We are getting close to that time of the year again: moving ahead in anticipation of the holidays, when the heart beats with joy and jingles, warm family gatherings, a lot of shopping, and giving. There is no denying that its the favorite time of the year.
The beginning of the holiday season is also the time for cooking, baking and feasts; for me that desire of baking turns into an obsession. I do not know if it is the smell of the spices, the warmth of the oven, or the remnants of the holiday preparation at home during my childhood or all of it. Baking a fresh loaf is one of the ways to calm, soothe and relax myself.
The physical part of the mess with flour and yeast is therapeutic. The smell of the orange zest and the orange peels that went in the holiday cakes my grandma baked still lingers. The wonderful colors of the fruits and nuts, and the warm aroma that hangs around the home while it bakes wraps around me like an old snug blanket on a chilly winter night – comforting, pleasurable and loving.
Good friends are like old fuzzy blankets too – comfortable and familiar without pretense. Kankana is one such girl, spreading the “sunshine” not only through her blog, “Sunshine and Smile“, but with her personality too. Cheerful, ready to laugh with you and also lend a shoulder when are in the deep downs. She has been blogging for less than a year, but the repertoire of recipes in her blog is huge, and unique encompassing and fusing flavors and ingredients from all cuisines. So please walk through her virtual kitchen.
Thank you Kankana for giving me a chance to do a post for your “sunshine” blog, a space that always brings a smile.
I had never baked a bread with yeast before I started blogging. I yearned for the bread machines in the stores, dreamed of herbs and spices that would make a homemade bread so delectable, but never dared to think that I could do my own. It took me time to take that first step, as I enviously longed to lay my hands on the fresh baked loaves I saw in the other blogs.
Then it happened. I do not remember how. There was no drama, no drum rolls, but I got my tiny pack of yeast and began my adventure. I think watching and reading the stories in other blogs made me comfortable. However I will never ever forget that feeling when I held my first bread, pulled it open, impatient and curious to see if it had the air pockets, smelling it and kind of acting crazy. And that was allowed, given it was my first one!
Well, its been quite some time since that first time. I have found my comfort zone, not very daring yet, but good enough to have a fresh loaf at home when we want it.
I have more to learn and do. The swirl bread seemed the easiest in the list. And this had to be the right time.
Sweet spiced breads are my favorites and look I forward to all kinds during this time of the year. The warm tantalizing perfume of the spices and zest synchronizes my mood with that of the season – poaching pears and inhaling the spiced simmering syrup, dropping dollops of spiced cookie dough on the tray, and baking breads, are all part of the holiday packet.
Thanksgiving is coming up and I have had my heart set on a spiced cranberry bread; sweet dried cranberries, lightly toasted nuts and with some swirls of spices. It just sounded right to me and something which will sit on a holiday table really well.
Sugar and the spices….
The sweet and tart dried berries, earthy nuts and the exhilarating fragrance of orange zest…
All of the above combined merrily into a Spiced Cranberry and Nut Swirl Bread.
We were smitten by this spiced bread. It bears the spirit of the holidays in the true sense – the captivating aroma of the spices and the full bodied bites of the cranberries and nuts do really please the taste buds.
Now head over to Sunshine and Smile for the recipe and enjoy with a cuppa or with some warm cider.
Spiced Cranberry and Nut Swirl Bread
Ingredients: (Makes 2 small 7 inch loaves)
- 3.5 cups all-purpose flour + 1/2 cup more for dusting and adjusting
- 3/4 cup dried cranberries
- zest of 2 large oranges (does not hurt to add more, if you love it)
- scant 3/4 cup nuts, (any kind you want. I have used a combination of walnuts and pistachios)
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 3-4 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 egg
- 6 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar to sprinkle on the top
For the filling:
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon + 3/4 teaspoon dry ginger powder + 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg + 1/4 teaspoon mace + 1/2 teaspoon all spice + 1/2 teaspoon powdered clove (or any combination of spices you want)
- 1 egg beaten +1 teaspoon warm water
Lightly toast the nuts: on a skillet or in the oven at 350 F, for about 5-7 minutes. Cool and chop to small pieces.
Rub in the orange zest into the flour with your finger tips. This releases the aromatic oil from the zest and flavors the flour.
Dissolve one teaspoon sugar in warm water (make sure the water is comfortable to dip you finger in. If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast). Dissolve the yeast in the water, cover and let it sit until it foams and rises.
Beat the egg. Stir the milk, egg, melted butter, 3-4 tablespoons sugar and salt into the yeast combined water. Add 3.5 cups of the flour and stir to form a loose dough. Knead in your mixer on low speed with a dough hook. If you do not have a processor, knead by hand for 10 minutes to form a smooth, slightly tacky dough. If it’s very sticky, add a little more flour. The dough is ready when it springs back when poked, can be rolled into a ball without sticking to your palms.
Dust the nuts and the cranberries with a one tablespoon of flour . If mixing with a machine, with the mixer on gradually add them to the bowl and continue kneading until they are evenly distributed.
If kneading by hand, turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and roll it into an oval. Sprinkle about half the nut and cranberry over the top and fold the dough into half. Pat it and sprinkle the remaining cranberry nut mix, and fold it again, almost in a triangle. Knead the dough by hand for a few minutes to distribute the nuts and cranberries through the dough.
Place the dough to the bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about an hour to one and a half hours.
Meanwhile, combine the sugar and all the spices in a bowl and beat together the egg and water in another bowl.
Remove the dough from the bowl and roll the dough out on the counter. It should be slightly less wide than your baking pan and as long as you can make it. The thinner the dough, the more swirls you will have. If the dough starts to shrink back on you, let it rest for a few minutes and then try again.
Brush the entire surface of the dough with egg wash, leaving about an inch clear on all sides. Sprinkle generously with spice and sugar mix. Make a thin fold on both the longer sides/edges of the rolled dough.
Starting at the end closest to you, tightly roll up the dough. When you get to the top, pinch and seal the seam closed. Transfer the loaf to your loaf pan seam-side down.
Let the loaves rise until mounded over the top of the pan, 30-40 minutes. Halfway through rising, preheat the oven to 375° F.
Brush the top with some of the remaining egg wash. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar on the loaf. Bake for approximately 40 minutes until golden brown on the top. Half way through, if you notice that the top is already brown and turning dark, loosely cover the top with a foil to prevent further browning and then burning.
Remove the loaf from the pan and allow them to cool completely before slicing.
Baked loaves can also be frozen for up to three months.