from #1 to #12.

Here’s what you should make if…

Pumpkin Bread Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

You want to impress fancy foodie friends (and you don’t care about calories): Tartine.
With a 96% would-eat-again score and the overall highest rating at 7.7, Tartine (of the San Francisco bakery fame) was the clear winner of the tasting. At a cup of oil per one loaf, it’s also hands-down the most decadent. It has a VERY moist, tight-crumbed, melt-in-your-mouth texture akin to cake with a spice mix that is heavy on the cinnamon (5 teaspoons!) and nutmeg. Most importantly, it has a crazy-delicious lid of sugar that shatters when you slice into it. It makes a giant mess and is virtually irresistible.

Pumpkin Bread Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

You want an easy, classic, butter-based pumpkin bread: The Domestic Rebel.
I chose Haley’s recipe since it was one of the only recipes I found that used all dark brown sugar. Ultimately, this resulted in a super caramelized looking loaf with an excellent crumb and a crowd-pleasing, well-balanced spice profile (one of my personal favorites). This loaf took a well-deserved 2nd place–did I mention it’s a one-bowl affair? It would be a knockout for best-flavor-for-least-effort except that you do have to cream butter, which is not my personal favorite kitchen task.

PS. If you like the Land O Lakes’ pumpkin bread recipe, it is virtually identical to Haley’s recipe except that it uses regular brown sugar and a different spice mix. Haley’s has more spices overall, which is also why I chose her recipe over Land O Lakes.

Pumpkin Bread Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

You love a plush texture and light spices: Epicurious.
Although tasters were likely biased by tasting this loaf fresh out of the oven, I can attest to the fact that it was still shockingly moist days after the event. Whereas other loaves dried out and became slightly grainy, Epicurious remained moist and plush. I think this can be attributed to the fact that it is the only loaf that used both butter and oil–so it’s kind of a pain to make, but if you’re after a really soft and moist loaf that uses a light hand with the spices, make this bread as written ASAP. It did slide into a cool 3rd place after all, with a whopping 94% that was ready to eat this again.

Pumpkin Bread Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

You want the best overall taste for the least effort and/or a “classic” loaf: All Recipes’ Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread.
This tasty oil-based loaf is a breeze to whip up: just a regular two-bowl, dry-into-wet event. It rose very well and had one of the most photogenic cracks across the top of the loaf (which were surprisingly rare among our group) with a beautifully bronzed, crusty exterior, soft crumb, and subtle, balanced spice mix. It’s a pleasing loaf that scored well with a solid 4th place and a 92% would-eat-again rating. I think of this as the “classic recipe:” it epitomizes what I think of when I think about pumpkin bread and shows that great taste doesn’t have to be super complex. It also, composition-wise, is nearly identical to many others online save for the spice mix and assorted mix-ins (I just chose to call it All Recipes since that is probably the most well-known source).

For a point of reference, if you’ve ever made any of the following recipes, you’ll be familiar with this bread: Skip to my Lou, Food Network, Garlic and Zest, Lil Luna, Serious Eats, Frugal Girls, BHG. It’s also very similar to the following recipes: King Arthur, Genius Kitchen (uses brown sugar), My Baking Addiction (slightly less sugar), Taste of Home, Tasty Kitchen, Libby’s Pumpkin Bread via Epicurious (1/2 sugar, ½ brown sugar–side note, not sure why this recipe was different from the Libby’s recipe on the Nestle site), Sweet Tea & Thyme (1/3 sugar, 2/3 dark brown sugar). These are just the similar recipes of the ones I happened to scrape–it’s a very popular recipe for a reason!

