If you have to bake something, but would rather get lost on facebook, watch Netflix, or take a nap, this simple Blackberry bread might be just the thing. Ok, so most people don’t have to bake. If they do, they’re probably pastry chefs or professional bakers who would laugh at the idea of making a simple blackberry bread. But maybe you promised to bring something to a brunch, or have a bunch of hungry teenagers and two loaves of baked goods should always be around. Or maybe you need to do something with a bucket of blackberries you went through the trouble of picking. Whatever the reason, this bread will get you out of the kitchen in no time, and back on the couch where you belong.
I loved baking when I was a teenager growing up in Germany. I would get cookbooks from the library, peruse them in the evenings when the family hung out watching TV, and hand copy recipes I liked into notebooks. My mom still has some of these notebooks. She doesn’t seem to have the heart to throw them out, even though she wasn’t enthused about the excessive hours I spent on unnecessary kitchen and food activities like baking and cookbooks.
At first she was glad that my sister and I showed an interest in making things for family “kaffeeklatsch” get-togethers. But it soon became apparent that we seemed to be wasting any emerging pastry chef talent on crazy creations guests only tasted out of politeness. When everyone would’ve just preferred a regular German apple or cheesecake (the latter made with “quark,” not cream cheese), we would experiment with coca cola cake from a Betty Crocker cookbook, Milky Way bars, or chocolate cheesecake made the American way. (Clearly, we didn’t do a good job selling American cuisine to the older German generation). More often than not, we carted these concoctions off to our own parties and get-togethers. Unlike unappreciative family with limited local tastes, our friends’ teenage appetites were willing to devour whatever we set in front of them.
My baking obsession came to an eventual halt, to be revived only sporadically for Christmas, potlucks, or for students at semester’s end (usually for the day they had to fill out evaluation forms:)). Otherwise, there just wasn’t enough of a reason to bake, and not enough people to bake for. Who would eat all that stuff? Well, now that we have an inn, and therefore guests who eat stuff, I’m back in the baking habit. And I still like to try new recipes, only I have to be a bit more careful than I was in high school. I don’t think coca cola cake would go over well during a Towne Motel breakfast – although you’d be surprised at the kinds of things people eat on vacation that they never would otherwise. (Stay tuned for a post on peanut butter chocolate chip and similar heavy duty pound cakes).
Unlike (I assume) most other innkeepers, I rarely decide until the day before or the day itself what I want to make – it all depends on so many factors. I just thought I’d mention that in case the next paragraphs make you wonder how I could be so unorganized about a daily task. Maybe I just go along with the unpredictable nature of inn-keeping, or maybe I’m indecisive; whatever it is, it just doesn’t seem fun to have a baking schedule laid out for the whole week. Especially because a schedule can’t predict the most exhausting days of the week – the days when you’d rather put up your feet than stand on them to bake.
In July and August, we have lots of such crazy busy days – days when we’re simply unable to try a new recipe or adapt an old one in newly creative ways. Anything that involves yeast – out of the question. A recipe that calls for four cups of apples to peel and dice? No dice. Not even recipes with simple fillings or toppings or streusel look tempting on such days. (Well, except for Apricot bars, but that’s just a layer of jam). Instead, just like any other innkeeper we know, we seek refuge in our tried and true, foolproof, one-bowl recipes, some of which are gifts from Jane, previous Towne Motel breakfast chef ( who clearly knew what she was doing when it came to crazy summer days).
Siobhan is usually the first to recognize a day’s limitations, maybe because her day starts and ends earlier than mine. Or maybe because she’s more realistic when it comes to time: while I might start panicking at 11 am that there won’t be enough hours in the day, or else see a day still leisurely stretching out ahead of me at 2 pm, Siobhan usually has a firm handle on the situation no later than early afternoon.
“Well, this will have to be an Apricot Bars day,” she might declare shortly after lunch, having just slashed her previous, more elaborate plan, the kind that might have involved shopping, refrigeration, layers and a glaze. At that time of day I am either in denial (do I have to bake today?? Well, I’ll think about that later), or still full of ambition and optimism: after my ocean swim, I tell myself, I will have a load of energy and can pretty much bake anything I put my mind to.
Believe it or not, that actually happens sometimes. But if it doesn’t (either the swim, or the energy), I gradually switch from a tentative plan A (the fun new recipe with excellent reviews) to a safer plan B (a good, semi complex recipe I haven’t made in a while), before finally capitulating to plan C = realism: “I better make something I know is easy, good, and foolproof,” I tell myself, “something I’ve made many times before. Such as…..hmmm…”
No, it can’t always be granola. For one thing, that seems like cheating, considering how fast and easy it is to make. But also, sometimes granola doesn’t work well with what Siobhan is making, or what we’ve made the day before (we try not to serve two selections with nuts on the same day, for example, or with oatmeal).
I ask Siobhan for advice.
“Why not make blackberry bread,” she suggests, sighing at my lack of memory and resourcefulness. “It’s fast and people love it.”
