Have I ever mentioned that I am a sucker for pumpkin-flavored baked goods? The pumpkin pie is definitely my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner. But pumpkin-flavored treats are more versatile than we give them credit for: they work well not just for dessert but also as breakfast or brunch fare. I love how pumpkin adds sweetness but also earthiness to baked goods. I also love how well pumpkin pairs with fragrant spices like cinnamon, clove and ginger. And I convince myself that baked goods with pumpkin are somehow healthier than other baked goods — you know, because of the vitamin A.

A few years ago, I found a recipe for pumpkin apple bread with a crunchy streusel topping in the Gourmet cookbook and it has since become a staple in my house. The recipe makes two loaves, so it is perfect for gift-giving. I make a batch and get to give one loaf away and keep one to eat or stash in the freezer. The pumpkin apple bread is loaded with spices and the combination of pumpkin and apple — two fall favorites — turns out to be inspired.

A year ago, I entered a cooking competition sponsored by Artizone.com where I had to use two secret ingredients. Those ingredients turned out to be apples and Chinese Five-Spice Powder. Apples are easy to use, as any cook can tell you. But Chinese Five-Spice Powder? I had not been familiar with this spice before the competition. Since that time, however, I have become enamored of this heavenly spice mix. The eponymous five spices are cinnamon, star anise, anise seed, ginger and cloves. As you can see, it”s a real mix of sweet and spicy and it is typically used in savory cooking. But I instantly knew that it would be an interesting addition to baked goods.

After some consideration, I decided that this five-spice powder might be just the thing to turn my pumpkin apple bread into a knockout dish. I also decided to turn the quick bread into a cake for a more elegant presentation — something you could serve at a brunch for company or to cap off your Thanksgiving meal. The cake turned out to be quite a show-stopper as you can see and it’s absolutely delicious. The five-spice powder adds a kick that is really unusual. Although my cake did not win the competition, this remains one of the recipes that I am proudest of. I am so happy that it is once again the time of year when pumpkin-flavored goods are back in favor. I plan to whip up one of these cakes very soon.

Five-Spice Pumpkin Apple Cake
Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook

For the topping:
1 TB all-purpose flour
5 TB sugar
1 tsp. Chinese Five-Spice Powder
2 TB crystallized ginger, minced
1 TB unsalted butter, softened

For the Cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
3 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
1 15 oz. canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a large Bundt pan. To make the streusel, whisk together the flour, sugar and five-spice powder in a small bowl. Cut in the softened butter and pinch the mixture together with your fingers until it resembles a coarse meal. Add the crystallized ginger and stir to combine. Freeze until ready to use.

To make the cake, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, and Chinese five-spice powder in a bowl. In a standing mixer, cream the oil and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Add the canned pumpkin. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix until smooth. Chop two of the apples into chunks and gently fold them into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan. Slice the remaining apple and lay the slices on top of the batter in the pan overlapping slightly. Top with the streusel. Bake for 60-70 minutes until the top is firm and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cake on a wire rack for 30 minutes before removing to a platter.

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Emily Paster

Emily Paster is a freelance writer and mother of two living in River Forest. She writes about food and parenting on her website, West of the Loop. Emily's print work appears frequently in Chicago Parent...