#1 easy holiday quick bread for gifts and guests

Whether I'm looking for a gift or a fantastic addition to a holiday brunch, I often turn to quick breads and muffins during this season. I particularly like to bake this Cranberry-Walnut Quick Bread recipe, studded with tart cranberries and walnuts with a touch of orange zest. But this recipe is built to be flexible, so feel free to swap your favorite fruit and nuts-try pears and hazelnuts for an unusual twist or blueberries and almonds for a familiar combination. It's a great way to use up any really ripe fruit-bananas in black-spotted jackets and too-soft pears make perfect quick breads!

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Quick breads and muffins freeze well, too, so I like to make up a batch to keep on hand for grab-and-go breakfasts and emergency snacks. Indeed, writing this blog made me want a muffin-luckily I had a bagful in my freezer to satisfy my craving!

Related: Grab-and-go whole-grain breakfasts to fuel your day

If you're giving your quick breads as a gift, bake them in a fun-shaped pan-like mini loaves or mini Bundt cakes-and wrap them up in pretty cellophane with a matching ribbon. Happy holidays!

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Cranberry-Walnut Quick Bread
Makes 12 servings
Active time: 25 minutes | Total: 1 1/4-2 1/4 hours, including cooling times, depending on pan size
To make ahead: Store, individually wrapped, at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month. Store the dry mix (Step 2) in a freezer bag for up to 6 months.

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour (see Note) or whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk (see Tip)
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups chopped cranberries, fresh or frozen (thawed)
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts (see Tip)
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest

  1. Choose a pan option and preheat oven (see below). Coat pan(s) with cooking spray.
  2. Whisk whole-wheat pastry flour (or whole-wheat flour), all-purpose flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.
  3. Whisk eggs, buttermilk, sugar, butter, oil and vanilla in another bowl until well combined.
  4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour in the wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in cranberries, walnuts and orange zest just until combined; do not overmix. Transfer the batter to the prepared pans. Top with additional chopped nuts, if desired.
  5. Bake until golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean (see chart for baking times). Let cool in the pan(s) for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. (See below for cooling times.)

Per serving: 239 calories; 9 g fat (2 g sat, 3 g mono); 41 mg cholesterol; 35 g carbohydrate; 12 g added sugars; 5 g protein; 3 g fiber; 199 mg sodium; 108 mg potassium.

Tips & Notes
Whole-wheat pastry flour, lower in protein than regular whole-wheat flour, has less gluten-forming potential, making it a better choice for tender baked goods. You can find it in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets and natural-foods stores. Store in the freezer.

No buttermilk? You can use buttermilk powder prepared according to package directions. Or make "sour milk": the ratio is 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup milk.

To toast chopped nuts, place in a small dry skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes.

Tip: To store muffins for more than 2 days, wrap individually, place in a storage container or sealable plastic bag and freeze for 1 month. To thaw and reheat, unwrap a muffin, wrap it in a paper towel and microwave on High for 30 to 60 seconds.

Pan Options / Oven Temperature / Baking Time / Cooling Time on Rack
12 muffins (standard 12-cup muffin tin with 1/2-cup capacity per muffin) / 400°F / 22-25 minutes / 5 minutes

1 large loaf (9-by-5-inch pan) / 375°F / 1 hour 10 minutes / 40 minutes

3 mini loaves (6-by-3-inch pan, 2-cup capacity) / 400°F / 35 minutes / 30 minutes

6 mini Bundt cakes (6-cup mini Bundt pan, scant 1-cup capacity per cake) / 400°F / 22-25 minutes / 5 minutes

What's your favorite baked good to give as a holiday gift?

By Carolyn Malcoun

Carolyn Malcoun combines her love of food and writing in her position as contributing food editor at EatingWell. Carolyn has a culinary arts degree from New England Culinary Institute and a degree in journalism from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Carolyn lives in Portland, Maine, and enjoys cooking, gardening, hiking and running in her free time.

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