The winter solstice is the darkest day of the year, scientifically speaking. If you are a parent, of course, the darkest day of the year is the first full day of Christmas vacation. For some, tax day, April 15th looms large and dark. For me, Thanksgiving rates high as the darkest day of the year (and I am sure many turkeys feel the same way).
However, today is also the first full day of Hanukkah, a holiday that celebrates the persistence of light even in darkness.
The weather outside is warm, and pleasantly spring-like, but the coming solstice is inescapable. So celebrating with some dark, dense chocolate bread seems appropriate. I'm not a big fan of the 4pm darkness, not since I was a tot and found it vaguely exciting to see my digital clock illuminated for as long as possible before being forced into bed.
However, in the region where I live, it's pretty much solstice 'lite.' I had a friend who was from a rural area in Finland, and she always talked about the oppressive darkness of the country when she visited her relatives for Christmas. "Basically, we drink to forget that we can't see the sun," she said. She was almost translucently pale, the only person I've ever met whom I would describe as having a strawberry-and-cream complexion.
I've always felt an affinity for literature written by Scandinavians and Russians. I even took Russian for a semester in college, but at the time, the brooding, self-loathing introspection that I affected which made me so much like the characters of Chekhov didn't really lend itself to learning a dense, difficult language.
I'd like to think I'd have the discipline to learn Russian now, if I didn't have so many adult obligations, but to make this bread doesn't take a lot of discipline at all. I made it for a vegan friend of mine. But because it's so easy and made with no dairy and oil, you could even pass it off as something nice to have on Hanukkah. To be really traditional, of course, you'd have to deep fry it.
But I don't suggest that, because this is one of my healthier holiday recipes. Pumpkin and unsweetened cocoa are actually full of antioxidants (and Vitamin A).
Pumpkin Chocolate Loaf
1 15 ounce (small) can of pureed pumpkin
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons boiling water (measure the water after boiling to avoid loss of volume by steam)
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Oil and flour a 8x4 or 9X5 loaf pan.
2. Mix pumpkin, oil, and vanilla in one bowl.
3. Sift flour, cocoa, sugar, spices, and baking soda together
4. Bring water to a boil. Alternate spooning in boiling water, dry mixture, and pumpkin mixture, as outlined here, in my original 'inspiration' for the recipe (I changed quite a bit)
5. When mixture is incorporated, pour in loaf pan and bake for 70-90 minutes until a toothpick can be extracted clean. Cool for at least an hour before extracting from the pan and slicing.