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Pumpkin bread itself isn’t hard to make, but it can be tricky to select the best recipe. There’s an endless variety to choose from, each utilizing different ingredients and techniques. Some recipes use butter to keep the loaves moist, while others rely strictly on oil. Some mix in a generous amount of spices, while more conservative recipes stick to just cinnamon. Some recipes yield one loaf, others a whopping three or four.
I was determined to find the ultimate pumpkin bread recipe — the one I could turn to every year to celebrate the arrival of fall. So I chose four of the most popular pumpkin bread recipes online and baked them in a side-by-side taste test. At the end of the day, I came away with a clear winner, and learned a few new tricks along the way for making the ultimate loaf.
Meet Our 4 Pumpkin Bread Contenders
To keep the test fair, I didn’t include any pumpkin bread recipes that included add-ins such as chocolate chips, cream cheese, or nuts. From there, I considered what factors I wanted to test: using butter versus oil, varying levels of spices, amount of pumpkin, etc. This led me to four recipes that each took a unique approach: Love & Lemons, Once Upon a Chef, Allrecipes, and Smitten Kitchen.
Love & Lemons recipe called for using whole-wheat pastry flour and extra-virgin olive oil (two things I had never seen in pumpkin bread before). Once Upon a Chef’s recipe was the first result on Google and had over 2,400 reviews. It was the most classic of the bunch, so I considered it my control. Allrecipes’ version (which is dubbed “Downeast Maine” pumpkin bread) was the most aggressive, calling for an entire cup of vegetable oil and a hearty amount of spices including an entire teaspoon of nutmeg. And last but not least was Smitten Kitchen. Her pumpkin bread gets showered in cinnamon sugar before baking, so I was excited to see how it would taste. It also uses the full can of pumpkin in just one loaf — a tip that inspired our own pumpkin bread recipe.
How I Tested the Pumpkin Bread Recipes
Each pumpkin bread recipe was baked on the same day and compared in a side-by-side taste test. I followed each recipe exactly and tried my hardest to keep all outside factors to a minimum. I baked them all in the same oven, used the same brand of pumpkin purée for each, and tasted them all at the same time. I also had my friend taste the loaves to see what he thought. At the end of the day we both picked the same loaf as the winner, and I can’t stop thinking about how delicious it was.
1. The Most Disappointing Recipe: Love & Lemons’ Pumpkin Bread
This recipe wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t my favorite. It was drier than the others and had a slightly crumbly texture. The flavor itself was good — two whole teaspoons of cinnamon gave the bread a boldly spiced flavor, and the olive oil added an interesting background note — but I just couldn’t get past the texture. I missed the rich, pound cake-like quality I look for in my pumpkin bread.
2. The Slightly Boring (but Solid) Recipe: Once Upon a Chef’s Pumpkin Bread
This pumpkin bread had a very strong nutmeg- and clove-forward flavor, and the pumpkin flavor came through in a very pleasant way. The loaf also wasn’t too sweet. Unfortunately, where this bread lost points was its texture. All of the other pumpkin breads used oil, but this recipe called for butter, which seemed to give it a slightly drier, more cake-like texture compared to the denser texture I look for. I did, however, like the flavor of the butter, so it’s a bit of a tradeoff. Overall it’s a solid recipe, just a tad dry.
3. The Close Second: Allrecipes’ “Downeast Maine” Pumpkin Bread
This recipe makes a delicious pumpkin bread with a generous amount of spice. The flavor is warm without being spicy, and it’s not too sweet. An entire cup of vegetable oil gave the bread a rich, pound cake-like texture that kept it fresh for several days. It was moist and pleasantly dense. The only thing I didn’t like about this recipe was the yield — it makes three loaves, which is way more than I could eat by myself, so I ended up having to freeze two of the loaves for later. Overall it’s a delicious recipe that I would definitely make again.
4. The Clear Winner: Smitten Kitchen’s Pumpkin Bread
This pumpkin bread was hands-down the best of the bunch. It was super moist with a pound cake-like texture, the spice flavor was strong without being overwhelming, and it wasn’t overly sweet. The thing I really loved about it was the cinnamon-sugar topping. It gave the bread an additional layer of flavor and wonderful crunchy texture that took it to the next level. I will definitely be making this recipe again — or, at the very least, be stealing the cinnamon sugar topping for other quick breads I make this fall season. I highly recommend this recipe to anyone looking for a fall baking project this season.
Do you have a favorite pumpkin bread recipe? Let us know in the comments!