November is for baking: Chocolate Bread and Cranberry Tort

I never used to like November. When I was growing up in France, it meant the gloomy period between October and trees offering their last display of glorious leaves and December, the start of the festive season and the anticipation of Christmas and New Year’s eve celebrations. A bit like a grey, dull and damp waiting room, only endured with the promise of something better to come.
Moving to Australia, gradually changed my impression. In Sydney, the damp waiting room shifted to the months of July and August, and November became the most anticipated time with spring finally settled, the weather warm enough to enjoy the outdoors without the scorching summer heat and the festive season still a while away. Over the years though, the festive season has somehow crept up on us, as our cruising thru the USA and Mexico introduced us to the local traditions of Thanksgiving and the Day of the Dead. We are not religious people in any way, nor do we celebrate any particular event for its own sake. However, I have always been interested in food and the significance of certain dishes in many cultures. And it is thru food that I have learnt, and tried to teach my kids, about other people’s cultures and beliefs.

Soooo, back to November cooking, delicious smells of cinnamon, all spice and chocolate have wafted into the galley. Having just made landfall in Cairns (Australia), meant a profusion of fresh produce, unseen since the USA and I embarked in a roasting and baking frenzy. We have enjoyed juicy roast chickens ( making up for the turkeys ), splendid salads (heirloom tomatoes and olive oil, that’s all you need), potatoes mashed to perfection, pumpkin caramelised to a crisp…but what my kids most remember ( and keep asking for ) are the sweets: one is a sweet Mexican Chocolate Bread which I baked for breakfast on All Saints day ( instead of the traditional Pan de los Muertos, being at sea and lacking the proper ingredients…).The other is a dessert I made a few days ago, a Cranberry Nut Tort which reminded me of Thanksgiving dinner with friends in Florida a few years ago.

Mexican Chocolate Bread

mexican chocolate bread

I have adapted a recipe from Beth Hensperger’s the Bread Machine Cookbook, a fabulous collection of bread recipes designed for breadmakers. I changed a few things like using less egg, and substituting tapioca flour for gluten ( a very common ingredients in the Pacific, it adds a structure similar to gluten in breads….besides, I have not been able to find gluten anywhere since the USA!) The result is a very fluffy, moist and succulent sweet bread, much enjoyed by the children.

Makes 1 loaf

½ cup milk
½ cup orange juice
1 large egg
3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 ½ cups bread flour
¼ cup light brown sugar
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp tapioca flour
1 ¼ tsp salt
1 tsp instant espresso powder
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tsp SAF yeast

1. Place all the ingredients in the bread machine pan, liquid items first, solids second.

2. Set crust on medium and program for White Bread.

3. When the baking cycle ends, remove the bread from the pan and let it cool on a rack.

4. I have not yet tried this recipe by hand, but it is on my list of things to do. Might make it a holiday baking project and report then!

Cranberry Nut Tort


Cruising down the east coast of America in the fall, I could not resist buying fresh cranberries. So sweet and tart, we had them in smoothies, turned them into sauces and relishes, even froze them for future use. This recipe, originally found in The Junior league of Annapolis’ A Thyme to Entertain, is my favourite way to cook cranberries straight out of the freezer (or fresh, if you’re lucky to find them in Australia). It is perfect served warm with a dollop of ice cream, or cold as an energy snack.

Serves 8-10 people


For the crust: 2 cups walnuts, 2 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp melted unsalted butter
For the filling: 1 cup granulated (caster) sugar, ¾ cup plain flour, ½ cup melted unsalted butter, 2 eggs, 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract, ½ cup walnuts, 1 cup cranberries, icing (confectioner’s) sugar

1. To prepare the crust, process the walnuts in a food processor until finely ground. Combine the walnuts, sugar and butter in a bowl and mix well. Press the walnut mixture evenly over the bottom of an 8” spingform pan, as you would do for a cheesecake.
2. To prepare the filling, combine the sugar, flour, butter, eggs, and vanilla extract in a bowl and mix until combined. Process the walnuts and cranberries in a food processor until coarsely chopped and stir into the filling. Spread the filling evenly over the crust. Bake at 180C (350F) for 1 hour. Let stand until cool. Remove the side of the springform pan and dust with icing sugar.

3. Enjoy!

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