20 Absolute Best Ingredients To Upgrade Your Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin bread fruit nut topping
Pumpkin bread fruit nut topping - JeniFoto/Shutterstock

Once the fall weather arrives and the temperature starts to drop, we can't wait to bake pumpkin bread. It's our favorite sweet fall treat because it is warm and inviting, even for folks who aren't avid pumpkin spice enthusiasts. For the most part, a loaf is relatively easy to make. You just need to combine your standard quick bread batter with canned pumpkin purée, avoid overmixing it, and pop it into a greased loaf pan (or lined cupcake tin) to make a treat that everyone can get behind. It's homey, humble, and best served with a warm cup of coffee and good company.

Though it can be enjoyed as is for breakfast, dessert, or a midday snack, we prefer to jazz up our loaf. Here are some of our favorite (and easiest) ingredients to add to a pumpkin bread recipe to improve its texture and get creative with flavors.

Read more: 30 Types Of Cake, Explained

Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt in blue bowl
Greek yogurt in blue bowl - baibaz/Shutterstock

Greek yogurt is a common ingredient added to many baked goods. The moisture in the yogurt will keep the mixture soft and plush, and it will also provide a subtle tang to your pumpkin bread.

You will only need to add a couple of tablespoons of Greek yogurt to the bread to amp up the moistness of the crumb. The difference between Greek yogurt and regular yogurt is that the former is thicker and more sour than the latter. Just keep in mind that making the simple substitution between the two may lead to your recipe coming out too wet. For the perfect texture, use ⅔ of the amount of regular yogurt for Greek yogurt. Always opt for plain yogurt rather than flavored varieties, too, since many flavored yogurts are loaded with sweeteners that may throw off the balance of your recipe.

Mashed Bananas

Mashed bananas in bowl
Mashed bananas in bowl - Elena Shashkina/Shutterstock

Wait, this isn't banana bread! Although you may not want the tropical fruit to be the star attraction, you can use it to your advantage to make a delicious pumpkin banana bread. Bananas can be easily transformed into a moisture-rich addition to your banana bread, diminishing the oil you need to add to the recipe.

Start by mashing two bananas with a fork or a pastry cutter; this will make about one cup of mash. It's vital that you mash the bananas enough so that it's smooth with few lumps. This will give you the smoothest batter and will allow your pumpkin flavor to shine through. Add the banana to the rest of your wet ingredients, like the pumpkin, eggs, and vanilla extract.

Cream Cheese

cream cheese on metal spoon
cream cheese on metal spoon - Basilios1/Getty Images

If you want to take your pumpkin bread a step up, you can transform it into an even more unctuous treat with the addition of cream cheese. When adding this ingredient to your pumpkin bread, you're always going to want to bring it up to room temperature first. This will make it easier to mix with the egg and sugar.

Once you've poured your pumpkin batter into the recipe, swirl it with the cream cheese and sugar mixture to get the desired marbled effect. Alternatively, you can also make a pumpkin cake in a pan and roll it into a pumpkin roll with a cream cheese filling. You'll be rewarded with a subtle tang and sweetness in every bite, along with a soft, creamy element bound to upgrade any pumpkin bread.

Boxed Cake Mix

Mixing cake mix with spoon
Mixing cake mix with spoon - Dean Mitchell/Getty Images

Boxed cake mix is the perfect solution for making a loaf of delicious, flavorful, easy pumpkin bread. The staple mix for this recipe is spice cake, but you can also substitute it with a vanilla cake mix too if you prefer to add your own spice. Combine the cake mix with almond milk (or your choice of dairy-free or regular milk), pumpkin purée,  and pumpkin pie spice. You won't need to add any additional eggs, oil, or water to this recipe since the pumpkin purée offers the perfect amount of moisture that you need.

Once you've mixed all of your ingredients together in a stand mixer (or by hand), you can pop it in a loaf pan in a preheated oven and cook until your loaf is soft and a toothpick comes out clean. This method takes the guesswork out of measuring your leavening agents and flour, leaving you with boxed cake perfection in no time.

