Cranberry Pecan Bread

Aside from turkey, on any given holiday table, my least favorite thing is very often the cranberry sauce. Perhaps I had one too many cloying canned versions as a kid, or the ones I had were simply too tart; for whatever reason, I usually pass the cranberry bowl to the next person swiftly. But then as an adult, I learned that you can actually make your own, and hey!, you can even add things like orange juice and cinnamon to temper the fruit’s tartness and give it layers of flavor complexity that just so happen to complement basically everything else on that holiday table. Since this revelation, I’ve become much more interested in incorporating cranberries into my holiday dessert rotation as well, which is why Smitten Kitchen‘s Cranberry Pecan Bread caught my eye last year. Even though I’m drooling over her new Smitten Kitchen Keepers book at the moment, I knew I wanted to make this recipe again; its toasty pecans, puckery cranberries, bright citrus, and crunchy sugar-studded lid sing all the right notes for November and December. (And honestly, I feel like it’s perfectly at home in chilly January during this bomb cyclone in Northern California…)

I love how Deb clarifies more than once in her blog post that this is “definitely actually cake”, not “bread” per se… but I think we all knew that. I mean, did any of us really think we weren’t having this for dessert? Though to be fair, it’s a completely justifiable excuse to have cake for breakfast– if we call it “bread” and serve it with butter or cream cheese, that feels way more acceptable as a means to start the day. (Not that I haven’t had chocolate layer cake for breakfast. Maaaayyybe you too at some point?) Similarly, when I attended Claire Saffitz’s cookbook talk recently for her new What’s For Dessert book, she too talked about how muffins are really just cake, so why can’t we all just embrace that and admit that we eat a lot of secret cake?

In the event that you’re wondering why I’m even making this in January, I had an abundance of cranberries left over and I really hate wasting food, so I made a double-loaf in my extra-long loaf pan, which was nearly the right size for all the batter; I had just a smidge left over for one mini loaf, the ideal size for gifting. If you, like me, cannot help but buy “exotic” cake pans when you travel, you just might have a double-sized loaf pan that can be found in Europe, in which case you can double the recipe below and bake it for about 85 minutes (just remember to take the mini out after about 45 minutes). Plus I’m still savoring my last few days of winter break before school starts up next Monday, so I’m taking every opportunity to keep baking!

While there’s a good amount of prep work for this recipe between zesting/juicing the oranges and slicing the individual cranberries, the gorgeously thick, chunky batter is very easy to work with and yields a handsome loaf with a deep golden, crackled top– one of the prettiest loaves I’ve made. It’s great for gifting… if it makes it out of your kitchen. And if it doesn’t, I mean, it’s really not your fault.

My oranges were huge and yielded more than 1 cup juice for 4 oranges, so I stopped squeezing at 1 cup and topped it up with enough sour cream (280g) to fill 2 cups. Anywhere in this range is fine– it’s a pretty forgiving recipe in this respect (but you’ll have half this amount for a single batch). The loaf has a wonderful orange perfume without being overpowering– beautifully balanced flavors between the tart cranberries, citrusy orange, and nutty toasted pecans, and the sweetness/crunchiness on top.

I really, really super loved this loaf, especially the sweeter top part with the pearl sugar– don’t skimp on that! This is the perfect recipe to use up any post-holiday extra cranberries, or just squirrel it away for next holiday season. 🙂

Cranberry Pecan Bread

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Yields 8 servings

The photos here are a double batch baked in my extra-long loaf pan. Proceed as written below in a standard loaf pan for a single batch.

  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 medium-to-large oranges, any variety
  • 6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • ½ – ⅔ cup (120 – 160 grams) full-fat sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups (8 ounces/225 grams) fresh or frozen cranberries, sliced in half
  • ¾ cup (85 grams) pecans, freshly toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tablespoons pearl sugar* for the topping, or to taste (or you can substitute coarse raw sugar)

*Can be purchased from King Arthur Flour, Amazon, or many other online baking sources or baking supply stores

Preheat an oven to 350°F and position a baking rack in the center. Line a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan with a large piece of parchment paper so that it hangs over on all sides.

Pour the sugar into a large bowl, then zest the two oranges right over the sugar. Rub the orange zest into the sugar with your fingertips, breaking up any clumps and distributing it evenly throughout the sugar; this releases more of the citrus oil and fragrance. 

Cut both oranges in half and squeeze the juice into a 1-cup measuring cup; you should have around ⅓ – ½ cup. Add enough sour cream to the cup so that the juice reaches the 1-cup line, then whisk to combine until the mixture is smooth.

Add the butter and egg to the bowl with the orange-sugar mixture and whisk all ingredients until smooth. Next whisk in the OJ-sour cream mixture. Sprinkle the salt, baking powder, and baking soda over the wet ingredients and whisk well, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl when finished. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir in the cranberries and pecans, and finally stir in the flour just until incorporated and there are no visible flour streaks.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top, then sprinkle pearl sugar over the entire surface (optional, but recommended). 

Bake for 60-70 minutes, rotating the loaf halfway through to even out the color, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (Make sure to test the very middle where the loaf has cracked open, which tends to be the last part to cook through.) Give the cake a little more time if needed; if it gets too dark, loosely cover the top with a piece of aluminum foil. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer it to a metal cooling rack until it’s lukewarm or fully cooled to room temperature. Slice the loaf and enjoy its gorgeous, festive brightness!

The Cranberry Pecan Bread keeps for 5-6 days at room temperature. I’m always inclined to store baked goods in an airtight container, but Deb says to leave it in the loaf pan and simply cover the cut side with foil to help the sides stay moist and the top stay crisp.

© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2023.

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