Fruity breads for Tu Bishvat

Dried fruits and nuts, the holiday’s signature ingredients, are perfect enhancers for these loaves.

DRIED FRUIT and nuts 390 (photo credit: Thinkstock)
DRIED FRUIT and nuts 390
(photo credit: Thinkstock)
When I want to bake Tu Bishvat treats that are healthier than cookies or cakes, I turn to quick breads. Dried fruits and nuts, the holiday’s signature ingredients, are perfect enhancers for these loaves.
Quick breads are so named because they use quick-acting leaveners – either baking powder or baking soda – and not yeast. As their name indicates, they are fast and easy to make. Often, they are baked in elongated loaf pans.
Muffins, which are part of the category of quick breads, are made with similar types of batters and, due to their small size, bake even faster.
Baking with fruits and nuts from the land of the Bible is especially fitting for Tu Bishvat. Maria Speck, author of Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, enjoys cooking in the Mediterranean style and always keeps at least a dozen jars of dried fruits and nuts on the shelves in her kitchen. A time-tested Middle Eastern trio – dates, apricots and pistachio nuts, flavors her anise-scented wholewheat muffins, which she enriches with olive oil instead of butter and sweetens with honey. (See recipe below.) Speck uses dried figs in her whole wheat fig and goat cheese muffins, which are baked with a honey-sweetened goat cheese filling flavored with grated lemon zest. In her zucchini-mint bread, she uses raisins, toasted walnuts, lemon and fresh mint.
BETTY ROSBOTTOM, author of Sunday Brunch, bakes several kinds of muffins that would make tasty Tu Bishvat treats. Dates and pecans flavor her lemon-date muffins, which are sweetened with brown sugar and honey.
To flavor muffins with almonds, Rosbottom uses a special technique. She enriches the batter for her cherry and almond muffins with almond paste, which has the added advantage of keeping the muffins moist. Tart dried cherries and orange zest and juice contribute fresh flavors to the muffins.
When I’m baking muffins or other quick breads for breakfast or brunch, I prefer them moderately sweet. Many contemporary versions of these breads sold at supermarkets and bakeries have become rich and sweet and seem more like cake than bread. Banana bread, for example, might be as sweet as pound cake; I’ve had muffins that were so sweet that there was little difference between them and cupcakes. To me, such breads are for dessert, but this is a matter of preference. Some regard them as breakfast breads, and enjoy a slice or two at their morning meal.
If you prefer a savory quick bread suitable for accompanying a Tu Bishvat meal, you can bake cornbread and add dried fruit to it. Barry Bluestein and Kevin Morrissey, authors of Quick Breads, have created a variety of such breads. Their “Banned-in Boston Brown Bread,” which departs from the traditional bread in being baked and not steamed, is made of cornmeal, whole wheat and white flour, lightly sweetened with dark molasses and a little sugar and dotted with raisins.
For an even more unusual loaf, they bake scallion-curry bread seasoned with cumin, curry powder and sauteed green onions, with raisins adding a touch of sweetness. Their brandy-flavored sweet potato bread, enriched with sour cream and a little butter, has only one tablespoon of sugar in the entire loaf; golden raisins, as well as the sweet potatoes, contribute a delicate sweetness. For me, such a sweet-savory loaf would be just right to start off the day, or as a midnight snack.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning book Chocolate Sensations.
These muffins are made from an easy, one-bowl batter and are baked with orange juice rather than milk. They are light and not too sweet – just right for breakfast or for a dairy-free snack.
Makes 12 muffins
2 cups all-purpose flour 1 Tbsp. baking powder 1⁄4 tsp. baking soda 1⁄4 tsp. salt 1 large egg 3⁄4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. orange juice 1 tsp. finely grated orange zest 1⁄3 cup vegetable oil 1⁄3 cup sugar 1⁄2 cup raisins 1⁄2 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 205ºC (400ºF). Line 12 muffin cups of 6.5- cm. (21⁄2-inch) diameter with cupcake papers, or lightly brush muffins cups with oil or spray with oil spray.
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. In a medium bowl, combine egg, orange juice, orange zest, oil and sugar; whisk to blend. Add orange juice mixture to flour mixture and stir gently with wooden spoon until just blended. Do not beat or overmix. Gently stir in raisins and walnuts.
Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each about 2⁄3 full. Bake about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool about 5 minutes in pan on a rack before removing. Serve warm or cool.
This recipe is from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals. Instead of pistachios, author Maria Speck notes that you can make these muffins with chopped toasted walnuts or toasted slivered almonds.
Speck recommends serving the muffins on their own or with orange marmalade and butter. Another suggestion: “Omit the sugar in the batter for a less-sweet morning muffin – or as an excuse to add your favorite jam.” These muffins freeze well for up to 1 month.
Makes 12 muffins
2 cups white whole-wheat flour (240 grams or 8 1⁄2 ounces) (see Note 1 below) 1⁄4 cup sugar 11⁄2 tsp. baking powder 1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon 1⁄2 tsp. ground anise seeds, preferably freshly ground 1⁄2 tsp. fine sea salt 1⁄2 cup chopped dried dates 1⁄4 cup chopped dried apricots 3 large eggs, at room temperature 1⁄2 cup honey 1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 3⁄4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice 2 tsp finely grated orange zest 1⁄2 cup chopped, unsalted toasted pistachios (see Note 2 below)
Topping: 2 Tbsp sugar 1⁄2 tsp ground anise seeds 3 Tbsp finely chopped, unsalted toasted pistachios
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 190ºC (375ºF). Lightly butter a standard-size 12-cup muffin pan, preferably nonstick, or coat with cooking spray.
To make the muffins, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, anise seeds and salt in a large bowl. Scatter the dates and apricots on top and toss to combine. Make a well in the center. In a medium bowl, lightly whisk the eggs to blend. Whisk in the honey and then the olive oil, orange juice and zest until smooth, about 1 minute.
Add the egg mixture to the center of the flour mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Do not overmix; the batter should look lumpy. Fold in the pistachios.
Using a 1⁄3-cup measure, divide the batter equally among the muffins cups. (They will be almost full.) To make the topping, combine the sugar and anise seeds in a small bowl. Sprinkle each muffin with 1⁄2 tsp of the sugar mixture and top with the pistachios.
Bake until the muffins are nicely domed and lightly golden and the tops spring back when gently pressed (about 15 minutes). Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, and then gently twist the muffins out of the pan. Eat warm or at room temperature.
Note 1: If you don’t have white whole-wheat flour, you can use regular whole-wheat flour.
Note 2: To toast raw pistachios, put them on a rimmed baking sheet in a 180ºC (350ºF) oven and toast, shaking pan once or twice, until fragrant, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.