Thursday, March 1, 2012



Do not go where the path may lead,
go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

We were a family with a serious sweet tooth. Breakfast, snacks, desserts or after dinners in front of the television, there were no limits on when, what or how much we could eat. We were sensible kids and good eaters, so we had no problem eating a balanced meal, fruits, vegetables and all, and when left on our own – which we often were – invariably fixed ourselves a fairly good lunch. We were active kids, too, and living in small town Florida meant playing outside, ball, biking, running, basketball, every day all year round. Burning more than our fair share of energy. So our parents worried little about our in-between-meal eating habits and let us make all of the decisions. Either that or this was just their “live and let live” parenting style.

Our home was filled with sweets in every shape and form, from breakfast cereals to cookies, ice cream by the gallon and candy scattered here and there, bagfuls tucked away into every cabinet. We all had the baking bug: dad’s marble sheet cakes, luscious Bundts, bowls of pudding and mom’s banana cream pies filled our home with the aroma of freshly baked goods and our young tummy’s with pleasure. Much of their baked goods came from a box, but each was always made from the heart. I loved nothing more than watching my father blend, stir and pour with the patience and passion of a great pastry chef. Mom did her duty by us as well, no matter she never liked to cook, and filled in when dad wasn’t baking with pies both creamy and fruity. Home Ec and Girl Scouts had me baking alongside my sister and brother, cranberry muffins, Apple Brown Betty, even spending a fun-filled afternoon pulling taffy across the kitchen. Yes, we were all happy eaters and happy bakers as well.

Although much of what my parents baked came from a box, a can or something frozen, they did bake from scratch as well! I have waxed eloquent on my dad’s wonderful choux puffs, light, ethereal, delicate pockets. He would make them the size of saucers and fill them with pudding and they were heaven. Large simmering pots of dried fruit compote, dark prunes, golden apricots plumped up in a vanilla- and cinnamon-scented sauce riddled the air with exotic odors and I would wait impatiently for the fruit to cool. My mother’s fruit pies and cream pies, well, I have vague memories, the strongest being the time that she carefully filled a homemade pie crust with creamy liquid, lifted it off the counter as gently and slowly as possible to carry it towards the oven as we kids stood and watched and the pie, as in some silly comedy film for kids, flipped up and out of her hands and landed upside down on the floor.

I recently posted about my current dark days of writer’s block. The good friends I have gathered around me and with whom I am in daily contact, talented each and every one of them, all seem to be going through the same dip in enthusiasm, accompanied by an overall depletion of energy. Maybe it is the change of seasons, the dark, sullen, leaden days of winter that still steal across our horizons and seep into our lives that leave us listless and uninspired. But there is comfort in numbers, misery loves company and all that, so maybe it isn’t anything personal, and maybe something will turn it all around and that proverbial light bulb will be switched on. Meanwhile, some of my baking inspiration has returned and I am finding the old joy and sizzle to pull out the flour, chocolate chips and eggs and whip up something sweet for my family.

Whatever you are, be a good one.
- Abraham Lincoln

Spontaneity comes in fits and bursts, yet happily it comes all the same. Carefully turning the pages of my mother’s collection of community and Temple Sisterhood cookbooks, from her own to that of my great-aunt up in Albany, New York to several she purchased from who knows where, have my imagination churning. My finger slides up and down the timeworn, well-stained pages, perusing each recipe both savory and sweet and I am taken aback by the lack of detailed instructions. Used to modern cookbooks where each and every step is marked down in black and white, specifics enumerated step by step, these old cookbooks featuring recipes from real housewives back in the good old days are written in such a sketchy way that one realizes they assume that every home cook is well-schooled in the basics, that we automatically understand the how-tos and are able to fill in the blanks. A home cook and baker who often doubts her own capacity to ad lib, who underestimates her own knowledge and talent, I have long avoided making any recipe from these books, simply afraid that none will turn out. I come across many dishes credited to my mother, her name typed underneath the recipes; some I remember fondly, others less so – leaving me in stitches, laughing at the poor bugger who will make this or that, a dish that invariably arrived at our own table dried out and flavorless - while some stir up delicious memories of a dish I loved so well. I have made, with some alterations, her wonderful Veal Scallopini and recently made and posted the recipe for Butter Horns, although not her recipe, from the same Sisterhood cookbook. And then I stumbled upon her Nut Bread.

