Too many days have been cold, gray, and wet recently – the kind of dismal December weather that always has me gravitating toward the kitchen, wanting to bake something.
Among the many catalogs that appear at this time of year was one from the King Arthur flour company, which attracted me with a recipe for Cheddar Cranberry Soda Bread. The recipe was billed as being “like a giant scone, marrying the sharpness of Vermont cheddar with the tangy sweetness of dried cranberries.” That sounded good, the picture looked good, and I can get excellent loose dried cranberries from Kalustyan’s, in addition to the best dried figs and dates anywhere, so I decided to try it. It was a good choice.
Making the bread was perfectly easy. You mix dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt – and cheddar cheese powder, a special KA ingredient. This was a new thing to me. Apparently it’s just the cheese, dried out and pulverized, which I must say I wasn’t going to purchase at well over $1 an ounce just for this recipe. Having read elsewhere online that the ratio of fresh cheese to powdered is 3:2, I just took a proportional amount more of fresh cheddar.
Then you work in bits of butter, as for making pastry, and add grated cheddar – lots of it, given my additional dose. I could hardly see the flour for the cheese.
Once that’s all stirred together well, you add dried cranberries and optional chopped walnuts, then buttermilk and an egg. All that made a large amount of very stiff dough; I had to add more buttermilk to get all the dry bits to adhere. It also seemed like far more than would fit into a standard bread pan, but it did, pressed down and filled up to the very top.
I baked the dough at 375° for a little over an hour. It didn’t rise much, and it came out somewhat darker than the recipe’s picture, but otherwise looked pretty good.
Tom and I tasted the loaf as soon as it had cooled, and it was indeed good, though I wouldn’t have called it extraordinary. The cheese flavor predominated, and the crumb was a bit dry.
However, for breakfast the next morning we toasted some slices and slathered them with butter. What a difference that made!
The warmth brought out a gentle sweetness from the cranberries (there’s no sugar at all in the recipe) and a nice nuttiness from the walnuts. The cheese flavor was still there, but mostly as an underlying support for the fruit and nuts. As butter penetrated the slices, their texture softened a little (maybe the cheese had loosened up from the heat, too). Altogether, they were quite splendid breakfast breads. And have remained good for several further days.
If you’d like to try the recipe for yourself, it’s given on the King Arthur website. I can highly recommend it for the festive season.