Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ricotta-Orange Bread With Orange Caramel Glaze

Gentle reader, if you are broke, learn to bake. Whenever you need a stocking stuffer or hostess gift, you can produce a lovely homemade goodie that makes it look like you were super thoughtful when in fact you just couldn’t afford to buy a real present. (I kid, I kid, family members for whom I baked this bread—the two are not mutually exclusive!)

This is a lovely bread for breakfast/brunch or afternoon tea; four of my relatives received a loaf in their stockings this Christmas. It’s pretty simple for a novice baker to whip up and takes less than two hours including baking time. I used the bread in this recipe as a starting point and switched it up. Yes, baking is a science, but once you’ve got some practice under your belt, you should feel emboldened to experiment with tweaking recipes to make them your own!

You can skip the caramel glaze if you like, and the bread would still be pretty darn delicious. I also made an unglazed version using lemon zest and a pint of coarsely chopped fresh blackberries (and no orange juice), all four loaves of which I gave to my grandmother. Grandparents genuinely do prefer stuff you made yourself to real presents—go figure.

A word of warning: If you DO make the caramel, PLEASE be careful since it gets INSANELY hot and will bond to any surface—such as, say, human flesh—instantly. I learned this the hard way and now have a hideous scar on my forearm where a blob of caramel spattered and seared it. Turns out there’s a reason chef coats have long sleeves.

And now, if that little cautionary tale didn’t completely ruin your appetite, here’s the recipe!

  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta
  • Grated zest of 1 large or 2 small oranges
  • Juice of 1/2 large or 1 small orange
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 c. light or dark brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 c. granulated white sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks (=3/4 c./12 T) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 T butter or baking spray for greasing pans
Caramel glaze:
  • 1 c. granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch of sea salt or kosher salt
  • Juice of 1/2 large or 1 small orange
  • 2 T unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease 4 mini loaf pans or 2 regular-sized ones.

Combine the ricotta, zest, juice, eggs, both sugars, butter, and vanilla in a bowl (ideally one with a spout) and stir till evenly blended.

Combine the flour, salt, nutmeg, and baking powder in another bowl, stir to mix, and make a well in the center. Gradually pour the wet mixture into this well while stirring to combine.

Pour batter evenly-ish into the greased pans—it’ll be kinda thick—then bang each pan against your kitchen counter a couple times, to help the batter distribute and level across the surface.

Bake the breads for about 45 minutes or until the top looks nice and golden brown and the edges are pulling away from the sides of the pan. Remove the breads from the oven and let cool on a rack.

While the bread is cooling, make the glaze:


  • In a small-ish heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, cook the sugar, whisking almost constantly with a metal or heatproof whisk, until it melts into a light brown syrup. At first you’re going to be all like, “WTF is she talking about, I’m just pushing this sugar around in the pan,” and then you’re going to be all like “oooh, wait, it’s starting to clump up kind of,” and then you’re going to be all like “AWWWW, NO SHIT THAT ACTUALLY LOOKS LIKE CARAMEL!” Seriously, trust me, gentle reader. You will be all like that.

  • Remove the pan from the burner. Brace yourself. Pour in the vanilla, salt and orange juice, whisking furiously all the while. Now, I said brace yourself because this ish is going to bubble up like a demon who’s pissed off at you and wants to jump out of the pan and kill you. (Granted, I may have some lingering psychological trauma related to caramel.) Just keep whisking as the caramel starts to form one big angry wad around the whisk.

  • Now return the pan to the burner over low heat and keep whisking that angry wad until it resolves itself into one smooth clump-free sauce. Add the butter and whisk until that dissolves into the sauce. Breathe a sigh of relief, for you have subdued the caramel demon. Remove the pan from the heat.

  • Drizzle the glaze over the breads, using a heatproof rubber spatula or a metal spoon to coax it out of the pan—I recommend doing this in 2 or 3 passes to make sure each is evenly coated.

  • Wait like 5 minutes for the bread to absorb the glaze, then remove the breads from their pans (gently running a butter knife around the edges of the pan if necessary) and let them continue cooling on the rack. It's important that you not wait until the bread is fully cooled or you’ll never be able to get them out cleanly—see above re: caramel instantly bonding to any surface.

    These will freeze well (wrapped in tinfoil and encased in a Ziploc), but if you intend to eat or gift them within a few days, you don’t even need to refrigerate them. The caramel sauce would also be delicious on ice cream; you could make a double batch, put it in one of those glass jars we’re always telling you to wash out and store for reuse, stick a bow on it and give that as a holiday gift.

    Although Chrismakkuh is behind us (look, I didn’t have time to bake AND blog about it before the holidays, people; I’m not Martha, OK?), this bread would be great for a New Year’s Day brunch, or for that acquaintance you owe a gift to because they got you something and you were like, “crap, I didn’t get them anything.” In any case, if you try this recipe or a variation thereof, post a comment and let us know how it turned out!

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