Chocolate Chips

Chocolate chips as background
Chocolate chips as background - Fotografiabasica/Getty Images

One of the most classic combinations is pumpkin bread and chocolate chips. They're relatively inexpensive, available in multiple different varieties, including dairy-free, dark, and semi-sweet, and they keep their shape when baked. You can mix the chips into the batter itself as the last step or sprinkle an extra layer of chips on top.

Our favorite chocolate chip brands include Guittard, which is made from Fair Trade ingredients and free from peanuts, tree nuts, gluten, and dairy — although they're also made on surfaces that process milk chocolate so they are not safe for those with allergies. Another classic is Ghirardelli, which has a beautiful chocolate intensity and silkiness compared to any of the cheaper chocolate chip varieties. And if you're making premium pumpkin bread, why would you settle for chips that are anything but the best?

Homemade Pumpkin Purée

Pumpkin purée immersion blender
Pumpkin purée immersion blender - HannaTor/Shutterstock

Although buying your own pumpkin purée at the grocery store might be easier, there's something satisfying about making it yourself. You'll need to use a sugar pumpkin for your homemade pumpkin purée rather than the leftovers from your Halloween jack-o-lantern; these varieties have a much better flavor than the latter.

Clean your pumpkin and scoop out the seeds before roasting it flesh-side down on a baking sheet until soft. Then, once it's fully soft and flavorful, blend it by hand with an immersion blender or pop it into your food processor. If you find that it's not completely blended, pop it into a strainer to pull out the chunks. You'll know it's the right consistency because if you put it in a drinking glass and pour it out, it will slump at the bottom.

Shredded Coconut

Shredded coconut in white bowl
Shredded coconut in white bowl - Svetlana Monyakova/Getty Images

If you're looking for a tropical flavor for your pumpkin bread, pull out the shredded coconut. You'll need to add the shredded coconut to the batter with the seasonings and on the top of the cake with your glaze. This ensures that every bite will be filled with coconut flavor and a pleasant texture.

Shredded coconut provides the ideal texturefor your recipe because the flakes have enough moisture to be discernable in your recipe but not enough to make your loaf grainy. You'll want to stay away from desiccated coconut, which has a finer texture and doesn't provide as much flavor.  To infuse more flavor into your pumpkin bread, you can also add full-fat coconut milk to the batter, as well as coconut oil instead of vegetable oil.

Maple Glaze

Maple syrup in spoon
Maple syrup in spoon - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

Maple syrup is a viable alternative to loading your recipe with regular sugar. You can substitute ¾ cup of maple syrup for each whole cup of sugar. It's important to note that you may have to replace some of the liquid in the recipe and leavening agents like baking soda to accommodate this change, but the result will keep your loaf moist, soft, and perfectly sweet every single time.

Instead of just substituting your Domino's with this liquid sweetener, you can also use it to make a delicious glaze for the top of your pumpkin bread. Start by combining your powdered sugar with maple syrup and vanilla extract. Pour it on top of your cooled loaf and let it sit for at least a few minutes before slicing.


Bacon cooking on skillet
Bacon cooking on skillet - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

If you're looking for a boost of protein and umami flavor for your pumpkin bread, try adding bacon to it. You'll need to cook the strips up ahead of time, making this an excellent way to use leftover bacon sitting in your fridge. Once your bacon has been fried, cut it up with a knife into bite-sized pieces and add it to the batter after the wet and dry ingredients have been mixed. The loaf is best enjoyed when it's crisped up on a pan with a slab of butter.

If you like the texture of the bacon in the bread, we recommend buying thick-cut bacon for your recipe. You'll get both the crunchy outside and juicy, succulent, and fatty parts of the slice, too.


Zucchini on cutting board
Zucchini on cutting board - Fcafotodigital/Getty Images

We're all probably better off if we eat more veggies. If you want to get a healthy dose of greens in your breakfast, consider adding shredded zucchini to your pumpkin bread. The squash is relatively bland in flavor, so it adds a bit of texture and green specks of color rather than a particularly vegetal flavor. You'll want to use shredded zucchini for this recipe; you can get it to a small size using the attachment on your food processor or with the smallest setting on a box grater.

