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Go Ahead, Satisfy Your Pumpkin Cravings: Packable Pumpkin Cake

with LENTINE ALEXIS, cyclist and professional chef

I wish someone would have told me not to be afraid to enjoy food. It took me a long time to figure out fueling my body could be delicious and on-the-bike nutrition doesn’t have to taste like flavored cardboard. Fuel your Fall rides with something you crave – perfectly packable pumpkin cake? Yes, please. Find the recipe below.

I started racing as a professional endurance triathlete when I was living in Southern Japan. Endurance sport was just gaining popularity in the United States, and all sorts of “energy foods” were popping up on the market; gels, blocks and bars in tantalizing flavors like espresso brownie, triple chocolate chunk, tropical punch, carrot cake and vanilla frosting. Who doesn’t want to fuel their exercise with something that sounds like a decadent treat? But I couldn’t find any of those in my neighborhood halfway around the world. So, I had to make my own. I started experimenting with what I figured were “healthy” versions of all those same tantalizing flavors – things my brain felt were “treats.” I had some truly un-delicious experiments in those days, and while having virtuous substitutes made me feel like I was sating those “unhealthy” cravings, I still didn’t feel satisfied by the foods I was eating.

Unbeknownst to me, in those early recipe iterations most of the ingredients I was looking to eliminate –  the salt, sugar, fat, and carbohydrates –  were exactly what my body was craving because they were all of the macronutrients it needed to stay focused and performing at my best. During those 25 hour training weeks, I wasn’t actually craving a decadent triple chocolate brownie; I was craving the fat and carbohydrates it provided.

Years later, back in the United States, I had a chance to sample those decadent-sounding energy foods packed with carbohydrates and sugars (and preservatives). And you know what? They tasted TERRIBLE.

Little by little, I started incorporating real foods (like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pancakes with bacon and eggs, ice cream and even chocolate chip cookies) into my diet when the cravings called. And you know what? I felt GOOD. My mind was at ease during my training sessions, I spent less energy worrying about what I was eating or why I was having cravings, and my performance increased as well. As it turns out, foods that taste good and make our bodies feel good are good for us. And that’s something that often gets lost in the translation of nutrition and sport.

All of this to say, real, whole foods in their purest form (and probably already in your refrigerator) are the best ride foods you’ll find.

These days I pack a cookie, some graham crackers with almond butter, a banana, raw dates, a savory scone… really anything that sounds good to me in my jersey pocket when I go out for the ride. As the weather gets colder, my on-the-bike cravings become more specific and so I whip up special items to make chilly snack breaks more exciting. One of my favorites is this Olive Oil Pumpkin Cake Recipe. Because it's an olive oil cake, it's sturdy in your pocket. And, it’s filled with potassium-rich pumpkin, whole grains and chunks of dark chocolate for a hidden treat. Adding an olive oil glaze with toasted pepitas and cacao nibs fancies this cake up for an after-dinner dessert. Then wrap it up and eat up the leftovers on the bike in the days that follow.

The fastest way to bake this cake is to use canned pumpkin, but in the fall I love to roast whole pumpkins and use the flesh for different purposes, one of them is this cake! I’ve included instructions for how to roast a pumpkin below. You’ll only need a cup of pumpkin purée for this recipe, so you’ll have some extra to use in soups, stews, and pasta sauce... anything you can dream up!

Olive Oil Pumpkin Cake with Chocolate Chunks

INGREDIENTS:

CAKE

One cup of pumpkin purée from a roasted sugar pie pumpkin, or canned pumpkin

Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling, plus 1 cup plus 1 Tbsp [255 ml]

1 1/2 cups [180 g] all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 Tbsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp nutmeg

3/4 tsp kosher salt

1 1/3 cups [265 g] granulated sugar

3 eggs

8 oz [230 g] bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

3 Tbsp pepitas

OLIVE OIL GLAZE

1 1/4 cups [150 g] confectioners' sugar, sifted

2 Tbsp hot water, plus more as needed

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp crushed cacao nibs

INSTRUCTIONS

If you’re roasting your own pumpkin, preheat the oven to 425˚F [220˚C]. Cut the pumpkin in half and scrape out the seeds and pulp with a spoon. On a baking sheet, drizzle the pumpkin halves with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, turn the cut side down onto the sheet, and cook until very soft and beginning to caramelize around the edges, 45 minutes to one hour. (Hint: the longer you roast at this stage, the less water you need to squeeze out in the next stage!) Remove from the oven and let cool. Scrape out the squash flesh and transfer to the food processor. Pulse until smooth.

If you've baked the pumpkin long enough, the flesh will be creamy and thick, and ready to be used. (If it's a bit watery in the least, wrap the puréed pumpkin in cheesecloth, bundling tightly. Put the bundle in a colander set over a bowl and let drain at least 4 hours, or up to overnight. Squeeze by twisting the cheesecloth to remove any excess water. Unwrap the drained squash and measure out 1 cup [225 g]. (Transfer any leftovers to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, saving for another use).

TO MAKE THE CAKE

Preheat oven to 325˚F [165˚C]. Butter a 9-by-5-in [23-by-12-cm] loaf pan and line with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt into a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, olive oil, pumpkin purée, and eggs. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in the pumpkin mixture. Whisk until just combined. Stir the chocolate into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until browned on the top and a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean, 75-90 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Using the parchment paper, pull the cake from the loaf pan, remove the paper and let cool on the rack for another 20 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate.

In a small, dry frying pan over medium heat, gently toast the pepitas just until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool.

TO MAKE THE GLAZE

In a small bowl, whisk the confectioners' sugar with the 2 Tbsp hot water until you have a thick glaze. Add more confectioners' sugar or water as needed to create a smooth glaze with the viscosity of honey. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly.

Pour the glaze over the cake, allowing it to drip over the sides. Sprinkle with the cacao nibs and pepitas and let the glaze set completely before serving, about 1 hour.

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