irish soda bread with raisins and cranberries

I did a little holiday baking on my day off from my internship today.  St. Patrick’s Day is later this week, but I won’t have a lot of time to putter around in my own kitchen on that day so we’re having our Corned Beef and Cabbage tonight instead.  And of course, I had to bake Irish Soda Bread too.  I don’t really eat soda bread with the meal but usually have it with tea (or coffee!) during the week.

Typically, I make American-style Irish Soda Bread — that is, I add caraway seeds.  I just like the way they make the bread taste, although I know they aren’t to everyone’s liking.  This year, however, I opted to try a new twist.  No caraway seeds, but (and this was an epiphany to me) the raisins and dried cranberries are soaked in Irish whiskey!  Tell me, what says St. Paddy’s Day better than a little Jameson’s in your soda bread?

I found the recipe on Serious Eats, and converted the recipe’s volume measurements into weight because I prefer scaling my ingredients to washing a lot of measuring cups.  I also used dried buttermilk powder (I use Saco) rather than fresh buttermilk.  It’s great stuff — you add the powder to the dry ingredients and add the appropriate amount of water when you incorporate the wet ingredients.  Store it in the refrigerator and you don’t have to worry about wasting half-used cartons of fresh buttermilk.  You can also substitute soured milk (1 tablespoon of white vinegar per 8 oz. of milk, stirred and left to rest for 5 minutes before using), but I think the buttermilk powder yields better results.

Irish Soda Bread with Cranberries and Raisins
(adapted from Serious Eats)

1/2 cup (2.25 oz.) dried cranberries
1/2 cup (2.75 oz.) raisins
1/2 cup (8 oz.) Irish whiskey (or hot water)
4 cups (17 oz.) bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons (1 oz.) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons (1.5 oz.) honey
6 tablespoons (2 oz.) dried buttermilk powder
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) water

Combine the cranberries, raisins and whiskey (or hot water). Cover and set aside to rehydrate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and dried buttermilk powder. Whisk to combine. Cut the butter into slices, then work it into the flour with your fingertips until it is fully incorporated. Add the honey, water and the cranberries and raisins with the soaking liquid. Stir with a wooden spoon until all the liquid is absorbed.

Flour your work surface lightly and turn out the dough. It will still be sticky — try to avoid adding more flour. It’s helpful to flour your hands and use a bowl scraper or a spatula blade to help you maneuver the dough around. Form the dough into a 6-8 inch disk about 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 inches high and place it on your prepared baking sheet. Cut an X in the top of the dough across the top, about 1/2 inch deep.

Bake at 375 degrees for 50-60 minutes, until the bread is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack. If you like a softer crust. cover the bread with a clean kitchen towel as it cools.

cranberry-white chocolate muffins

My husband often teases me about how I would rather spend untold amounts of money to use up leftover ingredients than simply discard them. Followers of this blog are aware that last November I overbought fresh cranberries whilst in the throes of autumnal mania and have been chiseling away at them ever since, little by ever so little. This morning I finally used up the last of my formerly fresh, now frozen cranberries. (And there was much rejoicing.)

I’ve long been a big fan of the flavor (and color) combination of cranberries and white chocolate and have made cookies and scones on many occasions featuring these two ingredients. While pondering what to do with my remaining cranberries I had a flash of inspiration — why not give them the cranberry and white chocolate treatment?!

I started with the recipe for Big Beautiful Muffins in The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book. Like many other recipes from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated, the instructions suggested many different ways to adapt the recipe to suit my fancy, so I felt comfortable playing around a bit. I added 3/4 cup of chopped cranberries (still frozen) and 3/4 cup white chocolate chips to the batter. Those amounts seemed appropriate when compared to the other variations, but in the end, I felt the muffins could’ve used more of both, perhaps a cup of each instead. The recipe makes a dozen and are big as advertised, perhaps a bit too big for a standard muffin pan. The muffin tops fused to each other and required a bit of pulling apart when I removed them from the pan. This resulted in jagged edges — not all that pretty. The good news is the muffins were tender (I didn’t overmix — yay!). An additional note: I substituted 2 ounces of unsweetened applesauce for 2 ounces of the 4 ounces of melted butter, and didn’t miss the fat in the finished product at all.