True, people like it, but this past summer I’ve started adjusting the recipe to one and a half times the ingredients because the loaves are not high enough when I don’t, and then the measurements are a tad more complicated (I did say this is the lazy way I think on exhausted days).
Still, she’s right. Blackberry bread is a good option for days that call for speed and simplicity: understaffed housekeeping days, 20-bag shopping days, fifteen-check-ins days, or days when an A/C breaks down after the housekeepers left and the only spare we have is too heavy to handle. (Not to mention days with the kinds of unpredictable events all innkeepers could write books about, if they had time).
What makes blackberry bread easier and yet more interesting in flavor than some of the other quick breads we make? Well, for one thing, the recipe we have is from cooks.com, one of those no frills recipe sites I described in my last blog post,https://camdenmotel.com/2016/12/07/our-cake-that-wont-last-aka-banana-pineapple-walnut-bread/ Which means, it’s a list of ingredients and a miniature paragraph of basic instructions. Take a look:
(The only adjustment I would highly recommend: don’t use quite as much oil; just a bit more than a cup is good enough)
I’m not saying that the shorter the recipe, the less time consuming it is to make (I’ve learned my lesson in that regard). But in this case, there is a correlation. Also important: we always have all the ingredients at hand, unlike, say, for cranberry orange bread, which usually requires a special orange buying errand in the summer. Or for strawberry rhubarb bread: we almost never have rhubarb. Could we change that? Yeah, probably… If we find space to grow our own rhubarb. Or buy a lot in May and freeze it. Or investigate the frozen rhubarb situation….
Ok, this calls for a further short digression. I just looked at the rhubarb situation online, and it’s not a pretty picture. Frozen rhubarb is expensive and not that easy to find in large quantities. To the point that a special rhubarb website has a whole page devoted to where to get frozen rhubarb: http://www.rhubarb-central.com/buy-frozen-rhubarb-united-states-canada.html
So, if we want to make rhubarb breads and muffins all year, we better buy a lot of rhubarb in May and freeze it.
But back to blackberries. These guys are pricey when fresh, but – at least from the supplier we use – are more affordable frozen than raspberries are. Or even blueberries – go figure. Maybe it’s about size – the smaller the fruit, the more expensive? At any rate, we always have a large bag or two of frozen blackberries around, which makes blackberry bread a year round option. Also, this recipe is oil- rather than butter – based, and that’s always a minute or two faster for anyone who buys butter wholesale (Our butter comes in 1 lb packs rather than pre-apportioned sticks).
You don’t have to beat the eggs any more than just briefly by hand before mixing them in with everything else, and nothing has to be whipped to the point of fluffiness and puffiness. There’s no need to sift the dry ingredients, or to use a stand mixer – in fact, it’s better not to, since you just mix everything until combined. The one slightly more time intensive task is to halve the frozen blackberries, which I do because ours are large – but that’s optional and would be even easier to do with fresh blackberries. If you buy your walnuts in halves rather than chopped, you’ll have to do some additional chopping. But as with the berries, walnuts are pretty low maintenance when it comes to their readiness to go under the knife. If you don’t have walnuts, you could use pecans instead. Or chocolate chips, if you don’t mind the extra sweetness. Or simply, nothing!
Ok, so blackberry bread is quick for us to make, but what’s in it for the guests who eat it? It remains moist for several days, although that’s not all that unusual for oil based loaf breads. Siobhan’s lemon bread and my pumpkin bread are long term moisture retainers too, and could probably be served two days after coming out of the oven, without anyone complaining. But there is something special about the taste of this bread, which seems to come entirely from the spices, maybe in conjunction with the blackberries. Best of all, these are all common spices, which – unless you’re a baking virgin – you probably have around. If not, they’re super easy to find, even if you live in the middle of nowhere and don’t have time to wait for an Amazon delivery. Your convenience store on the corner might carry them too!
Now, the fact that this blackberry bread is a simple loaf pan recipe also comes with one drawback: its complete lack of pomp and circumstance. If you want to sell out first in a bake sale, or win a kids’ popularity contest, go for something else. Blackberry bread is an unassuming, modest little thing – one might even call it a bit homely. It’s smallish and darkish, no splashy contrasts like white frosting on chocolate cake, or lavish fruit and whipped cream decorations, or even just a bright standout color like lemon bread. You could put a glaze on it of course, or at least dust it with powdered sugar (or maybe a glaze and sprinkles on top of it?) – but even so, it won’t steal the show like a tray of frosted cup cakes, summery fruit tarts, or a perfectly shaped bundt cake centerpiece with glistening chocolate glaze.
With blackberry bread, you’ll have to rely on its skill of quiet persuasion. It helps to serve it on as beautiful a plate as possible, perhaps with some fresh blackberries dotting the rim. Especially if you use that powdered sugar I mentioned, and let the blackberries sit on a bed of fake snow. The rest is up to the bread itself – just let it do its job and see what happens!