The quest for the perfect pumpkin loaf cake

This spiced pumpkin loaf cake is an easy pumpkin recipe to make with canned pumpkin, flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves, yielding a perfect moist pumpkin bread for fall baking. This recipe is made with canola oil but you can use butter. Feel free to add frozen cranberries for a pumpkin cranberry loaf cake. Sliced pumpkin loaf cake with a serrated knife on a wood cutting boardI wish I had the luxury of time or unlimited funding that would leave me with loads of time to focus on the goals. I really want to concentrate on super important things like perfecting the pumpkin loaf cake. It’s not that I want money to do nothing with my time. It’s that I want an abundance of time so that I can devote myself to exploring, dissecting, understanding, and perfecting baking recipes. Is that too much to ask for? Apparently it is. Somebody’s got to pay the bills around here and the electric company refuses payment in cake.

Take this pumpkin loaf cake. The first time I wrote about a pumpkin bread was in 2010 when I tried to improve an existing recipe for pumpkin cranberry loaf that didn’t work for me. I came to a reasonable conclusion and felt confident with the final recipe I published. Years later, I decided to revisit that recipe, take better photos, improve the writing of the post, but I found myself back in the same place where I started: with a seemingly unreliable recipe and an obsession with pumpkin cake recipes that verges on insanity. Having baked loaf after loaf in the span of days, I came to a few conclusions this week that you might find helpful.

Pumpkin loaf cake in a 9x5 inch loaf pan set on a small cooling rack with a blue and white kitchen towel

Pumpkin purée can be watery, so best to strain it if you aren’t sure!

I really didn’t want to have to tell you to pull out the cheesecloth and strainer, but I think you *may* have to. Depending on the brand of canned pumpkin or the type of pumpkin or squash you baked to make your purée, the pumpkin purée you have *may* be watery, so strain it through a cheesecloth to remove as much water as possible. Do this for at least 30 minutes, and give it the occasional squeeze, stir, press to make sure you are evenly removing water from all the purée and just not a part. Now, it’s true, that most canned pumpkin is dry enough, but then this week, I bought a different brand and I realized what I had was thin almost like apple sauce and that if I strained it, I found that over a third of the volume was water. Strain your pumpkin. If no water comes out, great! If tons of water comes out, then this wasn’t a total waste of your time.

Spiced pumpkin loaf cake on a wood cutting board with a blue and white kitchen towel, sliced with a serrated knife

Buttermilk makes for a tender pumpkin cake but…

Because I had a water issue with my recipe, in the final version, I strained the pumpkin and I didn’t add any extra liquid to the cake batter. This meant, I omitted that buttermilk from the original recipe which lead to a slightly less tender cake, especially in the crust. For a more tender batter, you could get away with adding up to 60 mL (1/4 cup) of buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream. The acidity of these ingredients helps to weaken the gluten network, which in turn leads to a more tender product. The resulting loaf cake will be a little softer if  you add in an acidic ingredient like buttermilk. If you do this, your cake may take more than 1 hour 15 minutes to bake. Be patient: more liquid means more time to evaporate/dry the crumb of the cake. I don’t recommend adding more than 1/4 cup of liquid to this recipe. If you do, you may end up with a gummy unbaked layer at the bottom of the loaf. Some people are okay with that, but to me, that is unacceptable. I’d rather compromise a little on tenderness than have an underbaked/collapsed gummy layer on the bottom of my cakes. Also, if you are planning on adding frozen cranberries, I don’t think you should add buttermilk because the cranberries will contribute some extra moisture to the cake as it bakes.