Pumpkin Bread Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

You want a gingerbread-y spice vibe: Serious Eats’ Spice Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf (sans chocolate chips).
You know how when you say a word over and over again it starts to lose all meaning? After eating and thinking about pumpkin bread over and over, we had to ask the question: what IS pumpkin bread? The dark look of this loaf + generous amount of ginger contributed to a very seasonal, gingerbread-y vibe, which made us ask: if you can’t taste the pumpkin, is pumpkin bread really just…spice bread? Like gingerbread in cake form? In the case of Serious Eats, this may be so (gingerbread lovers unite!). This is the only recipe that used browned butter, and this likely contributed to a slightly drier texture since browning butter reduces the overall moisture compared to using regular creamed butter. Still, it snagged a respectable 5th place considering how divisive it was (only 64% would eat again): some thought the texture was too dry while others thought it was nicely spiced–I imagine adding chocolate chips would help boost its rating at any future gathering.

Pumpkin Bread Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

You want a giant, delicious loaf for a crowd: Smitten Kitchen.
First of all, I love Deb for making a loaf that uses up an entire can of pumpkin puree (how annoying is it to have 1/4 cup of puree left in the can?). This does lead to an absolutely enormous, domed loaf. The cinnamon-sugar lid on top is insanity. It’s very moist and pumpkin-forward with a beautiful bright orange color. The only thing I would change about this would be to increase the spices as I thought it was a bit lacking in spice flavor, and perhaps swap out some white sugar for brown sugar. With a 6th place finish, my hunch is that this loaf was not as affected by our baking snafu that left the bottom dense and spongy: although many people praised the moistness of the loaf, many also expressed a desire for more flavor.

Pumpkin Bread Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

You want maximum flavor for maximum effort: Cook’s Illustrated.
As always, Cook’s Illustrated had a very elaborate baking technique that resulted in a balanced, caramelized sweetness that was chock-full of depth–one of the best pumpkin bread flavors in my opinion. However, their method was a pain in the butt. We stirred that damn pumpkin puree mix over the stove for nearly 20 minutes trying to get the lumps of cream cheese to melt and in the end, were foiled by some mysterious baking factors, resulting in a dense, underbaked loaf…that some people still enjoyed (comments included “custardy” and “I like how dense this is.”) I apologize to the great folks of CI for the loaf’s likely undeserved 7th place finish.

As for the pumpkin breads that lingered on the lower end of the scale…

Pumpkin Bread Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

Joy the Baker (regular): My notes for this bread say: ” Caramelized flavor, love the flavor profile, kind of crusty.” However, others noted that this bread was on the drier side and lacking in flavor (it reminded one taster of cornbread), so clearly not everyone was on the same page. Similarly to our cookie bake off, a lower proportion of egg did not do this loaf any favors in the tasting, leading to a drier texture. Still, 45% would eat again! I would make other loaves again before this one, but I honestly didn’t think it was a bad loaf by any means. (PS. I know it’s weird to have two JTB loaves in a tasting when there’s literally thousands of recipes on the internet, but I wanted to include her vegan recipe and her conventional recipe also stood out since it had a very low percentage of egg and also included heavy cream (which was a very small amount and I don’t think actually made a difference)).

Pumpkin Bread Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

LibbysLibby’s was one of the recipes that used an alternative liquid (apple juice) to the water that was so typical of more widespread pumpkin bread recipes. However, it was also weirdly low in fat (just 2 tablespoons for a loaf), but it was Libby’s, so I figured there had to be a redeeming factor right? NOT RIGHT. Tasters denounced this bread for its dry, grainy, spongy, and overall weird texture. I would not make this again. (Weirdly, Libby’s also has a pumpkin-cranberry bread with more oil that looks much more promising and a recipe published on Epicurious that proclaims it is also Libby’s, but with very different ingredients ratios. Both would probably be better than this loaf.)

Pumpkin Bread Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

Once Upon a Chef: This loaf kept popping up as the #1 search result when I typed in “best pumpkin bread recipe” and the photos looked SO appealing…alas, although it was a beautiful color, it was strangely bland and a little dry (it was one of the all butter loaves, which tended to be more dry than the oil-based loaves). Unfortunately, I would not make this again.

