A sweet cookie, a fresh burst of corn flavor; this unique treat was an eye-opening experience, with unbelievable flavor.
The downside of shopping for your Christmas tree the day after a rare December rainstorm is that you’re bringing a soaking wet pine tree in to your home. As you set it up, it’s dripping down on your shoulders while you twist the screws on the stand in to place. You need a sheet underneath, an old one, to catch the water as it falls and those boxes you’ve stockpiled, filled with decades of memories and treasures and pressed tin icicles, baubles and bangles and bows now must sit and wait for your tree to dry.
Waiting is what the month of December is all about, it seems. We wait for the birth day of Christ, for the celebration and pageantry, for the singing of familiar songs and melodies. We wait for the lighting of candles, pans of latkes, stories of the past. We wait. And we wait. Our plans to put up our tree last weekend were derailed by a monster storm, and a death in the family, so we waited for a week of busy days to pass for a few free hours to seek out a perfect tree for us. We wait for cookies to bake. We wait for the celebrations that come. And we wait while aromatic fruit bread bakes in the oven, filling the home with nostalgic memories.
The first time I made this bread three years ago, the smell of dried fruit macerating in apple cider on the counter drove such a knife of remembrance through me that it stopped me cold. Try as I might, I couldn’t dredge up where it originated, what brought it on. Somewhere in a long ago year, most likely around Christmas and in the waiting, I was enveloped by a smell, or tasted a bread like this one, rich with dried fruit, sweet with a butter crumb. It made an impression on me that never left, though it dove deep beneath the surface to linger without my knowledge.
I find that happens a lot in December. Keeping company with our waiting are the memories of a lifetime of Decembers, wrapped up in dusty boxes that we pull out and unwrap, willingly remembered or the unplanned ones that throw us off kilter. I’m always surprised when I open the decorations from last year because there will always be something I’ve forgotten, a new ornament or tabletop decoration that came late to the party, or in the aftermath of Christmas that gets tucked away. I love these surprises, along with the waiting, and I love the way our brains can rightly kick out something at the most opportune time for us to recall with fondness or joy. I don’t know where the memory came from, triggered by the making of this sweet bread, but it left me feeling comforted and at ease, so I know it has to be from a happy time. Whatever the origin, I can draw on it’s feeling with one breath, and a simple recipe each December, enjoying this bread while I wait for the 25th to come.
4 oz. each dried figs, apricots and raisins- fine chop figs and apricots
1/2 c. dark rum (use apple cider for a non-alcoholic option)
1 T. orange zest
1-1/2 t. lemon zest
12 T. unsalted butter, softened
1-3/4 c. AP flour
1 t. baking soda
1 c. superfine sugar
Combine figs, apricots, raisins and both fruit zest with rum (or cider) and stir to combine. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for up to 4 hours, and as long as overnight. Stir the mixture on occasion.
Heat oven to 350°. Grease the bottom and sides of a standard 9×5 loaf pan and dust with flour. Tap out excess and set aside.
Whisk flour and baking soda in a measuring cup and set aside. Combine the sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer, and blend on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Scrape the bowl a few times to make sure it’s uniform. Add the eggs one at a time and blend thoroughly after each one. Add the fruit, then the flour mixture and blend until fully combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Unmold cake after 15-20 minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.
From the December 2009 issue of Saveur magazine
This post could also be aptly titled “The end of searching for the perfect banana bread” but that just seemed too long and a bit too final. I should never think I’ve ‘arrived’ at any destination, be it a quest for knowledge, a higher level of health and well-being or never-ending search for perfect banana bread, as somewhere out there, a recipe may exist that could bring this loaf to shame, but for now, I’m sticking with what I’ve got.
I grew up eating banana bread, from the earliest memories that I have. My Mom made it almost weekly, in fact, I’m pretty sure she bought way more bananas than she needed just so she’d have an excuse. She put walnuts in it, which I despised, so these days, my banana bread is always without nuts. When I got old enough to make my own banana bread, I turned to her tried and true recipe from my youth, and as an adult, I found it sorely lacking, so I moved on. And on. And on.
