High Nutrition/Low Bullshit: Grandma’s Cranberry Bread

Winter holidays: the nights are long and dark, the days chilly and short. The same seven songs play, looped, in retail outlets and dentists’ offices. People have traditions and habits, travel and ritual and, perhaps above all else, food.

Friends bake yam and marshmallow casseroles or dishes made with cream-of-mumble soup, topped with fried onions. There’s ribbon candy, Special Punch of one sort or another, fudge.

In your house the holidays brought one constant, always capitalized, dish: Grandma’s Cranberry Bread. Mom would slice it just so, put it in the toaster oven and melt a bit of butter on top. If you’re home during Cranberry Bread season, she still does this. It’s still delicious.

This week you again dig out your recipe, smile at your first-year chemistry shorthand. (A quarter teaspoon “NaCl”, you say? How clever!) You’ve been carrying around this 3×5 card since college; it’s crumpled and torn and you squint to find out exactly what that number is next to “c flour.” (Answer: 2).

Your smart scant notes aside, it’s a simple recipe. Ingredients you likely have on-hand and minimal, to-the-point instructions. The bread is delicious without being too sweet, too moist, or otherwise too decadent. (This is fitting, coming from your grandmother who is the practical daughter of Lutheran missionaries. Loving and lovely people, yes, but not a group known for their excess.)

You carefully measure and combine flour and leavening into “dry,” juice, peel and flaxseed into “wet.” In honor of your vegan friends, you’ve adjusted the recipe a bit, concocting an egg substitute out of flaxseed meal and almond milk. You methodically halve the cranberries and evenly chop the walnuts, lightly grease the loaf pan. You carefully fold everything together and slip the pan in the oven, or, in the parlance of your notes, “Add dry to wet. Add nuts+berries. Bake at 350 ~ 1hr.”

The resulting loaf is true to memory: sharp citrus and cranberry with rich bites of walnut, delicate in crumb. It pairs well with a Puritan cup of black coffee – or even better with your favorite butter on top.

Julia Pohl’s Cranberry Bread

Ingredients

2 tablespoons almond milk

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed

2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

3/4 cup sugar

juice of one orange

peel of one orange, diced

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)

1 cup fresh cranberries, halved

1 cup walnuts, chopped

Preparation

Combine almond milk, water, and flaxseed meal in small bowl, beating vigorously for 30 seconds; set on top of stove near oven vent. Preheat oven to 350F. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt; set aside.

Return to flaxseed mixture; beat for 30 seconds and set aside. Peel orange and dice peel. Juice orange and add juice to orange peel. Add 2 tablespoons of oil to orange mixture, and blend in sugar. (Total volume should be about 3/4 cup.) Return to flaxseed mixture; beat for 30 seconds and then combine with orange mixture. Add this to dry ingredients. Gently fold in cranberries and walnuts. Transfer dough to greased loaf pan; bake at 350F for about an hour. Bread is done when it passes toothpick test; cool on rack before removing from pan. Allow to cool before slicing.

Variations:

Substitute up to 1/2 cup almond meal for some of the flour.

For a sweeter bread, use brown sugar, or substitute up to 1/3 cup agave syrup.

Add fresh-grated ginger or lemon peel to taste, and/or nutmeg and cinnamon.

I use half whole-wheat pastry flour; you could also substitute a gluten-free flour blend. The original recipe uses one egg instead of almond milk/water/flaxseed meal mixture, which should sit for at least 10 minutes to let the flaxseeds bind with the liquid.

Somewhere, there are culinary sprites who flit around kitchens and joyously compose dishes dusted with sea salt and topped with shaved fennel. Meanwhile, in actual kitchens, there are humans who make good food while being fully occupied with the business of being normal people. Welcome to High Nutrition, Low Bullshit – where we still make locally-sourced pesto, tasty kale dishes, and damn fine vegan pies – but minus the illusions and glamour.

Image: Half Chinese, Kristin Bott

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