My family seems to have fallen off the holiday food wagon.
Actually, we may have forgotten to get on altogether. I think it's that we haven't recovered from the over-indulgences of Thanksgiving. Oh, on the surface it looks like we're full-force into the Christmas season. Our tree is up, the house is decorated, presents are being shopped for, and holiday music is our near-constant soundtrack. (Which would be a bit more tolerable if the Frosty the Snowman chorus was not screamed at maximum volume every time. Children, please.)
But food? No candy has been made at this house since Thanksgiving's marshmallows. There are no candy canes laying around. Until I sat down to write this, I'd completely forgotten about eggnog. We recently sent a care package to my in-laws, and I asked the boys to decide what kind of cookies they wanted to make to send to their grandmother. I assumed they'd choose something seasonal, something that they could decorate with icing or sprinkles. Instead, they chose peanut butter cookies. Turns out they really like pressing their fork on the dough to make that crisscross pattern! So no Christmas cookies for us yet. And my recent baking days have been filled with test batches of gougeres and focaccia. Yummy, but not very festive.
This is starting to feel weird. Every morning, the boys give us a dramatic countdown to Christmas, using their big felt Advent calendar as an aid. And every morning, the flutter of stress at not having done any holiday baking to speak of clangs around inside me with a bit more insistence. Soon, I am going to have to answer it.
'Soon' may be tomorrow, actually. Tonight at bedtime, while I was reading The Night Before Christmas, Wylie inspected the decorative border of one page, spied a gingerbread girl cookie, and asked for it. Immediately, Kalen joined the cause, pleading to make the kind of "people cookies" that he can decorate. Finally, an interest in Christmas treats! And I do mean finally, having been reminded no less than 5 times today that Christmas is "so soon! Only ten more days and then it's here!" So we've got a lot of baking to fit into a very little bit of time!
I have, however, made one thing that, to me at least, is in the holiday spirit: that cranberry chocolate chip bread you see at the top of the page. What? That doesn't scream Christmas to you? Your grandmother or great aunt didn't make and lay out a platter of sliced cranberry bread on a sideboard or coffee table at every childhood Christmas in memory? Really? And you didn't toast the leftovers the next morning and slather them with cream cheese??
Well, whether it's a Christmas tradition in your family or not, cranberry bread feels festive to me. It's got the right color palate, for one thing. And it's a nice, tart compliment to all the overly-sweet offerings that fill (most) homes this time of year. Also, it's quick and easy to make, which is very appealing to me, given all the seasonal demands on my time during this month. Adding large pieces of chocolate to the batter just seals the deal.
I made this bread intending to gift it all to my dear friend Sammy. But I won't pretend that I wasn't pleased to find out that the only unoccupied loaf pans I had were smaller than the 9x5-inch pan the recipe calls for. So I filled one pan to the top to make a decent-sized loaf for Sammy, and - yay! - had enough batter remaining that I ended up with a half-sized loaf for myself! (Yes, I know I should have written "for my family." But really, why kid ourselves?) Over the course of the next 36 hours, I proceeded to eat all but the heal end of the loaf. I couldn't pass by the kitchen counter without grabbing a knife and helping myself to another slice - I was addicted, both to the flavor of the bread and to the rush of childhood Christmas memories each bite gave me. The bread, with its soft, tender crumb studded with bits of chocolate and shot through with the zing of unsweetened cranberries. And my childhood holidays, a bundle of warm, rose-colored memories, punctuated with acute moments of an awareness of the specifics.
When I'd finally had my fill I looked at the measly portion left and remembered that I still wanted to photograph it. So that's what you get: the remains. Not enough for you? Well then friends, I advise that you hurry right into your kitchen and whip up your own batch.
Cranberry Chocolate Chip Bread
yield: one 9x5-inch loaf, or two smaller loaves
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup plus 3 Tbsp Tara's gluten-free pastry flour
1/2 cup light buckwheat flour (my favorite is from Bouchard Family Farm)
5 Tbsp almond flour/meal (I like Bob's Red Mill)
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp guar gum
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp fine sea salt
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
5 fluid ounces orange juice (I like to use the kind with lots of pulp)
2 cups frozen or fresh cranberries, cut in half
1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks/large chips
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9x5-inch loaf pan, or two 8x4.5-inch loaf pans. (You will only get about 3/4-sized loaves using the smaller pans. But if, like me, your 9x5 pan is packed with ice cream in the freezer, or is similarly occupied, the smaller loaf pans will be fine.)
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl with a hand held electric mixer), cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. While the creaming is happening, whisk together the remaining dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
Add the eggs and vanilla to the creamed butter, mixing until fully combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the orange juice and mix to combine. Add the dry ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined (you're not going to toughen this bread - don't worry about over-mixing).
Gently stir in the cranberries and chocolate chunks, until everything is evenly distributed. Be extra careful if you're using fresh cranberries, as mixing too vigorously will result in pink batter. Pour into prepared pan(s), using a spatula to smooth and spread the batter into the corners.
Bake for 55-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out nearly clean, with just a few dry crumbs clinging to it. (I realize the baking time seems fairly inaccurate; it's to take into account the two different pan sizes. Aim for less time for small pans, more for a large pan.) About 30 minutes into baking, loosely cover the loaf/loaves with foil to prevent the top(s) from getting too dark.
Cool bread in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn out onto the rack to finish cooling. Bread keeps, wrapped airtight and at room temperature, for up to 3 days.
Posted by Tara Barker at 11:56 PM