A Fall Day, and Brother Rick’s Christmas Morning Bread

In my last post I mentioned making a bread called Christmas Morning Bread, from a book called “The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking,” by Brother Rick Curry. I was curious about what possible secrets Jesuits could impart about breadmaking. As it turned out, the bread was a keeper, rising high and golden. It was made with vegetable shortening, though, which I am of two minds about. Yes, baked goods made with vegetable shortening often rise higher and puffier and fluffier than things made with butter, but their flavor is often good, not great. Could I make this with butter and have an equally impressive-looking loaf? Also, I thought the flavor could be kicked up a notch with the addition of grated orange rind. So I made the loaf again this afternoon with those changes, and it turned out beautifully. It has a fine, moist texture, a crispy crust, and is generously studded with fruit. The texture almost reminds me of a pound cake, and although it contains moisture-giving banana, there is no flavor of banana that I can detect. When I made this loaf on Sunday, it started to stale on Wednesday, but was delicious toasted.

Brother Rick’s Christmas Morning Bread

1/2 cup unsalted butter, well softened
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup mashed banana
1/2 cup orange juice
2-1/2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cup chopped dried apricots (a 6-0z. bag)
1/2 dried cranberries
3/4 cup chopped nuts.

If you take the time to line the pan with waxed paper, removing the loaf from the pan after baking will be easy. Just loosen the ends of the loaf with a knife, and lift the loaf out of the pan with the edges of the paper.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line with wax paper a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Grease the waxed paper.

Cream the butter and add the sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Combine the mashed banana with the orange juice in a small bowl.

Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt in another bowl. Mix in the apricots, raisin, and nuts. Add the flour mixture and banana mixture alternately to the butter mixture. Pour batter into pan.

Bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour. Cool for about 20 minutes in the pan. Turn out on a wire rack to finish cooling.

Baking notes: The first time I made this it was with chopped figs. This worked well, but I like the blending of the apricots and butter flavor better. I made this bread just using a large spoon, but you certainly could use a mixer.  The spoon actually seems easier to me, though. I made the orange juice from frozen concentrate, but, of course, fresh juice would be wonderful. Do the ingredient prep ahead of time–chop the nuts, the dried fruit, make the orange juice, sift the flour, etc.–and the actual mixing will be easy. Baking this bread for an hour resulted in a nice, buttery crisp crust. If you like a moister bread, though, try baking for 55 minutes.

Another baking note: Nowadays, the trend in baking is to go over the top. This is a modest, buttery cake/bread to be enjoyed with a cup of tea or coffee. If you need Nutella, cream cheese, or Snickers in your breads, this won’t do it for you. But I like it for its very modesty, and perhaps this modest generosity is the Jesuits’ secret.

Meanwhile, outside in the tree . . .

Now is the season of the aster.

After a season of drought, this ebony spleenwort is still beautifully fresh and green.

The cardinal couple looking good.

My own watercoloring attempt at evoking a cardinal. I think I got the beady eye, but the claws need work!

This time of year I find beautiful leaves to dry, picking them up and drying them with painting on them in mind. This leaf was dried in a book, and painted with gouache (opaque watercolors) paints.

A last rose of summer.

May the coming week be a good one for you. Namaste. Fran

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