It was the kind of loaf only a baker could love; Emerging from the oven no more attractive than a deflated beach ball, or perhaps a totaled UFO about to make a final descent, it was certainly a sight to behold. Regular loaf pans just weren’t good enough this time around, oh no, it had to be more “special” than that… And boy, was it ever special.
Some devious combination of boredom, curiosity, and creativity drove me to plop a perfectly good yeast dough into a large metal bowl, of all things. Here I though I had just figured out a quick-fix solution to the traditional round bread, no real shaping or braiding required, but my imagined brilliance soon turned to foolishness, as I puzzled over the less than stunning results. Perhaps it could have worked with a smaller bowl, but the fact of the matter was that this was a Hannukah gift, due to be delivered in a matter of hours, thanks to my terrible procrastination. No way to fix it, no time to make another, all I could do was swallow my pride and wrap the yeasty thing up in so much tinsel and curly ribbons that all other ugliness could be overlooked.
Dropped off with little ceremony, obligatory thank you’s exchanged, I was ready to forget all about that bread abortion. Going straight to the computer as soon as I returned home that evening, I sent the recipe to the virtual trash can. What a disappointment of a grandchild I must me, giving that mess to my loving Nana!
Days later, with the fiasco safely out of mind, I learned that the gift had actually been much more of a success than imaginable. I got reports of near raves about that misfit bread, despite its abundant flaws. Looks aren’t everything, huh? So into the digital recycling bin I dove, retrieving the recipe, determined to make a new loaf not nearly so homely in order to blog about it.
And wouldn’t you know, it still came out ugly as sin.
Suspend disbelief for just a moment, and remember that looks aren’t everything. I may not be a fantastic bread-braider, or even a borderline competent one, but don’t let that stop you from giving this soft, gently sweetened loaf a shot. Redolent with gentle citrus flavor, the orange essence pairs beautifully with the tart cranberries punctuating each tender bite. A handful of walnuts add just enough toasted flavor and crunch to add depth, rounding out this loaf both in texture and taste. Simple, yes, but made with great care and plenty of love.
Try baking it in a traditional loaf pan if you’d like to simplify things and perhaps end up with a more presentable loaf, but either way, it will still taste just as good.
Nana’s Cranberry Bread
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Agave Nectar
1 0.6-Ounce Cube Fresh Yeast, or 1 1/4-Ounce Packet Active Dry Yeast
3 to 3 1/2 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour
2/3 Cup Dried Cranberries
1/2 Cup Toasted, Chopped Walnuts
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Orange Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Orange Extract (or 1 Additional Tablespoon Zest)
Gently warm the non-dairy milk of your choice up to about room temperature; no hotter than 100 degrees or so, or else you’ll kill the yeast. Add in the agave, and if using dry yeast, sprinkle it over the top. Wait 5 – 10 minutes for it to become active and foamy.
In a large bowl, add the fresh yeast if using, 3 cups of flour, cranberries, walnuts, salt, zest, and cinnamon. Stir to combine, and add in the “milk” mixture, followed by the oil and extract. Mix well, until there are no more dry pockets of flour. If the mixture still seems very wet and sticky, mix in the remaining 1/2 cup of flour. Either use your dough hook attachment to knead the dough for 5 – 10 minutes, or turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 10 – 15, until the dough is smooth and tacky. Place it in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let sit in a warm place for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in size.
Once doubled in volume, turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and gently press the air bubbles out with your knuckles. Shape as desired- I don’t think I’m qualified to instruct on the best method for this loaf, but if all else fails, just roll it up into a log and place it in a greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Once shaped, cover and let rest again for 45 – 60 minutes, until not quite doubled in size.
Begin preheating your oven to 375 degrees when the loaf is nearly finished rising for a second time. Carefully brush with your “egg” wash, and bake for 35 – 45 minutes, until golden brown all over and it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool completely before slicing.
Makes 1 Loaf