The goal that I’ve strived for, over recipes and time and growing older, was pure banana bread bliss and perfection that existed as a mental taste somewhere in my mind. And with the first bite of this grain-studded loaf, rich with banana flavor, I about leapt in the air with delight, shouting ‘Eureka!! I have found it!’ while my son chuckled in delight at my antics, he himself wide-eyed and excited over the taste of his piece. This IS pure banana bread delight, and I don’t say that lightly. Folks, I have made and eaten A LOT of banana breads in my lifetime, as I sought out that elusive fine balance of moist and tender crumb, ultimate banana taste and now, a higher level of health than a loaf crushing the scales with sugar and fat. After researching low-fat, and healthier banana bread options for over an hour, I settled on one recipe that gave me a pretty good start, and then started tweaking it to my liking.
I think my biggest disappointment with banana bread has always been that it just doesn’t have as much banana flavor as I want. I add more banana to any number of recipes, and I get mushy bread that turns soggy after a few days, so clearly, without some changes to the base, that’s not a workable option. And I needed a substantial heft other than what flour and leavening can offer in order to stand against that large dose of delicious bananas. When making muffins, I’ve turned to the use of cereals and grains to add more heft, and to make them a bit more nutritious. When faced with adjusting a banana bread recipe in the same way, that’s where I went as well. This recipe has whole rolled oats, All-Bran cereal and a commercial 10-grain cereal as a majority of the dry base. Cutting back on the use of eggs, I added some ground flaxseed for binder (you could also use unsweetened applesauce for this as well). The ricotta cheese, along with a small amount of milk, provides a richness in the texture that’s particularly pleasing to the mouth. The sugar was another matter; I took a gamble, using only a mere half cup in a recipe that makes two loaves. Most tea-bread recipes that I come across have, at least in my opinion, way, way too much sugar, and this amount was perfect. The end result is a bread without the teeth clenching sweetness, so the rich banana flavor just shines through. The cereal and grain base makes the texture nubbly and firm, and helps it retain a lot of moisture. Best of all, the loaves are simply packed with banana flavor.
A lot of this was pure kitchen chemistry, mixed with a lifetime of learning why the recipes I tried were so disappointing. After so many experiments, it’s nice to finally land on something that lifts your heart and elevates your taste-buds, all the while being reasonably healthy enough to enjoy without much guilt.
If you’re like me, when bananas get past the point of consumption in your house, they get tossed in the freezer to await a baking urge, and this recipe is perfect for when you’ve gotten a large stockpile of them.
Whole Grain Banana Ricotta Bread
Yield: Two loaves. It can easily be cut in half.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray two 9×5 standard loaf pans with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, mix together the following:
6 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 c. ricotta cheese
1/3 c. milk of choice
1/2 c. sugar
3 T. grape-seed oil (or other neutral flavored oil)
1 t. pure vanilla extract
2 T. ground flaxseed
1/2 c. whole rolled oats
1/2 c. All-Bran cereal
1/2 c. commercial 10-grain cereal, such as Bob’s Red Mill (sub 7-Grain, or 5-Grain if you can only find those)
Whisk this until well blended and allow to sit for about 15 minutes to soften the grains.
In a large measuring cup, combine the following:
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. unbleached AP flour
1 t. sea salt
1-1/2 t. baking soda
2 t. baking powder
Add the dry ingredients to the bowl with the banana mixture, and with a rubber spatula, gently fold them together until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Be careful not to overmix. The batter will be very thick.
Divide the batter between the two loaf pans and smooth the top. Drop the pans on the counter a few times to settle the batter and release any air pockets. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow loaves to cool in pan for up to a half hour before turning them out to cool completely on a rack.
RECIPE NOTES: I use All-Bran cereal a lot in baking, and it keeps a long time in your cupboard. Bob’s Red Mill 10-grain cereal is not only a delicious breakfast cereal, but it’s wonderful for breads too, and I’ve also used it in muffins. I keep it in a plastic bag in the freezer and it lasts indefinitely. I also keep a baggie of ground flaxseed in the freezer.
