Culinary Sagacity

~Thought for Food~

The Cathayans believed that the soul or mind is located not in the head but in the stomach.

Doubtless this explains why they fret so much about the preparation and serving of food.

It may also explain why their memories are so much better than ours.

Information is stored not in the finite head, but in the expandable stomach.

--Cyrus Spitama in Gore Vidal's Creation

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fresh Cranberry Bread

Fresh cranberries aren't in season for a long time, but fortunately their bright red color makes them perfect for holiday baking.  This is my mom's recipe for quick cranberry bread and as kids my sisters and I would beg her to make it as long as fresh cranberries were around.  Over the years I've adjusted it and made it my own, but it will always take me back to childhood and that wonderful feeling of being a kid at Christmas time.

Fresh Cranberry Bread
Makes 2 loaves

114 g (1/2 cup = 1 stick) unsalted sweet cream butter, plus more for greasing pans
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups fresh orange juice (no pulp)
200 g (2  cups) walnut halves
440 g (about 4 cups) fresh  cranberries

Measure in the bowl of a stand mixer:
480 g (4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour (King Arthur or 365 brand)
400 g (2 cups) granulated sugar
1tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

Heat oven to 350.

Grease 2 loaf pans with butter and set aside.

Melt the stick of butter and remove from heat to cool.

Toast walnut halves on a baking sheet for about 5-8 minutes, shaking the sheet pan a couple of times for even toasting.  When you begin to smell the scent of toasted walnuts in your kitchen, they're usually ready to come out of the oven.  Set aside to cool.

Rinse the cranberries in a colander under cold running water.  Remove any bits of stem and discard any cranberries that are mushy.  If you have to throw out too many mushy berries, you may want to add some more from another bag.  Dry the berries in a clean kitchen towel by rubbing them inside a folded towel with your palms flat, in circular motions.  This will also help you find any mushy berries you may have missed during rinsing.

In a food processor, pulse the cranberries to roughly chop them.  Do this in two batches.  You don't want them finely chopped, so if you have some whole berries this is fine.  Put the chopped cranberries in a bowl.

Next, roughly chop the cooled walnuts using the same machine, no need to rinse it before adding the walnuts.  As with the cranberries, you don't want them finely chopped.  Add the chopped walnuts to the bowl with the berries and set aside.

Crack the two eggs into the orange juice and whisk by hand until blended.  Set aside.

Whisk by hand all of the dry ingredients you've measured in the bowl of a stand mixer.

Using the paddle attachment, run the stand mixer on low and drizzle all the melted butter into the bowl in a steady stream.  Continue to mix on med-low speed until the dough becomes crumbly.  Add the orange juice / egg mixture all at once and beat on medium speed until the dough is evenly moist, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  The batter will have lumps in it, this is fine, you'd don't actually want a completely smooth batter.  Fold in the cranberries and walnuts by hand using a large rubber spatula.

Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans and level it with the spatula.  Bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes turning the loaves halfway through baking.  If you have a convection oven, the bread will take less time to bake, and you won't need to turn the loaves.  The bread should be golden brown and firm to the touch, and a tester inserted in the center should show no wet batter—a few crumbs stuck to the tester are fine.

Cool the loaves on a cooling rack for about 2 hours.  After about one hour, you can slide a small metal spatula or paring knife around the edges to loosen the bread from the sides of the pan.

The bread keeps in the loaf pan, covered in aluminum foil (or out of the pan and wrapped entirely in foil), for up to one week, at room temperature.  To remove the bread from the pan when it's completely cooled, slide a knife or small metal spatula around the edges again and turn it upside down on a cutting board.  Tap the pan against the cutting board until the bread slides out (you may need to give it a firm whack, but it'll hold together fine).

The best way to eat this bread is to cut it into ½ inch thick slices, using a serrated bread knife, and toast it in a toaster oven or broiler.  It's a very crumbly bread, so you don't want to slice it thin or put it into a normal toaster, it has to lay flat and be turned with a metal spatula.  If you use a broiler as I do, then place the slices on a metal cooling rack over a jellyroll pan.  With this bread, you actually want to broil it until the corners get slightly charred.  For some mysterious reason, this tiny bit of char on the edges of the bread make it super yummy.  Butter the slices of bread and gobble it up while it's warm!