Chinese Five Spice Pumpkin Bread with Brown Sugar Pecan Streusel

It’s a mouthful but I swear it’s worth it.

Years ago, when Danny and I were newly cohabitating, I think we were kind of doing a thing where we were still trying to impress each other with skills we already knew the other possessed. I’d cook a lot of really nice dinners, and he’d embark on crazy kitchen projects like making mustard and hand-flipped pizza dough and holiday peanut brittle. These projects met with varying levels of success, from low (the mustard) to medium-high (the pizza) to total home run (the peanut brittle).

I’m not sure where he found the inspiration, but he added two shocking ingredients to this peanut brittle that resulted in a pretty transcendent product. One batch contained the slightest trace of cayenne pepper, which, proving he was dealing in dad jokes years before becoming a father, he enthusiastically marketed to me and everyone else we knew as a “Christmas pinch.”

Tasting a piece from the second batch, my eyes widened. What was this flavor? Cinnamon? Cinnamon from sexy heaven? Cinnamon… and clove and… pepper? “WHAT. IS. HAPPENING. HERE,” I demanded.

He told me it was Chinese Five Spice. Told me he read about it somewhere and thought it might taste good.

Sleeper culinary genius of the century here, folks.

And it makes sense: Chinese Five Spice has a boatload of cinnamon and clove, but then swaps out pumpkin spice’s admittedly homey but ultimately tame allspice, ginger, and nutmeg for a more alluring blend of fennel seed, star anise, and peppercorns (black, white, or Sichuan). Basically, it’s how to un-basic all of your cold-weather sweet treats. And it’s just been hiding in plain sight this whole time, hanging out with savory dishes, slicking itself on sticky pork ribs, roasted duck, and in beefy stir fries.

Since then, I’ve adopted Chinese Five Spice as my spice blend of choice for all fall baking endeavors. Whipped cream for apple and pumpkin pies? Candied nuts? Any and all sweet applications of pumpkin? YES TO ALL. Yes.

So pumpkin spice is officially cancelled and we’re switching to Chinese Five Spice instead, OK? OK.

To get you started, here’s my revamp of my mom’s classic pumpkin bread, with her permission and blessing. (Plus a great story of how she got the recipe, about 40 years ago, from an old work pal.) This version is gussied up for company or gifting (or, you know, breakfast) with a devastatingly good brown sugar pecan streusel topping.

I’ve been playing extensively with the monster pumpkin loaf from Smitten Kitchen lately, which I love because it uses the entire 15 oz. can of pumpkin, but which is, well, humongous and for purposes of this recipe, becomes structurally unsound when streusel is introduced. I scaled my bread recipe back to fit in a regular tea loaf pan (which is what most people probably have), but like to make extra streusel since it keeps nicely in the fridge and pulls double duty as an easy fruit crisp topping. I use my tallest loaf pan for extra insurance against a streusel avalanche. You can reinforce your safeguards and put the loaf on a sheet pan in the oven as well. This recipe doubles easily and thus will use all of the streusel, plus the entire can of pumpkin (which admittedly can be annoying to store otherwise, once opened), so you really can keep one loaf for your breakfasts and give one to the neighbors.

Ingredients

For the streusel:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (or double up and use Chinese Five Spice here)
  • 4 tablespoons butter, firm but workable

For the bread:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 of a 15oz. can of pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice
  • Spray oil or butter, for the pan

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray or grease a loaf pan and set aside.

First, make the streusel. Mix all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Then add the butter in 6 or 8 pieces, and work the mixture with your fingers until you have coarse crumbs and chunks (some will be bigger than others due to the nuts; I love this irregular, sort of gravelly texture). Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the bread, start by adding the eggs and sugar to a large bowl and whisk together. Once combined, add the oil and the pumpkin. Whisk again to combine. Then, sprinkle all dry ingredients over top:  the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and Chinese Five Spice. Whisk again until smooth. (No need to beat, just incorporate.)

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Sprinkle half the streusel mixture over the top, then bake for about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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