Monday, December 11, 2006

Last Minute Christmas Gifts, Part 2

If you have friends and family who appreciate a hand-made effort, or if you have lots of parties to attend, baking is a great way to give nice gifts, especially on a budget.

When I was in sales I spent two months making quick breads in a variety of flavors and froze them. When the holidays rolled around I'd fill a cooler full of breads and hand them out to all my accounts. It's easy to make them a pretty package with aluminum foil and ribbon. Here's my quick bread recipes. The originals are in the Joy of Cooking, second edition. That link, by the way, is to the 75th anniversary edition; if you enjoy history the page includes the publishing history of the Joy of Cooking, which is kinda neat.

I increase these recipes to make four loaves at a time when I'm doing holiday baking. These also make great mini-loaves and muffins, just reduce the cooking time (about 18-20 minutes for muffins, a little longer for mini-loaves). Oh, the "quick" in quick bread indicates that it is not a yeast bread.

Banana Bread
I've taken blue ribbons at the fair with this recipe. The trick: use bananas that are completely black and totally mushy. They have the most flavor and add moisture.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Sift together:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Blend until creamy:
1/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind or lemon zest
1 beaten egg
1-2 cups ripe banana pulp (I never measure this. I use two average sized bananas or one really large one)

Add the dry ingredients to the wet gradually, beating until smooth after each addition. Fold in 1/2 cup chopped nuts or dates (Joy of Cooking also recommends dried apricots), if desired. Place in a greased bread pan. Bake for about one hour, or until done.

Banana Blueberry Bread:
Add 1/2 cup dried or frozen blueberries at the last step. If you use frozen, mix them in quickly; over mixing will cause them to 'bleed' and you get blue bread.

Quick Add-Anything Bread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup white or 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Beat together:
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla or other flavoring

Add the moist ingredients to the dry. Fold in
3/4 cup copped nuts, dates, dried berries, or another combination.

Place in a greased bread pan and bake about 40 minutes

List of additions:

Orange Cranberry Bread:
3/4 cup dried cranberries - reduce sugar to 1/4c white sugar and milk to 1/2 cup, and add 1/2 cup orange juice. Vanilla may be omitted.

Lemon Poppy-Seed Bread:
1/4-1/3 cup poppy seeds, 1 tablespoon lemon zest. Vanilla is optional. Don't use lemon juice, but you can substitute some lemonade as in the Cranberry bread.

Date-Nut Bread:
3/4 cup total chopped nuts and chopped dates

Fruit-Nut Bread:
3/4 cup total any combination of dried fruit and nuts. When making this for the holidays, I tend to use slivered almonds, not just for their toasty-creamy taste but because people with nut allergies often don't react to almonds.

Easy Fruity Bread:

This differs from the Add-Anything Bread in that the bread will have fruit pulp baked in instead of dried fruit added, although you can also add dried fruit. A great use for applesauce!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Blend until creamy:
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup unsweetened, cooked, mashed prune, apricot, cranberry pulp or applesauce
1/4 cup prune, apricot, cranberry or apple juice
Add the sifted ingredients alternately to the fruit mixture with:
1 cup buttermilk (you can make your own buttermilk by adding 1 Tbsp vinegar to a cup of milk)
Fold in:
1 cup chopped nuts
1 tablespoon orange zest (optional)

Place the dough in a greased loaf pan. Bake for about 1 1/4 hours, and let it cool in the pan.

Again, you can get creative with the nuts, substituting dried fruit or something else yummy.

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