If you’ve ever found yourself in the company of a pumpkin bread cobbled with chocolate chips, you know the visceral joy of pulling off soft fistfuls, well past the allotment of a single neat slice.
Now imagine that same squishy loaf, glowing a deeper orange, with a fluffier crumb. The chocolate chips are now bittersweet chunks; the glaze extra glossy and, instead of pow-in-the-kisser sweet, faintly savory; the top a-crackle with toasted pepitas and cacao nibs.
This thoroughly modern pumpkin bread is the brainchild of pastry chef Nicole Rucker—who now runs Fat + Flour, a tiny, glorious pie shop in Grand Central Market in L.A.—from her days as Gjelina restaurant’s general manager and pastry chef (and sometimes barista).
Starting from a pumpkin tea cake recipe in the Tartine cookbook, which Nicole calls “a perfect recipe in itself,” she set to deepening the flavors everywhere she could, turning to the staples she had ready access to at Gjelina: notably, crates of local kabocha squash (then used in an agnolotti dish) and lots of good-tasting olive oil.
Roasted kabocha squash has almost-neon orange flesh that’s uniquely dry and creamy, making it ideal for baking tender, fluffy cakes (more moisture can lead to more gluten development, aka tougher, drier cakes). And, as I’ve said time and again, oil in cakes also acts as a buffer against overzealous gluten, leading to batters you’re less likely to accidentally overmix and loaves that defy going stale for days. Olive oil, specifically—unlike vegetable oil and its ilk—tastes like something you want to eat.
Which brings us to that glaze, which might be the most genius takeaway of all. Because why would we whisk just powdered sugar and water, when we could be drizzling in a few buttery spoonfuls of olive oil too? As Nicole told me, “The oil in the glaze makes a really rich and viscous shiny glaze for the surface of the cake,” emulsifying effortlessly and anchoring the straight sweetness with a little fruity heft.
As much as this cake will bring joy in your own home for days, it will really sparkle dropped on a neighbor’s doorstep or in other distanced handoffs to loved ones. While I haven’t tried shipping it myself, I imagine it would pass the test, given that, after baking two cakes for the video above, I finished the last slice over a week later and it was still squidgy as ever. In fact, I love the flavor most on days two and beyond, though I’d never stop you from cutting into a warm cake dripping with sticky glaze, if that is what your heart desires.
Your giftees will be just as happy as if a cozy, classic pumpkin bread sidled up next to them, and one bite will send them ringing you up for the recipe. What is the deal with this pumpkin bread??? I predict the texts will say. And you’ll have plenty to share.
Kabocha, Olive Oil, and Bittersweet Chocolate Cake From Nicole Rucker and Gjelina
Makes 1 loaf cake
• 1 (1-pound/455-gram) piece kabocha squash, seeded
• Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling, plus 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (255 mL)
• 1 1/2 cups (180 grams) all-purpose flour
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
• 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
• 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1 1/3 cups (265 grams) granulated sugar
• 3 large eggs
• 8 ounces (230 grams) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 3 tablespoons raw pepitas (for the glaze)
Olive Oil Glaze
• 1 1/4 cups (150 grams) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
• 2 tablespoons hot water
• 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 tablespoons crushed cacao nibs
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