MERRY CHRISTMAS EVE, my friends!
I come to you this festive and anticipatory moment with humble but lovely offerings in the spirit of the season: a crumbly and sweet and oh-so-delicious quick bread, a poem. My gifts to you.
This bread can be found in the archives of the renowned Joy the Baker, but I firmly believe it needs to be revived. Every time I make this hefty loaf, speckled with cranberries and bearing the most wonderful cornmeal crumb, I am astounded at its goodness. It doesn’t take much work or attention, and it would serve you well as an accompaniment to a mid-morning coffee (or hot chocolate) break with those loved ones home for the holiday, or as a treat to set on the table when guests drop by unexpectedly, or as a last minute gift for someone who appreciates a truly excellent baked good. Or you can save this recipe for mid-January, when the chaos has calmed, or even for next December if you’re all set and snuggled into the last days of this holiday season.
Regardless, whatever you do about that bread, I hope with my deepest heart that you are with people you love, celebrating, enjoying, feasting, laughing. May these days be merry and so very bright for you and your dearest ones, and may you have, if nothing else at all, hope.
A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves.
In the dark streets, red lights and green and blue
Where the faithful live, some joyful, some troubled,
Enduring the cold and also the flu,
Taking the garbage out and keeping the sidewalk shoveled.
Not much triumph going on here — and yet
There is much we do not understand.
And my hopes and fears are met
In this small singer holding onto my hand.
Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark
And are there angels singing overhead? Hark.
Honey Cranberry Cornmeal Bread
Adapted from Joy the Baker
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 cup medium or fine ground cornmeal
1/2 cup minus 2 tablespoons natural cane sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup honey
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
heaped 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (reserve a few whole walnut halves for decorating the top)
1 1/2 – 2 cups fresh cranberries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×5-inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder.
In a smaller bowl, whisk together the melted butter, honey, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla extract.
Add the wet mixture to the dry; stir until just blended. Fold in the cranberries and all but the reserved walnuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading the top evenly. Place the whole walnut halves atop the loaf.
Bake for 60 – 70 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan to cool a bit more prior to slicing and eating, or wrapping and gifting.
Yield: about 12 servings