Orange Poppy Seed Bread

There are always a few recipes that stay with us as fond memories from our childhood. This recipe is most certainly one I carried with me after I left home. It was a favorite of my mother’s, who would bake it for family gatherings, or simply because one of her children requested it. I loved to cut a slice from the middle, which was richly laden with the orange glaze drizzled atop the loaf. I so enjoyed the tiny bites of poppy seeds, exploding under my teeth while I savored every bite. I am a huge fan of marzipan, and really anything flavored with almond, so perhaps that’s why this bread has appealed so greatly to me throughout my life. You could substitute lemon in place of the orange juice and zest called for in the recipe, if you prefer. This bread is fantastic served at brunch, afternoon coffee, or as a light dessert post dinner. It also makes a lovely gift. Perhaps this recipe will become a favorite of your family, just as it did in mine.

3 eggs, room temperature, slightly beaten
1 1/2 c. oil (canola, safflower, or vegetable, preferably organic)
1 1/2 c. whole milk, room temperature
2 c. sugar
3 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. poppy seeds
zest of one orange
3-4 tsp. pure almond extract

For the Glaze:
1 orange, juiced
1/4 c. granulated or powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)

Grease and flour two 8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5″ loaf pans. Set aside and preheat the oven to 325°F. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and poppy seeds in a large bowl; whisk to remove any clumps. Combine the eggs, and with the mixer running on medium-low, add the oil, sugar, almond extract, and orange zest in the bowl of a stand mixer. Starting and ending with the dry ingredients, alternate between adding the dry ingredients and milk to the egg mixture. Pour the prepared batter into the loaf pans and bake in the oven on the middle rack of the oven for about 1- 1 1/4 hours, or until a toothpick, inserted into the middle of the loaf removes cleanly.

Allow the loaves to cool for about 10 minutes on a wire cooling rack before attempting to remove them from the pan. If they do not remove easily, run a sharp knife around the edges of the loaves. Meanwhile, prepare the orange glaze in a small butter warming pan. Add all the ingredients and allow the sugar to completely dissolve into the juice. Place the wire cooling rack over a baking tray, and pour the glaze over both loaves. You may want to poke a few holes into the tops of the loaves so more glaze penetrates into the center. Some glaze will accumulate in the baking tray. Simply remove the wire rack and pour the remaining glaze back into the butter warmer and re-pour the contents over both loaves again. Once the loaves have cooled slightly, you can eat a slice (or two!) immediately, or once the loaves are completely cool, you can wrap them in plastic or aluminum foil. This bread freezes nicely, but I have not yet ever had a loaf left over to store in the freezer!

Orange Ricotta Cookies (with carrot added….shhhh!)

This is one of my favorite little cookies – so smooth and not overly sweet.  It’s another one that came from my aforementioned super-baker neighbor, Olive, and her treasure chest of recipes.  The original recipe was without the added produce, but I felt that it needed a little flavor, and I love to sneak healthy vegetable purées into unsuspecting desserts, so voilá, we now have something tasty to feel not quite so guilty about.

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

8 ounces ricotta cheese

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup puréed carrot (steamed and processed until smooth in a food processor)

zested orange peel from one small orange

In a large mixer, at low speed, beat the sugar and butter together, then beat on high until light and fluffy.  At medium speed, beat in the ricotta, vanilla, and eggs until well combined.  On low, add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and beat until a soft dough forms.  Add the carrot and orange peel, and beat on low until just combined.

Drop small spoonfuls of dough on a lined baking sheet and bake at 350°F for about 15 minutes.  Do not over-bake.  When they start to brown on the bottom, they are done.

The delicate flavor of the orange makes these a perfect choice when serving brunch.  The sweetness of the carrot is barely discernible in the overall taste, but it enhances the color of the dough to match the flecks of orange peel and adds a nice boost of Vitamin A!  No topping is needed, but if you like, you can add a glaze on top consisting of 1 tablespoon orange juice, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and enough powdered sugar whisked in to slightly thicken it.