With each recipe I recreate, the more I want to discover. Many of the names in her own Our Favorite Recipes from the Sisterhood of Temple Beth Sholom, where I grew up, are as familiar to me as my own mother’s: Mrs. Siskind, Mrs. Rosenberg (the best cook!), glamorous Mrs. Silver, this book full of goodness, filled with the foods of my youth, brings back my childhood in one fell swoop and I am back reliving those good old days in that tightly-knit, loving community. The particular recipe that I have baked today is from my mother, though for the life of me I don’t remember her ever making this. A simple sweet quick bread, dense and moist with tangy buttermilk, full of nuts and little more, is the ideal sweet treat for my own family, the perfect snack cake for breakfast. I took her rather plain Nut Bread recipe and added vanilla and a hint of cinnamon, the finely grated zest of one orange for a deep fruity sensation and loads of mini chocolate chips, everyone’s favorite.

Some people in this house actually found this cake a bit too dense and moist, more like a pudding than a quick bread, yet I found it delightfully and satisfyingly chewy to the point of being addictive. I found the balance of nuts to chocolate and the wonderful aroma brought into the game by the splash of vanilla and the bit of zest absolutely fantastic. Possibly the buttermilk gave it that pudding-like quality, and I personally found it wonderful. Oh, if my mother had only made this more often when I was a kid! Perfect with a glass of milk, dunked into café au lait or with a mug of tea… a bread quick, satisfying and delicious.

After my Chocolate Chip Pecan Butter Horns, I would like to share this wonderful Chocolate Chip Pecan Bread with my wonderful friend Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts & Line Drives for Bread Baking Day, a monthly bread event created by Zorra of 1x Umruhren Bitten. Lisa is hosting BBD #47 all about Bread & Chocolate! As you can tell, it is a favorite of mine!

CHOCOLATE CHIP PECAN BREAD scented with cinnamon and orange

2 cups (280 g) flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 cup (200 g) granulated brown sugar (you can replace this with packed brown sugar but spooned loosely into the measuring cup)
Finely grated zest of 1 orange, preferably untreated *
½ tsp ground cinnamon *
½ tsp vanilla
1 large egg
1 cup (250 ml) buttermilk
1.8 oz (50 g, about scant ½ cup) coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
3.5 oz (100 g, about heaping ½ cup) mini chocolate chips

* These flavorings are optional but highly recommended!

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease a loaf pan and dust with flour, shaking out the excess.

Place the flour, baking powder and baking soda, sugar, cinnamon and grated orange zest in a large mixing bowl. Stir or whisk to blend.

Add the egg, the vanilla and the buttermilk and whisk or stir by hand until blended and smooth.

Add the chopped nuts and chocolate chips and stir until evenly distributed and well blended.

Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake in the preheated oven for 55 minutes to 1 hour until puffed, golden and a tester stuck into the center comes out mostly dry. Cover the cake with foil for the last 10 to 15 minutes if it seems to be browning too quickly.

Remove from the oven onto a metal cooling rack and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Run a sharp knife all around the edges and loosen the bread then turn out onto a cooling rack; allow to cool.


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

It looks fantastic and so moist!

At home, we loved our baked treats and desserts, but never cared much for sweet stuff. Now, I have serious sweet tooth...



Carole said...

Good blog. You might enjoy this little poem about mothers.

Javelin Warrior said...

I love nut breads in general, but the changes you made sound marvelous - who doesn't love orange zest with chocolate? The picture of your mother's worn cookbook puts me in mind of my own mother's kitchen shelf of books loosely bound...and now I miss that shelf! :)

PolaM said...

Nothing better than chocolate and nuts in a cake! Must be delicious!

Anonymous said...

Looks like a fantastic quick bread to me. I particularly like the addition of orange zet.

