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Cranberry and walnut bread

Mon, 2 November, 2020

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.

cranberry and walnut bread

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.

easy festive cranberry bread

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.

cranberry bread with walnuts and orange

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.

quick and easy cranberry bread

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.

Cranberry and walnut bread

Servings: 12Time: 1 hour 35 minutes


  • 250g (2 cups) plain flour
  • 150g (¾ cup) sugar
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp grated nutmeg
  • 56g (½ stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 180ml (¾ cup) freshly squeezed orange juice
  • zest grated from 2 oranges
  • 150g (1½ cups) fresh or frozen and thawed cranberries, roughly chopped
  • 60g (½ cup) walnuts, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. demerara sugar, for topping


1. Preheat the oven to 180C, no fan if available/350F/gas 4. Butter and flour or line with parchment a 9 inch/24cm loaf tin.

2. Stir all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the butter and rub it in with your fingers until it disappears into the flour mix.

3. Beat the eggs lightly in another bowl. Grate the zest into the eggs, stir in the orange juice and pour it all into the dry ingredients. Fold it in until just combined.

how to make cranberry bread

4. Stir the cranberries and walnuts into the mix and scrape it into the prepared tin. Smooth the surface and sprinkle it generously with demerara sugar.

cranberry cake batter in loaf tin

5. Bake for 65 – 75 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

cranberry walnut loaf cake

6. Cool in the tin, wrap in parchment or foil overnight before serving – though I won’t blame you if you try a slice warm.

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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