With yesterday’s equinox we are now officially in autumn, although it defiantly doesn’t feel that way here. Sitting on a balcony on an island in the middle of the Mekong river, sipping Beerlaos to keep cool; its hard to believe that it’s nearly October. After two and a half days on bumpy, bone shaker buses, we’ve finally made it to Laos. We crawled slowly up from the southern coast of Cambodia, tentatively weaving our way between pot holes big enough to swallow up cars. The road, once tarmaced, has been victim to the rainy seasons of Cambodia and now vast sections are reduced to muddy, crater covered tracks. Vivid green rice fields rolled past the window, the rains ripening the crop. Water buffalo waded happily in the deep, muddy pools, and children splashed and jumped in the heavy rivers.
Now we are on Don Khong, a peaceful, sleepy island. One of the ‘4000 islands’ that dot the Mekong river as it makes its way out of Laos. The skies, in between the rain clouds, are a brilliant blue. The sun is meltingly hot and dragon flies swarm through the air. The prospect of crisp leaves and mulled ciders seems another world away.
It’s been a good few years since I was last at home for autumn, a real shame for me since it’s one of my favourite times of year.
The area of England I come from really does autumn well. My village sits on the border of a large forest, the road that leads in becomes an avenue of browns, oranges and reds as the leaves turn. I love those mornings when the air starts to crisp up, the first days when you see your breath on the way out of the house. The promise of cosy jumpers, and the debate whether its cold enough to bring in some logs and light the fire. Sundays of walks through the forest, kicking up leaves or hunting for chestnuts, evenings starting to get dark early, the perfect excuse for nights curled up in pyjamas on the sofa. The promise of bonfire night and fireworks just around the corner.
As its officially Autumn, its officially time to start thinking about pumpkin bakes and autumnal spices. Time for cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.
I’m so happy with the way this loaf turned out. The pumpkin makes it very moist and the cake melts in your mouth.
The spices perfectly compliment the pumpkin. Its flavours are warm and autumnal, they’re flavours getting ready for autumn knits, and the first fires of the season, easing us towards winter and christmas.
The cream cheese ripples throughout the cake offering a light creaminess. Cream cheese partners well with any vegetable based cakes. Where would carrot cake be without a generous layer of cream cheese icing? The same is true for pumpkin.
Finally, the cake is topped with cinnamon and brown sugar. It caramelises just a little as the loaf cooks giving the top of the cake a delicious crunch.
Spiced Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Loaf
(adapted, heavily, from Nigella Lawson’s Banana Bread)
175g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
125g unsalted butter, melted
150g soft light brown sugar
2 large eggs
300g pureed pumpkin (I used tinned, but you could boil then puree pumpkin yourself)
for the cream cheese filling
225g cream cheese
50g caster sugar
for the cinnamon topping
1 tablespoon soft light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 170ºC/150 fan /325ºF.
Grease and line a 2 pound loaf tin.
First, make the cream cheese filling. Beat the cream cheese until smooth. Beat in the egg and the caster sugar until well combined. Place in the fridge until needed.
Next, make the cinnamon topping. In a small bowl stir together 1 tablespoon of soft brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Set aside for later.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger.
In a separate bowl whisk the sugar with the melted butter until combined into a thick, viscous liquid. Beat in the eggs one by one, then fold in the pumpkin puree.
Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring as you go, until all the ingredients are well combined.
Pour half of the batter into your prepared loaf tin.
Take the cooled cream cheese mixture from the fridge and dollop it over the batter. Spread it gently with a knife until you have an even layer, it may start to sink a bit. This is perfectly normal. Cover with the remaining pumpkin batter. Again, the pumpkin batter may sink a little into the cream cheese mixture and this is fine too. Use a skewer or chop stick to very gently make one or two swirls through to slightly mix up the batter with the cream cheese. Be careful not to mix or you will lose the defined line of cream cheese running through the cake.
Sprinkle your pre-prepared cinnamon sugar all over the top of the batter.
Put into the pre-heated oven and bake for about an hour, until well risen and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
Cool completely in the tin.
Turn out and cut into thick slices.