The first time I made cranberry bread, I was 8 years old. My mom helped me toast the walnuts and chop the cranberries in her Vitamix, but left the rest of the measuring and stirring up to me. We took it with us to my grandma Bunny’s house, and I walked around with it sliced on plates, urging family and friends to try a slice. I was so proud of myself.
The recipe had come from the back of a children’s book called “Cranberry Thanksgiving,” about Maggie, a young girl who lives with her grandmother on the edge of a lonely cranberry bog. She befriends Mr. Whiskers and invites him home for Thanksgiving dinner. Her grandmother’s secret cranberry bread recipe goes missing that night and she suspects Mr. Whiskers. It all works out in the end, and Grandmother feels so generous, that she shares the recipe with the readers of the book.
My copy of the book lives in my mom’s kitchen cabinet next to her edition of the Joy of Cooking. It is splattered and has the changes I’ve made over the years written lightly in pencil. I don’t believe that as year has gone by in the last 19 that I haven’t made this bread, either for Thanksgiving or Christmas. In recent years I’ve given it as a gift around the holiday time.
This weekend I had three events for which I had to contribute a food item. Flipping through my mental file of recipes, I landed on cranberry bread and Friday night after a Unitarian happy hour I went home and cranked out three loaves. One of the wonderful things about this recipe is that it is really forgiving. There isn’t much that you can do to screw it up.
This recipe will make one large loaf. Friday night I doubled it and stretched it to fit into three loaf pans, so that I would have enough for all events. This is the recipe as I’ve revised it over the years, it’s not direct from the book.
Preheat over to 350 degrees while you assemble the ingredients.
2 cups of flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour these days)
1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar (depending on how tart you like your baked goods, I opt for less, personally)
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (kosher if you have it)
1 stick of softened butter
1 beaten egg
The zest of one orange
3/4 cup of orange juice
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg (if you must, you can use pre-ground)
1 bag of carefully rinsed and picked over cranberries
1 cup of chopped, toasted pecans (you are welcome to substitute your favorite nut, but I recommend you don’t skip the toasting step. It just makes everything better)
Cream the butter and sugar together. Mix in the egg, orange juice and orange zest. Mix dry ingredients together separately and then add in the wet ingredients. Stir until just mixed and fold in the cranberries and nuts. Spoon into a greased bread pan. If you want to go for an extra touch, sprinkle a little turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw) over the top of the bread.
Bake for an hour at 350 degrees and then check with a skewer or toothpick. It made need another ten or fifteen minutes.
If you use whole wheat flour, the bread will have this gorgeous amber color when you cut into it and it will make you feel that you are eating a healthy food.