Every year since 2003, I’ve participated in a volunteer holiday choir on campus. We’re a small group of staff and students with varying levels of experience, and only have about four rehearsals before our performance at the Lessons and Carols convocation, but I think we always do a nice job. This year we even played with handbells. I like it because it gives me an opportunity to sing once a year without too much pressure, although for the past two performances I’ve somehow been talked into doing a solo at the beginning of “Once in Royal David’s City.”
I only mention this little event on my foodblog because Lessons and Carols always triggers the start of the Christmas season for me. It usually coincides with my library’s staff and student holiday party: this year, Lessons and Carols was yesterday, and the party was today. Although the party has some catering, the staff always bring plenty of sweet and savory goodies to share, so last night was a big baking night for me. Next will come the cookies—oodles of cookies, hopefully, because it’s so hard to narrow down the choices—and of course Christmas dinner, which has yet to be considered.
Anyway, since I still walk in to work most mornings, I’ve found that loaves are the most efficient baked good for carrying to events. I can pack an awful lot of slices into a Tupperware container without worrying about them getting too squished or deformed during travel. They also hold up nicely while sitting out for a few hours of party grazing, no refrigeration required. I wanted a few different options this year, so I went with a banana gingerbread loaf (no nuts), a pumpkin pecan loaf with orange zest, and Almond joy bread, because I had to have at least one chocolatey option.
I had to read over the banana gingerbread recipe several times to make sure I wasn’t missing something: It doesn’t contain any eggs. The result is a very dense, moist bread with a nice spicy profile underscored with the sweetness of banana. My cinnamon and ginger were both fresh from Penzey’s, so they really packed a punch; the bananas were not yet as ripe as they might have been, but their flavor was still noticeable. I topped my loaf with a sprinkle of Sucanat for fun. This one wasn’t all that popular at the party, but gingerbread never is, for some reason. It might benefit from a cream cheese spread or a bowl of sweetened whipped cream…we’ll have to try that out, since we have quite a bit leftover.
This pumpkin pecan loaf was a Carole Walter recipe, and its use of the stand mixer’s whip attachment, rather than the paddle, gave the batter a very aerated texture. I’ve been eating through a box of clementines since Thanksgiving (which, I might add, the baby seems fond of, as he kicks up a storm whenever I have one), so I used clementine zest in the batter. The resulting bread has a perfect texture and nicely balanced flavors. Orange isn’t my favorite flavoring in general, so it’s a little on the strong side for me; I particularly noticed it when I pulled the hot loaf from the oven. It went over well at the party, however, and I look forward to having some for breakfast tomorrow morning.
The hands-down favorite among my breads this year was Peabody’s Almond Joy bread. I should note here that the candy bar is one of my favorites, and I have been wanting to make this bread ever since our bag of mixed Halloween candy didn’t contain any Almond Joys as advertised. This was the last loaf I made, and it didn’t come out of the oven until about 11:00pm, so I stabbed and glazed it, and left it loosely covered overnight to cool. In the morning, I got some cream heating, ran off to the bathroom to wash my face and such, and made it back to the kitchen just in time to pour the boiling cream over the chocolate chips. After my breakfast, I gilded the loaf with its ganache drizzle. It barely had time to set before I needed to slice and pack it up for the party. It came out deliciously: an uber-moist coconut loaf studded with almonds and milk chocolate chips, with that decadent dark chocolate ganache and a bit of crunch on top from the glaze. I cut the recipe in half because I had two other loaves on deck, but I’m already regretting it because it’s almost gone! I definitely see this recipe in our future.