If all you have on hand is whole rolled oats, this recipe would work just fine to use those in the full amount.
If you wish to cut the recipe in half, don’t use the flaxseed, as it acts as a second ‘egg’.
There isn’t much now, that signifies Christmas was only two days ago, other than the abundance of chocolate in the house, the presence still of a tree with glittering ornaments and other holiday decor. The gift bags are empty and some treasured new items have been absorbed in to our days. Everyone seemed to have a good time this year. The stocking hunt was successful…..
The cats received fun new toys that they enjoyed…..
And there was plenty of gatherings, with laughter, delicious food and wine, more cookies than one could shake a leg at, and little children with bright happy faces. But just like that, the planning and preparing and decorating and plotting and going and coming and caroling and waiting waiting waiting was over…… *poof*…… just like that. You wake up on the 26th and it’s back to normal, back to reality, back to work (for some) and another Christmas is done. It seems like so much anticipation, and then in a blink it’s gone.
Some aspects remain, memories made and smiles shared and a new gift to use or enjoy. Or maybe, what remains most prominently is a smidgen of the amazing Cranberry Pound Cake that, on a whim, I whipped together and pushed in to the oven, before dashing upstairs to shower an hour before guests were due to arrive. It was still baking, rich and fragrant and eliciting all sorts of ‘What IS that in the oven?’ queries when my family arrived, and before coats were even shed.
And me, nonchalantly trying to avoid panicking, since the cake seemed off when I shoved the pan in the oven and raced off with a prayer, I just shrugged and said ‘Cranberry cake’ as if I’d just, you know, trimmed a nail or something because I really had little confidence it was going to be worthy of Christmas dessert. It was a blind preparation, something I’d never made before and I had everything I needed and took a chance. It seemed simple enough.
And thankfully, the alchemy of eggs, sugar, butter, flour and a hot oven created a masterpiece that I can’t wait to make again.
I get a bit overly excited each year when faced with orbs of fresh deep red cranberries in the store, and often stockpile as many bags as I dare in the freezer to use over the winter months. I spotted this recipe at Apartment Therapy (as usual….) and tucked it away to try, then of course, got caught up in the crazy whirlwind of pre-Christmas and neglected to make a dessert for our family gathering. But…. like I said, it worked despite a few reservations. In fact, it worked so well that I already am thinking about another go of it. I mean, by golly the initial cake isn’t even gone from it’s plate and I want another one. That HAS to be a good cake, right? It’s got an amazingly rich, yet light taste and a dense sponge to the cake, sweet but not cloying. Pops of deep cranberry flavor are laced with pure almond taste, and the crumbly sugary crust is simply divine. You could make this for an amazing dessert to impress, or you could just make it for yourself as a phenomenal treat.
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 tablespoon kirsch (optional)
2 cups flour
2 1/2 cups cranberries (1 bag)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9×13 pan or a 10″ springform pan. You can also use a standard Bundt pan, or 10″ tube pan with removable bottom.
Beat eggs and sugar together for 8-10 minutes —no, this is not a misprint! …. the egg and sugar mixture should double in volume and turn pale yellow, leaving thick and shiny ribbons of batter when you lift the beaters. This is the only leavening in the cake so make it good and fluffy.
Add the butter and flavorings and beat for 2 more minutes. Stir in flour and fold in cranberries. Pour into greased pan.
Bake 45-50 minutes for a 9×13, or a little over an hour for the springform, bundt or tube pan. You made need to tent the cake with foil in the last 15 minutes or so to keep the top from browning too much.
Cool completely before serving.
Optional pecan topping:
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup pecans, toasted
Heat the butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the sugar and stir. Add the toasted pecans and cook for several minutes, stirring, until the butter and sugar mixture is shiny and smooth and the nuts smell toasted. Spread over the cake batter and bake as above.
Original recipe, from Faith Durand at Apartment Therapy, The Kitchn.
