HOLIDAY GIFT TIME (all wrapped up & somewhere to go!)
Who doesn’t love to receive scrumptious, homemade gifts for the holidays? Well, maybe we are still a bit too stuffed from our festive meals, the refrigerator still a bit too overloaded with leftovers to really appreciate the goodness, the love put into gifts from the kitchen. But this is the perfect way to share old family heirloom recipes as well as to offer a bit of ourselves.
This kind of gift giving in France is quite easy for an American. Any of my reliable staples, both the everyday and the seasonal, are considered exotic foreign delicacies by the gourmet-minded French. From banana bread to chocolate chip cookies or gingerbread men, I can give the gift of the most traditional yet simplest goodies to heartfelt delight and thanks.
This year, I decided to offer a bevy of fresh-from-the-oven quick breads : Chocolate Chip Banana Bread, a lovely Chocolate Loaf and a traditional Cranberry Orange Walnut Bread. I wrap them in shiny foil, tie them up in pretty ribbons and carry them around town, offering them to friends throughout the holiday season.
The Banana Bread recipe is one I make almost weekly, so quick and simple to put together and an ideal and delicious way to use up those old, mushy brown bananas that nobody wants to eat. Throw in either mini chocolate chips, chopped walnut or pecan meats and this is a wonderful loaf – somewhere between a bread and a cake – to keep on hand for breakfast and snacks.
I made several one-loaf recipes but divided each into 2 liter-sized (just under 4.5 cups) aluminum loaf tins, in order to be able to offer 2 or 3 smaller loaves to each friend. I have found in the past that each recipe can easily be divided into 3 half-liter mini-loaves as well. Do not change the oven temperature whether making 1 large, 2 medium or 3 small breads, but rather watch the cooking time closely and adjust where necessary.
CRANBERRY ORANGE WALNUT BREAD
This Cranberry Orange Walnut Bread, festive in itself, so ideal for any holiday meal, tangy, delicately sweet and crunchy, is the recipe I have been using, like the Banana Bread, since my college days; both recipes scratched down in my old, battered and food-stained notebook that has traveled the world with me. Debbie, my college friend Chris’ sister, passed this recipe on to me one glorious Christmas Vacation that I spent with their family in that snow-covered, quaint, historical Massachusetts town. I find cranberries so quintessentially Christmas-y, their bright ruby-red glow and their tangy snap, that as soon as the season rolls around, my kitchen counter is always laden with muffins and breads, coffee cakes and fruit tarts studded with this most magical of berries. And while they are fresh, I purchase package upon package and stuff them into my freezer so I can bake with them all year round.
1 orange, preferably untreated
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter, ideally at room temperature, cubed
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1 cup fresh cranberries, thawed if frozen (I used a container of 6.7 oz/200g)
½ cup (50 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 cups (250 g) flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°F).
Grate the zest of the orange. Juice the orange into a glass/pyrex measuring cup.
Add enough boiling water to the orange juice to make ¾ cup (160 ml) of liquid. Add the orange zest and the cubes of butter immediately and stir until the butter is melted.
In a larger mixing bowl, whisk or beat together the egg and the sugar until blended, light and fluffy.
Pour the orange mixture into the egg/sugar mixture and stir together.
Fold the cranberries, whole or coarsely chopped, and the chopped walnuts into the batter.
In a separate bowl, blend the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir this mixture into the batter until well blended.
Spread the batter into one large, 2 medium or 3 small loaf pans or aluminum loaf tins.
Bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour until the center is set and the top is golden brown. Allow to cool on racks.
ROSE’S CHOCOLATE LOAF
I had the choice between a few different recipes for Chocolate Bread and finally decided to make Rose Levy Beranbaum’s version from The Cake Bible. I absolutely love her cake recipes, rich and moist and following her instructions leads to a perfect cake every single time. This is much more like a sweet bread rather than a cake, ideal for breakfast and snack times.
3 Tbs + 1 ½ tsps (21 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tbs boiling water
1 ½ tsp vanilla
3 large eggs
1 ¼ cups (125 g) flour
¾ cup + 2 Tbs (175 g) sugar
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
13 Tbs (6.5 oz / 185 g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease and flour a 4-cup loaf pan, or two 2-cup loaf pans.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder with the boiling water until smooth. Whisk in the eggs and the vanilla. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients and, with an electric beater, mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add ½ the chocolate mixture and the softened butter in cubes and mix on low until all of the dry ingredients are moistened.
Increase speed to high and beat for 1 minute to aerate. Scrape down the sides.
Add the remaining chocolate mixture and continue beating on high speed for another minute.
Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan(s) and smooth the surface with a spatula.
Bake for 50 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes then, using a sharp knife or a metal spatula, loosen the cake from the sides of the tin, then flip out, reinvert and allow to cool completely.