Next up… getting rid of those chopped dates from last December!

zucchini-cranberry muffins

I’m still trying to get through my frozen cranberries from last fall. Who knew it would be so tough? It seems like a lot of recipes call for dried cranberries, and those that don’t are of the cranberry-orange flavor pairing. And I’ve exhausted the cranberry-orange canon.

I found this recipe by way of The Food Librarian’s wonderful blog. It’s originally from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook. I’m not ordinarily a Martha fan. I don’t want to go into it; I’ve never met the woman so it wouldn’t be nice for me to expound on my feelings about her in a public setting. But the idea of a cranberry muffin recipe that called for fresh or frozen cranberries and no orange sucked me in. I substituted 2 ounces of unsweetened applesauce for half of the vegetable oil, but I otherwise made it as written. They are lightly sweet and making them without wrappers makes the outsides have a little crunchy chewiness to them — yum! I felt they could use a little more cinnamon though — I’ll double the amount next time and maybe substitute in a little whole wheat flour, because… I still have more cranberries in the freezer!

cranberry whole-grain muffins

Now this is a proper whole grain muffin! It’s made with whole wheat flour and oats, and also has fresh cranberries, orange zest and chopped walnuts. The original recipe actually calls for an orange glaze, but I omitted it because I didn’t feel it needed more sugar. Without the glaze, the muffins still have a touch of sweetness which contrasts very nicely with the tartness of the cranberries. And best of all, they are moist and tender, not tough like I feared a whole grain muffin might be.

cranberry-orange nut bread

I don’t know if this is true elsewhere in the country, but here in New England, come autumn you start to see fresh cranberries being advertised in the supermarket circulars. Once upon a time, some savvy cranberry marketing genius came up with the “buy two, freeze one” tagline, which was then placed on the cranberry packaging and in the supermarket ad copy. I am guessing that once the fresh cranberry supply runs out in the fall, that’s it for consumers who are looking for fresh or even frozen cranberries, or else why would we have to take it upon ourselves to preemptively scoop up the cranberries and hold them in our own home freezers?

I generally ignore such mandates from food packaging and advertising but this year, crazy manic baker that I’ve become, I decided this buying and freezing idea might have some merit. And as I usually make a cranberry relish from scratch at Thanksgiving anyway, buying 2 bags (I even considering buying 3 or 4) seemed pretty reasonable. As it turns out, I didn’t end up making my usual cranberry relish this Thanksgiving, so I ended up with 2 bags of cranberries in my freezer at the end of November. My thoughts turned to coming up with something to make with all the cranberries I had now burning a hole in my freezer and despite being the mostly delighted new owner of a side-by-side refrigerator, I was ever mindful that freezer space is always at a premium.

To my shock and surprise, I discovered that all those cranberry-themed recipes I had been imagining when I bought those fresh cranberries don’t actually require the use of fresh (or frozen) cranberries. The majority of the recipes called for dried cranberries, which are readily available year-round.

Part two of my thought process was that I’ve been contemplating different quick bread recipes to bake and give as gifts. I’ve never been a big fan of cranberry breads, largely because all the cranberry bread I’ve ever consumed has been off supermarket bakery catering platters and they were disgustingly artificial tasting and memorable only in that regard. But with 2 bags of cranberries staring me in the face, I decided to have faith in my culinary abilities and give cranberry bread another try.

I found a recipe for Cranberry-Orange Nut Bread in my King Arthur Flour cookbook and decided to give it a whirl. The recipe calls for fresh, frozen or dried cranberries, orange juice and extract (or if you’d rather, orange zest and juice), walnuts and buttermilk (as luck would have it, I still had some buttermilk left from making cornbread for Thanksgiving stuffing — oh joy!). The finished bread was moist and subtly orangey — not overwhelmingly orange with that fakey taste so prominent in the supermarket cranberry breads. The chopped cranberry and walnut bits didn’t overwhelm, which pleased my chunk-phobic husband. The bread was very light on sweetness, something that might not be true if I had made it with the dried cranberries (which are sweetened). Not being a typical cranberry bread fan I’m not sure I’d put it on my must-bake list (date nut bread would come first, for starters), but aficionados of tart fruit and nut breads might really enjoy this one.