~~~Next time I make this cake, I think the addition of fresh orange juice and freshly grated orange zest would be wonderful. Also, a scant 1/2 teaspoon of fresh grated nutmeg would also be marvelous. So many possibilities!!!
For starters, there are WAY too many vowels in this muffin description!!
But they are worth every twisted tongue and exhaustible explanation because they are fragrant, tropical and fabulous.
About a month ago I was contacted by a company called Oh! Nuts! and asked if I wanted some products to use for my holiday baking. I’d done some business with Oh! Nuts! before and was really pleased with the quality and freshness of their bulk nuts and dried fruits. Oh! Nuts! has a lot of attractive gift options for holiday giving, as well as fresh nuts, dried fruits, candy and other items for year-round baking. I highly recommend their products and can personally vouch for the quality. I was more than happy to have another chance to use some of their items.
For my personal use this time around, I requested Macadamia Nuts and Calymyrna Figs, and within a week, they landed on my doorstep. The figs are gigantic and sweet with a soft bite, and the macadamia nuts are perfectly tender and moist. I’ve been just tickled with both products and decided that before I gobble them all up in my adoration, I would at least make an attempt to bake something with them. It isn’t often you get a world class nut like macadamia gracing your pantry.
This muffin recipe has been hanging around my kitchen for some time now; originally it’s from the Fall 2006 issue of Eating Well magazine. And in a current frenzy through the recipe stack threatening to take over it’s designated drawer, I serendipitously came across it, magically having everything on hand to whisk up a batch of these to make a sunny, yet chilly December day feel a bit more cozy.
The recipe itself is without a great deal of fat or sugar, thankfully. But the muffin doesn’t suffer in the loss of theses tasty ingredients. They burst with blueberry taste, crunchy bits of chopped macadamia nuts and a hearty, nutty crumb that is moist but not at all cake like. If it’s supposed to be a muffin, I want a muffin, not a cupcake disguised as something else. With it’s crunchy streusel-like topping and tender fruit, this will be a repeat in my kitchen, a perfect means to use the frozen berries in my freezer, and to draw more warmth to our frozen landscape.
Blueberry Coconut Macadamia Nut Muffins
1/4 c. unsweetened flake coconut
3/4 c. + 2 T. AP flour (divided)
1/2 c. + 2 T. packed brown sugar (divided)
1/2 c. chopped macadamia nuts
3 T. good quality olive oil
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 T. ground flaxseed
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/8 t. sea salt
1 T. ground cinnamon
1 large egg
1 large egg white
3/4 c. skim milk
2 T. plain or vanilla lowfat yogurt
1 t. lemon extract (can sub vanilla, or coconut as well)
1-1/2 c. fresh or frozen (not thawed) blueberries
Heat your oven to 400°. Line two six-cup muffin tins with papers. Alternately, spray the muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray.
In a small bowl, combine the coconut with 2 Tablespoons each of AP flour and brown sugar with 2 Tablespoons of the chopped macadamia nuts. Drizzle this with one Tablespoon of the olive oil and stir to combine. Set aside for muffin topping.
Whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup of AP flour, the whole wheat flour, flaxseed, baking powder and soda, salt and cinnamon until well combined. In a large measuring cup, whisk the 1/2 cup of brown sugar, the egg and egg white, skim milk, yogurt and extract until smooth. Make a well in the dry ingredients and whisk in the wet until only just mixed. Add the blueberries, and the remaining macadamia nuts and carefully fold in until blended.
Spoon batter equally in to the muffin tins, then sprinkle a bit of the reserved coconut topping on each muffin. Press gently in to the batter, and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in muffin pans for 15 minutes, then turn on to a wire rack to cool completely.
Original recipe from Eating Well magazine; posted here with heavy modifications.
Oh! Nuts! provided me with both the macadamia nuts and the calymyrna figs free of charge
and without expectation of any reciprocal endorsement. Everything stated in this post are
my own thoughts and are freely expressed.