Ivy said...

Like you, we are also a family with sweet tooth and there was a period that I made a dessert every day. I could live on eating only desserts. After loosing serious weight, I am trying not to bake very often. The cake looks delicious and would love a piece with the coffee I am drinking right now.

Nuts about food said...

Oh the moistness and chewiness I could see in the pictures is exactly what attracts me to this cake. I have noticed it is a quality Americans tend to love, but not always Europeans, who find it to be too much...

Jamie said...

@Nuts About Food: Interesting! I never thought about that, the whole American vs European thing. Thanks for bringing it up!

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

Jamie, how wonderful to have a collection of your mother's recipes and cookbooks. What a treasure for you and your family.

Love your chocolate chip nut bread with the addition of the citrusy orange and cinnamon. Your kitchen must have smelled incredible.

tasteofbeirut said...

How lucky to have a father who like to bake and produced such delightful pastries. Love this bread, I could get used to eating it for breakfast!

Lisa said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE this bread and again, so glad you're submitting it to BBD! I was never much of a sweet person, probably because the sweets in my home were boxed and in plastic wrappers. Now that I bake, although I'm still more of a savory person palate wise, I've come to appreciate how much tastier and fulfilling creating and baking from scratch is. BTW, I love a moist, pudding like bread - I cook my French toast so the very middle is still jiggly and custard like :) May be raw to some lol Beautiful bread - beautiful memories!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

This reminds me of the type of cakes you would find on the refreshments table after temple services on Friday nights when I was a child. Thanks for bringing back those memories.

Jamie said...

@Lydia (Perfect Pantry): Wow you are so right! I'll bet that's what my mom made it for since I don't remember eating it at home. Thanks for bringing that memory back! x

Robin O | what-about-the-food said...

Amongst my greatest treasures are the well worn and loved cookbooks collected from family and dear friends. I can just see you leafing through the pages, taken back in time. Your prose echo memories deep in my heart.

To take this quick bread of your mother's and adding your own twist is how we both honor our past and value who we've grown to be, the next iteration. Bravo, tasty and a bit spicy Jamie!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Isn't that funny? I came from a family with virtually no sweets or baking - apart from fruit and fruit is not really fun to a kid!

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

I would love this bread, I like stuff that's bread-y and sweet at the same time. Reminds me of your bread and chocolate mingle you did a while back!

Cake Duchess said...

It does look more dense than the bread I usually make her but I wouldn't mind a slice right now. For my kids I'd have to cut out the nuts because they prefer it only with the chips:)

Maris said...

This looks and sounds absolutely delicious!

Helene Dsouza said...

Cakes, tarts u name it we had it all. my mum would bake every week 3 at least, since they were gone in no mans time. My dad has a sirious sweet tooth and he is a huge fan of french pastries. lol

Yes I love the orange zest addition in your choco chip nut bread. I can smell the summer coming!

Anonymous said...

Looks wonderful, Jamie! There is nothing more justifiably indulgent than a quick bread or sweet loaf like this. I loved imagining a mouthful and the lovely combination of textures and flavours that would be in every bite.

It's true what you say about this time of year. I think it's a rare year when we can escape it! I'm so glad you're surfacing from it, though, and enjoying the nostalgia that goes along with your baking these days. xo

Aimée @ Food, Je t'Aimée said...

Whoops - that was me above! :)

Sara{OneTribeGourmet} said...

Jamie, such sweet memories of your mom & her recipes! Food & Family go hand in hand! I would love this bread with a cup of coffee for my brekkie! Yum!

Deeba PAB said...

My family had no home baked breads, sweets, biscuits when we were kids. The occasional cake would make us euphoric with joy! I envy your childhood {and that of my kids}! LOL! This bread is right up my street. Nuts, chocolate, zest! Can't get better...and then you moisten it up with buttermilk? I'm back too baby! Big hugs to keep the creativity flowing!

Carolyn Jung said...

I predict this becomes a favorite of everyone's. How could it not -- with that classic combo of tender cake, chocolate and nuts.


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