Sometimes it's hard to decide just what to put into a recipe, especially an inherently flexible recipe like a quick-bread. There are so many choices. It can be a wee bit scary--that terrifying cornucopia of options. But other times, on days you're feeling brave, the presence of options feels really good. I love having options . . . the wondrous, varied, multitudinous volcano of possibilities to choose from. I love concocting a new recipe, willingly accepting that I might be screwing it up in the process, corrupting it entirely beyond redemption.
In the kitchen, it can be a good thing to live dangerously.
I'm realizing more and more that I crave the experimentation that's become such an integral part of the pleasure of baking. I like the anticipation of wondering how something's going to turn out once I've tweaked it or revised it to the hilt, be it muffins or a loaf of bread, cupcakes or cake layers, pie or cobbler, cheesecake or a tart, cookies or brownies . . .
You feel like this too? Mmm hmm, I thought so. Okay, so tell me, do you ever think maybe we've gone completely off the rails? That we're out of control? . . . No? Well good, I'm glad you feel that way, because I don't think so either.
It seems to me that most home bakers know perfectly well when it's critical to stay on the rails, but, let's face it, those rusty old rails can sometimes seem dull as dish water. (Pardon my mixed metaphors.) Sometimes one just has to acquiesce to temptation and let loose with a veritable onslaught of recipe alterations--to heck with convention! To heck with the sanctimonious, high-falutin' "science" of baking . . . (well, to a limited extent, anyway . . . somebody shut me up before I commit culinary heresy). I guess I just prefer the idea of baking and pastry as being more art than science, though I know many would disagree with that opinion. But so be it. It's a free country.
Getting down to business . . .
So, anyway, I wanted to make a loaf of fruit bread last night--something new--and in writing my recipe I had a tough time narrowing down the items I wanted to include, so I tossed in everything that sounded good to me. My main ingredient was sweet red pears, unpeeled. I grated and drained them, then I pureed them until they were the texture of applesauce. In went some dried Michigan cherries, cut in half. Along with those items I added in orange juice, for citrus zing and some additional moisture, and then I slipped in some lingonberry preserves--not too much--for oomph. The taste of lingonberry preserves reminds me of whole-cranberry sauce, only with a milder sweetness and a less astringent tanginess. I wanted just one primary spicy note to come through, so I opted for ground ginger. You could always put candied ginger in, though, if you preferred. I also wanted the bread to be substantive and kind of chewy, but not so heavy-duty-health-foodie that no one in my house would want to eat it, so I used twenty-five percent whole wheat flour, twenty-five percent oats, and fifty percent All Purpose flour.
Since breads like this seem to benefit from a night of peaceful somnolence before they have their official unveiling, I figured I'd better wait to pass judgment until the morning. The verdict? This is a substantive and tasty loaf that I'd make again. It's got a lot of flavor and I like it on its own, though you could always toast and/or butter it if you were so inclined.
Pear Bread with Dried Cherries and Ginger
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)
Makes one standard size loaf.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease (or use baking spray) a 9" x 5" loaf pan.
1 and 1/2 cups All Purpose flour (bleached or unbleached)
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup oats (I used quick oats)
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 cup dried cherries, chopped, or cut in half
1 large unpeeled pear (enough to yield about 2/3 cup when it's pureed I used a red pear, but pick any kind of pear you like that's ripe and sweet)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 Tbsp. vegetable shortening
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup fruit preserves (I used lingonberry; use whatever sweet tangy preserves you like)
5 - 6 Tbsp. orange juice
Stir together well, in a medium-sized bowl, the two flours, the oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and ginger. Set aside.
Grate the unpeeled pear; drain off any dripping juice. Puree the grated pear in the small bowl of a food processor until it's the consistency of smooth applesauce. Set aside.
In a large bowl, with a spoon, mix together the sugar, eggs, shortening, and butter until combined and no large lumps are visible. Stir in the pear puree, the cherry pieces, and the orange juice.
Dump the dry ingredients into the large bowl with the wet ingredients. Stir just to combine and moisten; don't over-mix the batter.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake on the middle rack of your preheated oven for at least 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. When the top of the loaf becomes quite golden brown, cover it lightly with foil if it's not yet ready to come out of the oven; try not to let it overbrown.
Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then finish cooling out of the pan on a rack. This bread is good warm and just baked, but also really good after the flavors have had a chance to meld after several hours.
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Recipe full disclosure! This recipe was inspired by a King Arthur Flour recipe that appeared on their site last February. Theirs was for a pear bread that calls for pureed pears, but that's pretty much where the resemblance to my recipe ends.