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Gifts of Food
Right Food for the Season - Late Fall
Written by Jane Ward   
I love receiving homemade holiday gifts, and I operate under the assumption that others do too.  Because I’m not in the least artistic, or even crafty, if one of my packages has your name on it, you can bet it won’t be filled with hand block-printed stationery or custom embroidered hankies.  I can bake, though, and I do.

Every year, starting right before Thanksgiving, I begin baking for my holiday gift giving.  Cookies, candies, yeast coffeecakes, fruit studded loaves of pan dolce – dozen after dozen of these treats are mixed, baked, and then frozen, ready for the moment when I assemble presents for my closest friends, or for when I need a last minute hostess or teacher gift.  The roster of baked goods varies little from year to year; after all these years of baking and giving, recipients have their favorites and expectations must be met.

When I do add a new baked good, it is because I have found something truly delicious, representative of the season, and worthy of sharing with others.  A few falls ago, I found Pumpkin-Coconut-Pecan Pound Cake. Rather, the pound cake found its way to me.

A large slice of the pumpkin pound cake was hand delivered, still warm and wrapped in a napkin, by a former next-door neighbor.  The neighbor and I had little in common except a lot line and a love of baking.  She couldn’t have known that I was home by myself on that fall Saturday, stuck in cleaning while the family had cleared out of my way, or that any excuse for a break and a cup of tea would be welcome, but she had a sneaking suspicion I would love the cake.

And I did.  With only a little cinnamon and nutmeg in the batter, I find the cake pleasingly less spicy than pumpkin pie or other pumpkin quick breads. Without the mask of heavy spice, the pure sweetness of pumpkin shines through.  Coconut, often associated with tropical desserts, here makes a nutty sidekick, enhancing the more traditionally fall flavor of pecans.  Everything in this cake works.

My neighbor, Christine, found the recipe for this Bundt-style pound cake in a publication put out by the Cooking Club of America, of which she is a member.  The recipe came complete with a suggestion to try making the cake with any other orange puree that might be on hand – pureed yams, sweet potatoes, or winter squash.  While these may be great substitutions, I have stuck with the pumpkin.  I love baking with it at the holidays.

When I do anything with pumpkin, I use canned.  No, canned food is not fresh food, but I lack the patience for cooking down pumpkin to the dense consistency required for baking.  You could try making your own, though, with those little sugar pumpkins, cooking enough of them to yield a little under two cups of thick puree.  If you, like me, choose canned pumpkin instead, give New England’s local One Pie brand of Maine a try.

The large pound cake, baked in a decorative pan and dusted with powdered sugar, would make a gorgeous addition to any holiday dinner table or buffet.  But since this cake was first given to me as a gift, a gift is my favorite use for it.  The full recipe will yield about four or five smaller loaves, and I have used small individual loaf tins, brown-and-gold paper bakers, and a four-loaf, Bundt-brand plaque.  Use what you have or can find. A pound cake from any of these pans, tied neatly with a pretty ribbon, makes a most welcome and delicious gift.              

Pumpkin-Coconut-Pecan Pound Cake

(recipe adapted from Cooking Pleasures, a publication of the Cooking Club of America)

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 (15 oz.) can pure pumpkin
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup sweetened flaked coconut
½ cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan, or up to five smaller (approx. 3-inch by 6 ½-inch) loaf pans.  

Into a medium size bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and set aside.  

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium-high speed until light and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for 4 – 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Add eggs to the butter-sugar mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Beat in the pumpkin and the vanilla extract until combined. Mixture will look curdled at this point.  

Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin batter and beat at low speed only until just blended.  Fold in coconut and pecans.  Spoon into large Bundt pan, or divide equally between four or five smaller loaf pans.  Bake one large cake for 60 minutes, or until the sides of the cake begin to pull away from the pan and a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Bake smaller loaves for about 40 minutes.  Test for doneness as recommended above.

Cool cakes in pans for about 15 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.



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