A very important step in adding zucchini to quick bread, whether it's the star ingredient in chocolate chip zucchini bread or pumpkin bread, is to squeeze out the moisture with a clean kitchen towel before adding the vegetable to your batter. This reduces the amount of water in the recipe and will ensure your batter has the perfect texture.


Sliced ginger on beige background
Sliced ginger on beige background - Arkhipenko Olga/Shutterstock

Ginger is a punchy ingredient that can add a lot of zing to your pumpkin bread. There are several different ways to add this root to your recipe, including ground ginger, fresh ginger, and candied ginger. A few teaspoons of ground ginger will give you a very spicy undertone and almost make your bread taste like a holiday gingerbread. Just be very deliberate with the amount of the spice you add to the recipe; too much can upset the precarious flavor balance and block out the other cinnamon and cloves.

You can also chop up pieces of candied or crystallized ginger for this recipe; this ingredient has a bright flavor that is highlighted with some supplemental sweetness. For fresh ginger, peel the root with a spoon and use a microplane zester to grate it into your batter.

Orange Juice

Orange juice in glass
Orange juice in glass - Cactusoup/Getty Images

Most people think about serving orange juice alongside pumpkin bread for breakfast, but there is immense potential in adding this sweet citrus juice to the batter itself. The purpose of this ingredient in pumpkin bread is to keep the bread light rather than making it too dense while also providing a good amount of moisture. As long as you avoid adding too much orange to your recipe, you'll find that the unique orange flavor doesn't distract from other ingredients and serves to complement the blend of spices like cinnamon and cloves already in the recipe.

If you don't have orange juice in your refrigerator, you can substitute it for plain milk. However, this swap won't offer the same punchy flavor and softness.


Buttermilk in jar pouring glass
Buttermilk in jar pouring glass - Fascinadora/Shutterstock

Buttermilk is one of the most underappreciated ingredients in baking. It's the secret ingredient you need for making a delicious quickbread because the acidic profile helps soften the proteins in the bread, which makes each bite soft. It's especially important for pumpkin bread because folks have a tendency to overmix the bread, which causes all of the carbon dioxide bubbles from the leavening agents to escape and forces the proteins in the bread to turn elastic.

Since buttermilk isn't a common ingredient for many folks to have in their pantries, bakers can also make their own at home by combining their choice of milk (dairy or dairy-free) with an acid like apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Stir the buttermilk together and wait until the mixture thickens.

Sour Cream

Sour cream in brown bowl
Sour cream in brown bowl - Letty17/Getty Images

Sour cream might be a staple ingredient for your dips, but it also needs to be an ingredient you consider adding to pumpkin bread. It adds a ton of moisture and richness to your pumpkin bread and won't evaporate as the bread bakes. And unlike other dairy products or liquid additions, sour cream won't thin your batter out and make it watery.

The acidity in the sour cream also plays a critical role in ensuring that your bread rises to its fullest potential. Unlike other breads, like sandwich bread, brioche, or a baguette, quick breads are dependent on chemical leaveners like baking soda to rise. Acidic ingredients activate the baking soda in your recipe, which triggers the formation of carbon dioxide bubbles to help the batter inflate.


Oatmeal in brown bowl
Oatmeal in brown bowl - Image Source/Getty Images

Oatmeal might be thought of as an ingredient that dries your batter out because it soaks up so much moisture. But if you add it to your recipe correctly, you'll find that the flakes can be the perfect textural piece of great pumpkin bread. When making pumpkin bread with oatmeal, we soak the oats for at least a few hours before making the recipe. It means that the oats won't pull the moisture from the pumpkin bread and will keep their soft, squishy profile in the loaf. This technique also works for baking oatmeal cookies.

From a health perspective, oatmeal adds a hefty dose of fiber and protein to your pumpkin bread. It also contains beta-glucan, making you feel more full for longer.