There are dozens of recipes in my Recipe Index. I’ve been writing this blog for 5-1/2 years, and the content is huge, but my audience doesn’t go back that far. I could write forever about what’s been covered in the past, but instead, for this post, I’m culling together an entire array of quick bread baking options- muffins and tea breads alike- for you to enjoy. There are a lot of really good recipes for warming up your kitchen on these chilly November days.
I think there is nary a food item more perfect than a muffin; and I don’t mean a muffin so sweet and cloying that you might as well slap buttercream on it and call it a cupcake, I mean a MUFFIN. I real, honest to goodness muffin, made for breakfast, or a snack. I mean a substantial, hand held baked good. I’m talking MUFFINS, one of the baking world’s most perfect little foods, in my well-explored opinion. I love a good muffin, and have no less than eight in my Recipe Index. Muffins lend well to just about any flavor, take only a few minutes to put together and let’s face it, everyone loves them, right? Got flour, baking powder and a few spotty bananas? Make a muffin. Leftover grains from dinner? Make muffins! Blueberries? Raspberries? Nuts? Oats? Bulgur?? It’s all good for going in a muffin.
And oh, how I do love these fragrant and simple little things!!
And then there are a few recipes without photos:
And….. because quick breads are created the same way, only baked in a loaf pan, they too can be stellar muffin options and I have plenty of those as well.
What’s on YOUR plate this month??
The last two years for NaBloPoMo I’ve gone back in to my Recipe Index and re-introduced items that are worthy of a second look. Most people following my blog now weren’t doing so a year ago, and if readers are anything like I am, finding a new blog usually means going forward with what they post, not going back in the archives to find the hidden gems.
And it’s also a way for me to remember what I’ve posted to these pages over the past 5-1/2 years. There is a great deal of content in my Recipe Index; way more than one could ever browse through, and a lot of it from way back when contains poorly photographed foods that I would be a bit embarrassed to even show you. Part of me often thinks about re-doing some of these recipes, with updated photos of better quality, and that’s still in the back of my mind.
This bread made an appearance in my kitchen last Spring, and I loved it immensely, forgetting it until today, while scrolling through to find something interesting to share. Dried figs and cherries gave it a wide appeal of flavor, and tea breads are one of my favorite items to make because they are so simple to put together. Mix a bowl of wet ingredients, then a bowl of dried and blend them just so. A greased pan, a hot oven and an hour later, a steaming and fragrant loaf awaits you and a cup of tea or coffee. I could probably do a month alone on tea breads in all their various forms and still not exhaust this easy item.
What I love about this recipe is that it has a lot of healthier options for baking. I’ve tried to get away from using refined sugar in my baking for much of the past year or so, experimenting with honey or maple syrup, and actively seeking recipes that offer delicious flavor without a ton of food items that our bodies can do without. This recipe relies on the cooked dried fruit to provide sweetness, along with a small amount of honey. Whole wheat flour and wheat bran make for a healthier base too. I’m not fooling myself that this is good enough to eat all the time; the bread still has a lot of calories, but overall, if I’m going to make myself a treat, I want it to be better for me in any way I can manage.
Because deprivation just isn’t an option.
Do you have a favorite baked good that YOU like to make??
Cherry Fig Tea Bread
1 c. dried tart cherries
1 c. chopped dried figs
1 c. orange juice
2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. honey
1/4 c. wheat bran
2 t. freshly grated orange zest
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
2 large eggs
2/3 c. plain soy milk
3 T canola oil
1 t. pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9 1/2-by-5 1/2-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.
Combine cherries, figs and orange juice in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over low heat. Simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Strain, reserving 1/3 cup of the fruit-cooking liquid. Set the fruit and liquid aside in separate bowls.
Stir together flour, sugar, wheat bran, orange zest, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs, buttermilk, oil, vanilla and the reserved 1/3 cup fruit-cooking liquid in another large bowl. Add to the flour mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in the reserved fruit. Turn the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake until the top is golden and a cake tester inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Loosen edges and invert the loaf onto a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Original recipe from Eating Well magazine.
What’s on YOUR plate this month??