“Do you think you could do a blog post on the history of pumpkin spice?” my editor recently asked.
“Sure,” I said. “Any particular reason?”
I returned to my editor a few days later. “We may have a little problem with the pumpkin-spice-history post.”
“Oh?” she replied.
“I had our interns Dirk and Katee do some research. There’s not much to say about its genesis. It’s a spice mixture, possibly dating back the 1930s. It’s often used in pumpkin pie, and it’s tasty, but the post may be a bit meager without some padding.”
“How much padding?”
“Some padding. For instance, I was going to concoct some rigamarole about how pumpkin spice was invented in the 1850s by a mate on a whaling ship who, bored with hardtack and blubber, devised it while ashore in Tahiti. His ship later sank with nearly all hands, but fortunately the mate entrusted the formula to a shipmate who proved less drownable than the rest of the crew. That guy (what should we call him?) returned to the States and passed the recipe down through succeeding generations until the last of his line, obsessed with the greatness of pumpkins, sold it to a ‘big eastern syndicate.’ But I didn’t.”
“Thanks for not doing that.”
“No problem. I’m also having a hard time not mentioning a certain coffee company. Apparently, a lot of people like pumpkin spice in their coffee.”
“I have an idea. How experienced a baker are you?”
“As far as I know, I have never baked.”
“Do you know what ‘folding’ is?”
“Great! Here’s what you should do. Take a couple mixes home and try them out. They should be more or less foolproof, and I can’t think of a better person to test that.”
So that’s what I did.
With the help of two of our buyers, I selected two mixes: Buttermilk Almond Pumpkin Spice Quick Bread and Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chip Cake Mix (The names of both mixes are quite a mouthful, which would later prove apt), and borrowed a Bundt pan. On my way home, I stopped at the grocery to get eggs and buttermilk (for the mixes) and a bottle of bourbon (for me, in case things went horribly wrong).
I shouldn’t have worried. Preparing the mixes was slightly harder than falling off a log. That only requires acquiesing to gravity. For the mixes, if you can whisk, fold, and pour, you should be set. Waiting for eggs to warm to room temperature, which is a skill I possess, composed most of the prep time. (One thing that gave me slight pause was the instruction to cool the melted butter to room temperature, because wouldn’t room-temperature butter be solid?) Once the butter was ready, it took me about ten minutes to prepare the mix and put it in the oven. I watched an episode of the “Mod Squad,” which is about as exciting as things got, the apartment filled with the bliss of baking pumpkin, and then the quick bread was done.
I almost wish something had gone wrong, so I could relate some wacky misadventure or wrenching tragedy, depending on the severity of the disaster. Everything went according to plan, however. I had a brief moment of anxiety when I realized I’d forgotten to lightly spray the loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray, but the quick bread slid right out, which may also have been due to the loaf pan I used. Another ten minutes of prep, and the pumpkin chocolate chip cake was in the oven for a baking as drama free as the quick bread’s. (No “Mod Squad,” but I did spend an hour engrossed by Jack Lord’s hair on “Hawaii 5-0.”)
By all visual evidence, my baking was a success, but the proof of the pumpkin is in the eating (or something like that), so the following morning I took my baked goods to the office to get my coworkers’ reactions. The following are solicited testimonials from people I work with about baking mixes we sell.
“They’re both pretty tasty, but I think the cake is the definite winner. I really like how the exterior is almost caramelized. Neither struck me as too pumpkin, but pumpkin plays a stronger roll in the Bundt. Also, the somewhat bitter dark chocolate provides a really nice counterpoint to the cake’s sweetness.”
“You should intentionally bake more often. These came out perfectly! I’m feeling all autumnal…”
“Both of your pumpkin spice treats were delicious! You could have easily passed these off as homemade. Keep feeding me your experiments.”
“The one with the chocolate chunks is AMAZING.”
“Referencing the pumpkin choco-chip cake mix: The tastiest dessert I’ve had since accidentally stumbling into the 2011 International Baklava Constortium’s Las Vegas Convention for Heavy-Handed Butter Users.”
“The pumpkin chocolate one is from a mix? I can’t believe this is from a mix. It’s so delicious!”
“If I didn’t know those came from boxed mixes, I wouldn’t know those came from boxed mixes. The pumpkin spice flavor was subtle and natural, not your grocery store creamer pumpkin spice. The bread was soft and delicious but the Bundt cake was the best. It had a crisp, thin, golden baked crust on the edges and as much as I hate the word “moist,” it had a perfectly moist texture. The chocolate chips were soft with that perfect butter-like consistency you get after chocolate-chip cookies have cooled for a couple of hours but still have that oven-freshness. This is too dangerous. I’m ordering both mixes tonight. .”
“The only thing I can think to say about it is, more please!”
“Both mixes had nice density. I can definitely taste the almond in the quick bread, but my favorite was the pumpkin spice chocolate chips. I love chocolate, and they also make the cake that much more moist. It also looked like it released from the Bundt pan very nicely, nice definition of the shape.”
In conclusion, based on my experience and my coworkers’ responses, the people at Baked NYC know what they’re doing and, even if your baking skills run the gamut from nonexistent to rudimentary, they can help you impress and feed your friends. Check out all of our Baked mixes here.
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- Not So Much a History of Pumpkin Spice - August 12, 2015