Pumpkin Bread Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

Joy the Baker (vegan): Without egg as a binder, this loaf was super significantly more crumbly than the others out of the oven with a slightly sunken top. Most tasters noted the crumbly texture and didn’t enjoy the spice profile. I’ve made this before and think it performs far better as a standalone loaf than relative to other conventional recipes. I’d still make this again for vegan friends, and at least 38% of my friends would eat it!

Pumpkin Bread Bake Off // The Pancake Princess

Cookie and Kate: Poor Cookie and Kate. When I ate this bread solo, the taste definitely grew on me (although I still think coconut oil and pumpkin is not the best combination; I’d definitely suggest making this recipe with olive or vegetable oil instead). I think it has the potential to be a good “healthy” bread, but when consumed next to the rest of the conventional pumpkin breads composed of way more fat and sugar, this loaf didn’t stand a chance. Only 9% of tasters would eat it again, but there are tons of glowing reviews on Kate’s blog, so if you’re looking for a healthier pumpkin bread, I encourage you to try it!

Lessons learned:

  • Oil makes for a more tender, moist loaf, butter leads to a drier loaf (especially if you brown the butter)
  • Oil + butter can lead to a spectacularly plush consistency
  • As a general rule, the loaves with a higher proportion egg performed better than those with less (though this was less true for the proportion of fat!)
  • Funnily enough, the recipes with more cinnamon performed better (and were my personal favorites–I’m personally not as big a fan of cloves or nutmeg)
  • My dream pumpkin loaf would have the flavor from Cook’s Illustrated with the volume from Smitten Kitchen with the crumb/topping from Tartine and the texture from Epicurious, made with the ease of All Recipes. Oh, and the nutrition facts of Cookie and Kate 😉

By the by, this post is part of Sara’s awesome Virtual Pumpkin Party! You can find all the other contributors here. Due to a weekend trip spent literally eating everything I possibly could in Mexico City this past weekend, I didn’t quite finish all the data images I had planned, but will update the post as I have them.

We baked 12 different pumpkin breads to find the best on the web!

In the meantime, happy pumpkin bread baking! I’d love to hear your thoughts on any VIP pumpkin bread recipes that I might have missed, feedback on the process/analysis/future tastings, or thoughts in general.

PS. For more tasting madness, I also did a chocolate chip cookie bake off last month!

Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Bake Off

Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Bake OffIn this post, we set out to answer the eternal question: what is the best chocolate chip cookie recipe on the internet?

Well, at least based on the first three pages of Google.

Background
In which you find out how this came to be

Well over a year ago, my friend Skyler came up with an idea to bake a bunch of chocolate chip cookies and visualize the data of the different recipes. Before we were able to do so, Skyler ended up moving to NYC…but then came back to Houston for a visit–just in time to get stranded by Hurricane Harvey. For all the bad that Harvey wrought, our silver lining was that we finally had time to bring our cookie project to fruition.

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The Project
In which we bake 200+ cookies and Skyler builds magnificent Tableaus to display our data

The project was two-pronged: the first part was to gather and analyze the top chocolate chip recipes from the web. The second was to bake the top 12 recipes and hold a taste test to see which recipes ranked the highest.

We scraped almost all the chocolate chip cookie recipes off the first three pages of Google (as of September 2017) and then narrowed the selection of cookies to bake to 12, trying to pick some of the most popular recipes and eliminating any duplicate or similar recipes. We omitted recipes that used ingredients outside of the basic butter, flour, sugar, etc. except for a few exceptions that used very small quantities of ingredients like molasses, cornstarch, baking powder or turbinado sugar. Although we excluded oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from this experiment, we included the Neiman Marcus recipe which uses oat flour out of curiosity.

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Banana Buckwheat Pancakes, revisited

Banana Buckwheat Pancakes // The Pancake Princess

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve made pancakes, but when the craving hit, I decided to revisit an old single-serving recipe of mine. Oh how times have changed–back when I used to consume yogurt by the tub to now, when I can’t even tolerate a few tablespoons in a pancake recipe without breaking out in scaly rashes on my hands. (It’s okay–I’ve switched over to eating cookies instead.)

