cranberry pecan bread – smitten kitchen

Last week, in a continued effort to get my fridge back to inbox zero after it was groaning under the weight of the extraneous contents of a few shoots here this fall, I decided to take my surplus of cranberries, oranges, and pecans and turn them into a cranberry bread. Except — wait — I don’t have a recipe for cranberry bread. Why did you guys let me go 15 years without a cranberry bread recipe on this site? How did I go 1300 recipes deep in the archives and never find my forever version of one of most classic late fall recipes everyone deserves in their repertoire? Let’s fix this right now.

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Along the way to this final cranberry bread — which yes, predictably required purchasing more cranberries, pecans, and oranges for testing and retesting, as if I’d misunderstood the assignment — two things happened that shocked even me.

First, I fell in love. Prior to last week, I’d have told you that I love all of my quickbreads equally: Banana, Pumpkin, Zucchini, and Coconut. Choose a favorite? I could never. It’s all lies. Turns out I only love this. I love it even more than blueberry muffins. It’s the tartness. I added a full two cups of halved cranberries, they stay perfectly distributed in the cake, the cheeriest ruby ornaments, and then I made the loaf four more times. And counting.

The second shocking thing that happened was that despite being previous anti-nuts in soft cakes — the interruption is so unwarranted, the soft crunch after they bake is so sapped of flavor — here I added pecans and love them. Am I… getting old? Are the kinds of reading glasses you keep at the end of your nose next? I do love a grandma cardigan, bonus if it has pockets, so maybe I was always heading down this path. Or maybe the pecans are particularly fitting here, especially if toasted first. For me, they’re here to stay.

There a few more wonderful things here — a great crunch on the outside, a plush but not-too-sweet interior, the scent of orange zest, how well this keeps and keeps (if we’re not around) but I hope you’ll discover this for yourself ASAP. You won’t regret it at all.

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Cookbook gifts: For holiday gifting, I’m excited to work with The Strand Bookstore again on personalized signed copies of my two cookbooks! I’ll be signing custom orders—you tell us what you’d like me to write and for whom, and we’ll make it happen. Sadly, the deadline for Hanukah shipping already passed (I signed them all this morning!) but if you need the gift by Christmas, the deadline is Thursday (12/2). Please place your order directly on The Strand’s website using these links: Order The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Order Smitten Kitchen Every Day. Thank you!


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Cranberry Bread

  • 3/4 cup (85 grams) pecans
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 medium-to-large oranges, any variety
  • 6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup (120 to 160 grams) sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups (8 ounces or 225 grams) fresh or frozen cranberries, halved
  • 2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
  • Pearl sugar (about 1½ tablespoons), to finish
Heat oven to 350°F. If your pecans are untoasted or if they’re labeled toasted but don’t taste very crisp or toasty, toast them now. Place pecans on a small baking sheet in the oven for 6 to 8 minutes, or until they smell fragrant. Remove and roughly chop, then set aside.

Coat a loaf pan (8½ by 4½ or 6-cup volume) with butter or nonstick spray. For easier removal, you can line the bottom and two long sides with a sling of parchment paper.

Place sugar in a large bowl, and zest oranges into it. Use your fingertips to rub the zest into the sugar, breaking it up a bit and releasing more fragrance.

Cut oranges in half and juice them into a 1-cup measure; I get between 1/3 and 1/2 cup. Spoon in sour cream until the juice reaches the 1-cup line; whisk to combine.

Whisk butter and egg into zest-sugar mixture. Whisk in orange juice-sour cream mixture. Sprinkle surface of batter with salt, baking powder, and baking soda and whisk thoroughly into the batter. Scrape the bowl down. Stir in cranberries and pecans. Stir in flour until it just disappears.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and spread smooth. Sprinkle cake with pearl sugar, if using.

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, rotating once for even color, until a toothpick inserted into the loaf comes out batter-free. Give the cake more time if needed; don’t worry about it getting dark. Cool in pan on a rack until lukewarm, or at room temperature. Serve in slices.

Cake keeps for 5 to 6 days at room temperature. I leave it in the loaf pan, and just cover the cut side with foil. This ensures the sides stay moist the the top stays crisp.


* Deb, this is a cake: I know, I know. In America, we have things called “bread” or “quickbread” that are definitely actually cake but called bread because they’re in loaf pans and sliced like sandwich bread. They do tend to be a bit more muffin-y: less sweet, denser crumb, and with much more fruit or vegetable than a birthday cake would have. But in case you were wondering if this is cake: yes, it essentially is.

* Cranberries: I’ve made this with whole cranberries (seemed too big) and roughly chopped cranberries (felt they disappeared too much) and really like them halved the most here. It takes a few minutes but I think it’s worth it.

* Nuts: Yes, you can skip the pecans. You can use another nut, too. I promise it’s good with or without the nuts.

* What can I add instead of nuts? I didn’t actually test this (see above: turns out I like nuts here!), but I was thinking of adding 1 cup white chocolate chunks instead of the nuts. Again, you could also use nothing but cranberries and it will still be delicious.

* What is pearl sugar? Sometimes sold as nib or hail sugar, Hagelzucker, pärlsocker, perlesukker, sucre en grains and more, pearl sugar is a magical white sugar that looks boulder-like but has a very soft crunch. It’s an essential ingredient in Liege Waffles, which you should also make this holiday season, and it shows up on Chouquettes (Sugar Puffs), and decoratively on SK on my Apple and Honey Challah and Braided Lemon Bread. I love it as a festive decorative sugar. I bought a single bag a decade ago and don’t think I’ll ever use it up. It keeps forever. I’ve found it online innumerable places such as Amazon, King Arthur Flour, and I’m sure any local baking supply store. I’ve read that you can make imitation pearl sugar from crushed sugar cubes, but I think that’s better for when the pieces aren’t being used decoratively, as they are here.

* Does this need pearl sugar on top? Absolutely not. It’s for crunch and decoration. Coarse sugar, or none at all, will also work.

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