Is it a cake? Is it a bread? Whatever it is, the cranberry and walnut loaf is the easiest festive bake you’ll be making again and again.
Is a cake bread?
In the beginning there was only bread. Unleavened, flat as a pancake (though not called ‘pancake’), cooked on hot stones over a fire. So in that sense yes, a cake is a kind of bread.
Are all breads cakes or all cakes bread?
See above, stupid.
Is a cake a cake because it’s sweet and bread is bread because it isn’t?
Not quite so simple. See banana bread.
When is bread a cake then?
Here we’re getting to the gist of the issue. Once leavening agents were discovered, the bread horizons expanded. But the leavening was just wild yeast initially so it was all sourdough, like some baking fanatics’ wish come true.
Only in the 19th century did brewers’ yeast start to be used, and then finally bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar (together commonly known as baking powder).
Once the breads were on the rise (thanks to the rising agent), they began to be called ‘quick breads’ and could be both plain and sweet as sugar became more widely available.
So what’s the difference in the end?
It’s a Venn diagram. There’s bread: leavened mostly with yeast, wild or bakers’ (apart from Irish soda bread but that’s just the Irish for you), savoury, eaten as mainstream sustenance. Then there’s cake: sweet or very sweet, eaten for dessert and occasionally, in Rome or by weird people, for breakfast. The overlapping area is sweet yeast dough or sourdough, like tea cakes (UK), coffee cakes (US), Kuchen (Germany) or panettone (Italy). And many more in many other countries.
The French don’t fuss about it: the bread circle is ‘pain’, the cake – ‘gateau’ and in the middle there is ‘brioche’.
Why banana bread, cranberry bread and pumpkin bread but carrot cake?
A bit of a mystery, things we call cakes seem to be called bread across the Atlantic. But there is a very simple explanation why banana/pumpkin/cranberry bread: it’s baked in a (bread) loaf tin. And carrot cake in a (round and shallow) tin, like a pan. Incidentally in America tins are called pans.
Plus anything you might be tempted to put butter on is more likely to be called bread. Butter on a brownie? I don’t think so.
I’m bored now. What about this cranberry bread then?
Cranberry and walnut bread – a cake baked in a loaf tin which you fancy spreading with butter – is the perfect thing for winter festivities, be it Thanksgiving or Christmas. Cranberries provide the welcome tang although I have cut down sugar from the original, Florence Fabricant’s of NY Times recipe.
It is easy and it can be made with frozen cranberries too – just make sure you thaw them before chopping and adding, otherwise the cake – excuse me: bread – will take forever to bake.
Florence recommended pecans and I used walnuts, but a variety would also work well. It is really easy, really good, you don’t need a mixer and the sugar crunch topping is delightful.
And honestly, whether you call it bread or cake, it will be just as lovely.