This is still a pretty basic gluten-free buckwheat-based pancake at it’s core (although the ingredient list still looks long, the pancakes are quick to throw together); I just swapped out the yogurt for a little more almond milk with a splash of apple cider vinegar to imitate the acid in yogurt. I tried these with both maple syrup and sugar and liked the texture better with sugar, though you can use either!

It felt fitting to top this updated dairy-free recipe with drizzles of a certain dairy-free chocolate hazelnut spread I received in the mail. Tbh, the super small amount of dairy in Nutella doesn’t normally bother me, but I just loved the vibrant flavor and silky texture of Nocciolata. The little luscious jar is small but rich–a little goes a long way, and the taste reminds me of the difference between Nestle chocolate chips and Valhrona. Imagining myself as the type of adult who buys Nocciolata instead of Nutella feels like I’m moving up in the world, like when I started splurging on actual face cream instead of just using body lotion (ugh hashtag aging). Is this adulting?

Banana Buckwheat Pancakes // The Pancake Princess

Banana Buckwheat Pancakes // The Pancake Princess

Thanks to Nocciolata for sending me a sample of their product. All their ingredients are organic and non-GMO, with top-quality cocoa, cocoa butter, raw cane sugar, cold-pressed sunflower oil and natural vanilla extract (and no palm oil!). All opinions are my own.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Banana Buckwheat Pancakes, revisited
 
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup buckwheat flour
  • ¼ cup oat flour (you can grind rolled oats into flour using a food processor or blender)
  • ½ tablespoon ground flax seed
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup almond milk (or milk of choice) + a dash of apple cider vinegar (for acid to react with the baking soda)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ tablespoon oil
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 medium banana, sliced
Instructions
  1. Whisk all dry ingredients together (buckwheat through salt). Add the almond milk, syrup, sugar, vanilla and stir until just combined. If the texture looks too thick, add another tablespoon or two of milk.
  2. Heat a pan over medium heat, grease with a little oil and dollop tablespoons of batter into the pan. Press slices of banana into each pancake. Once the top of the pancake looks dry, flip and cook for another minute or two until fully cooked through.
  3. These pancakes are not super sweet on their own, so serve immediately with a bunch of maple syrup, Nocciolata and/or nut butter!

 

2 Days in Valencia (+ Sitges!)

Sitges

Sitges // The Pancake Princess

Sitges // The Pancake PrincessSitges // The Pancake Princess Sitges // The Pancake Princess Sitges // The Pancake Princess

Sitges // The Pancake Princess
Sitges // The Pancake PrincessSitges // The Pancake Princess
Sitges // The Pancake PrincessSitges // The Pancake Princess

Valencia

Valencia // The Pancake Princess

Valencia // The Pancake Princess


Valencia // The Pancake Princess

Valencia // The Pancake PrincessValencia // The Pancake PrincessValencia // The Pancake PrincessValencia // The Pancake Princess Valencia // The Pancake PrincessValencia // The Pancake PrincessValencia // The Pancake PrincessValencia // The Pancake PrincessValencia // The Pancake PrincessValencia // The Pancake PrincessValencia // The Pancake Princess

When Dan and I realized we had 5 and a half days to visit Spain after my conference in Barcelona in March, we immediately started brainstorming where else we could go. By the time Dan arrived, I would have already been in Barcelona for a week, and Dan was inclined visit other cities.

We thought about the South of France (Toulouse, Montpellier, or even Nice) but ultimately decided it was a lot of traveling for the short amount of time we had. Madrid would have been the obvious option since it was just a short 3-hour high-speed train ride away from Barcelona, but we also briefly considered Zaragoza and Sevilla. Ultimately, once we found out Valencia is the birthplace of paella, that made our decision.

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