This year for Thanksgiving, Scott and I drove down to Virginia to celebrate the holiday with his mother and extended family. We took a variety of treats to Joan, including bread and butter pickles and blondies (sadly, we forgot the pound of grated locatelli she had requested). In return, she sent us home with a big box of books she was finished with, the crystal wine glasses she had gotten for her engagement many years ago and a mini-loaf pan that she wasn’t using.
The wine glasses are beautiful and the books have provided a great deal of pleasure in recent days. However, it was that mini-loaf pan that got my creative juices flowing. I started imagining holiday gift bags that included two or three different loaves of quick breads to accompany a jar of jam.
For my first round of quick bread baked into mini-loaves, I used a recipe for cranberry bread that I’ve made nearly 100 times in my lifetime. It comes from the back cover of a storybook called Cranberry Thanksgiving and I first begged my mom to help me make it when I was six years ago. She was quickly convinced of its virtues and it became a family tradition to make up several loaves of this bread each year and give them to our friends and neighbors for the holidays.
I’ve altered the recipe a little from the one printed on the book, mostly in an attempt to make it healthier. I use whole wheat pastry flour in place of all-purpose and have reduced the sugar a little (I’m okay with sweets in the morning, but I don’t want to feel like I’m eating straight cake). Typically, I will include toasted pecans in the batter, but left them out this time because my pecans had been in the fridge for some time (at least a year) and had that spongy, fridge taste. Nobody likes that.
The lack of pecans aside, I’m really happy with these little loaves. I took one to brunch with friends this morning and the four year old who was present delighted in unfurling it from its parchment and baker’s string wrappings. She loved that it was sized just for her and the rest of us just liked how good it tasted.
- 1/4 cup butter
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup pulpy orange juice
- zest of one orange
- 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 3 cups fresh cranberries chopped
- 1 cup pecans chopped and lightly toasted (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease your baking tin(s) and set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat the the butter and brown sugar together. Once they look creamy, add the egg, orange zest and orange juice. Beat to combine and then set aside.
- Put the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg into a medium bowl and whisk them to combine.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet batter and beat until they are just combined. Add the chopped cranberries and pecans (if you’re using them) and fold them into the batter.
- Put the batter into your baking vessel of choice (if you’re using mini-loaves or muffin tins, make sure to portion out the batter evenly) and smooth out the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes (if making small loaves or muffins) or 55-60 minutes (for a regular loaf).
- Test the bread’s doneness by poking a toothpick into the center. If it comes out clean, you’re good to go. If it’s damp with batter, keep it in a bit longer (test after another five minutes).
- Let the bread cool for ten minutes before turning it out of the pan(s). Let it cool thoroughly and then wrap for gifting (parchment paper, colored plastic wrap or foil are all festive options).