Cooking applesauce in pot
Cooking applesauce in pot - Angelika Heine/Shutterstock

Health-centric cooking gurus often advise you to substitute some of the oil in the baked goods with applesauce. Some recipes, like pumpkin bread, really need oil to give it the soft profile and quintessential crumb structure, but that doesn't mean you can't add a little bit of applesauce to help keep the batter moist.

You can replace some oil with applesauce in pumpkin bread. Substitute about half of the oil in the recipe for applesauce; any more will give it a mealy texture and might obscure the pumpkin flavor. We always recommend using unsweetened applesauce for baking since it will not upset the balance of sweeteners in your recipe. Add the applesauce with the rest of your wet ingredients, and enjoy another fruity addition to your loaf.

Chinese Five Spice

Five spice powder on paper
Five spice powder on paper - chenfengchen/Shutterstock

The holy trinity of spices for pumpkin bread is often cinnamon, cloves, and allspice (you can also just use pumpkin pie spice, which contains a little bit of each). But the unexpected spice you need to add to your pumpkin bread instead is Chinese five spice. This pungent blend is comprised of Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, ground cloves, cinnamon, and fennel seeds. The Southern Chinese variation of five spice uses orange peel and cinnamon rather than cinnamon and cloves.

The Sichuan peppercorns offer some heat and spice to the powder but won't make your pumpkin loaf savory. Meanwhile, the star anise and the fennel provide a complex licorice undertone that will leave you asking, "Wait, what is that?" rather than feeling like you're chomping on a licorice candy. Although the individual profiles of this spice can be subdued, it's always wise to taste as you go and follow the recipe to avoid overseasoning.

Cocoa Powder

Cocoa powder in spoon
Cocoa powder in spoon - Savany/Getty Images

It's easy to turn your pumpkin bread chocolatey with the addition of a few special ingredients. Add unsweetened cocoa powder to the dry ingredients in your recipe to complement the addition of chocolate chips or chunks to the batter. You can also reserve half the batter and add cocoa powder to the rest -- this will create a marbled effect when you add the two to the pan. We suggest that you bloom cocoa powder by adding it to a hot liquid, like oil, melted butter, or coffee, to bring out a more robust flavor profile.

It's also important to remember that cocoa powder affects the moisture of your breads and cake. Low-fat, low-moisture cocoa powder tends to suck all the moisture out of your cake and leaves it with a dry crumb structure. Instead, aim for a cocoa powder with a fat content of around 20%.

Espresso Powder

Espresso powder in jar
Espresso powder in jar - Aegeanblue/Getty Images

Espresso powder isn't just the key to delectable cookies or fudgy brownies, it's also an ingredient you should consider adding to your pumpkin bread since it adds a rich, earthy flavor to your otherwise mellow, autumnal loaf. (If you're a fan of pumpkin spice lattes, this is the upgrade you're looking for.)

There are numerous ways to add espresso powder to your recipe. You can combine it with the rest of the dry ingredients to flavor the sponge or mix it into a strudel topping with brown sugar and cinnamon. The latter method will ensure that the java has a prominent place in your recipe, while the former will give your cake a more subliminal coffee undertone. You can also mix straight espresso powder with sugar and water to transform it into a syrup; this method works best for soaking the bread.

Dried Fruit

bowl of assorted dried fruits
bowl of assorted dried fruits - Rosettejordaan/Getty Images

Many pumpkin bread recipes call for some mixture of dried fruit. It's often raisins or cranberries, which we think are both somewhat overplayed. Instead of sticking with tradition, infuse more fruity flavors into your recipe with dried apricots, mango, and dates. Dates are one of our favorite ingredients to add to pumpkin bread because of their meatiness and sweetness; pit and chop them into small pieces for a bit of flavor in every bite. Dates pair exceptionally well with chopped walnuts.

Apricots are best for folks who want to abandon the raisin train but not get too wacky. The dried stonefruit has a sweeter and grassier flavor than the raisins and pairs best with pumpkin seeds, cardamom, and brown sugar.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.