Slices of pumpkin loaf cake on a wooden cutting board with a serrated knife and a blue and white kitchen towel

Mixing cake batter: creaming method vs muffin method:

For the first loaf cake, I carefully assembled the ingredients using the traditional creaming method for making cakes, whereby you beat together butter and sugar, add eggs one at at a time, then alternate wet and dry ingredients to form a smooth, fluffy cake batter… I used a stand mixer to make sure I had a well mixed, emulsified mixture of butter+sugar+eggs. I was confident in my cake batter but there were a lot of dishes, the cake ended up gummy on the bottom, and I was feeling pissed off and burned out in the end. So, I switched to the “muffin method” and I started baking with good old, affordable canola oil instead of butter. So now this recipe has canola oil instead of butter. If you want to use butter but are still feeling less than motivated to use your mixer, stick to the muffin method of mixing, but use melted butter, or a mixture of melted butter and oil. It will work. If  you are highly motivated, you can use room temperature butter and revert back to the traditional creaming method. All roads lead to cake but I will let you choose your own adventure.

Spiced pumpkin loaf cake recipe

The final recipe for pumpkin loaf cake is solid and I know the recipe by heart because I’ve tweaked this recipe so many times. This pumpkin bread recipe will take well to the addition of frozen cranberries to the batter, without resulting in too much gumminess around the baked fruit. Still, I wish I could make 3 or 4 more pumpkin loaves because I still have questions that remain unanswered. Maybe I’ll address those questions in another 8 years.

5 from 1 vote

Pumpkin loaf cake

This pumpkin bread has a great texture: moist on the inside with a great crust. It slices well and isn't overly delicate. This recipe works with canola oil or melted butter. You can also add frozen cranberries (tossed in a spoonful of flour to coat them) for a fantastic pumpkin cranberry bread.

Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Keyword fall baking, pumpkin, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cranberry bread, pumpkin loaf cake, pumpkin spice
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 12
Calories 239 kcal
Author Janice


  • 250 grams all-purpose flour 2 cups
  • 200 grams granulated sugar 1 cup
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp fine kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup thick pumpkin purée make sure to strain it before meaasuring
  • 1/2 cup canola oil or melted butter or a combination of both
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk OPTIONAL

Pumpkin cranberry bread variation

  • 1 cup frozen cranberries tossed in 1 tbsp of flour and strained


  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour a 9x5-inch loaf pan (like this Nordic Ware pan on Amazon) and line the bottom with a rectangle of parchment. Set aside.

  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, cloves, and baking soda. Set aside.

  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the pumpkin purée, canola oil or melted butter, eggs, and vanilla. Whisk in the buttermilk now if using.

  4. Pour the wet mixture over the dry ingredients. Fold the ingredients with about 16-20 stirs just to combine them. Don't over mix! Fold in the floured frozen cranberries just before you are done mixing. 

  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it out. Bang the pan on the counter to help remove any air pockets.

  6. Bake the pumpkin cake until a cake tester inserted into the centre comes out clean. This takes about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes for the plain pumpkin bread but may take 1 hour 30 minutes if you added buttermilk and/or frozen cranberries. Keep checking it every so often.

  7. Place the pan of baked pumpkin bread on a cooling rack and let it cool for 15 minutes before unmolding it on the rack to cool completely.

Recipe Notes

  • Most canned pumpkin purées are pretty dry, but some are watery. To be sure you aren't adding excess liquid to this pumpkin cake recipe, strain the pumpkin before measuring it. To do so:
    • Set a strainer over a deep bowl and line it with a couple layers of cheesecloth.
    • Place the pumpkin in the lined strainer and let drain for at least 30 minutes.
    • Occasionally, give the pumpkin a stir, a press, or a squeeze to help remove any excess liquid.
    • Once the pumpkin is thicker and less watery, you are ready to measure out the cup for this recipe.
  • If you are using defrosted pumpkin purée, you may notice the water will separate upon defrosting. Again, this is a good reason to strain it before using.
  • The baking times suggested are for a cake baked in a light coloured 9x5 inch loaf pan like this one on Amazon made by Nordic Ware.

autumn, fall, new, pumpkin, spices

One Response to The quest for the perfect pumpkin loaf cake

  1. elodiesucree October 1, 2018 at 2:12 am #

    Une très belle recette, ton cake est un régal, merci pour ce beau partage, gros bisous 😗

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Read previous post:
Pumpkin cardamom baked doughnuts

We need to talk seriously about pumpkins, and more specifically canned vs homemade pumpkin purée. This recipe and the next...