I’m a sucker for alliteration. Call it having been an English major for so many years. So when I read on April’s Twelve Loaves challenge that the objective was berry bread, I may have freaked out a little. And when the idea of blackberries and bourbon zinged into my brain – dark, sultry, tartly perfumed – I may have freaked out a little more.
Blackberries, bourbon, yogurt, and crumbly pebbly streusel all done up in a quickbread that we’ll pretend isn’t really an excuse for cake. How could you want anything more? Well, maybe a warming breath of cinnamon. Granted. And maybe some browned butter.
Just as this is barely a bread, it’s also barely a dough. It only fits into my dough challenge by virtue of its attachment to the idea of bread, which, as I’ve noted, isn’t a very strong attachment at all. Aren’t “quickbreads” really just desserts that we like to eat at non-dessert hours of the day? But it is delicious, and warm, and comforting, and I think we could all do with a bit of that after this week.
Yogurt, browned butter, blackberries, bourbon, streusel, and cinnamon all in the same bread sounds a bit overwhelming, but really, all of the components played very well together. Blackberries and yogurt scream breakfast, and mixed in a thick batter with plenty of melted butter they produce a moist, slightly dense loaf splotched with purple pockets of jammy tartness. But the addition of bourbon makes this a naughty thing to consider having a slice of too early in the morning (unless you are still up from the night before, I suppose). When I tasted the batter, I was concerned about how assertively the alcohol came through, but after baking what lingers is a lovely floral aroma – all the peaty, throat-searing headiness fades (and honestly, it left me wondering whether another tablespoon or two of bourbon might be welcome in the recipe). Really, this is a loaf perfect for that most wonderful of British institutions we are sadly lacking in the U.S: afternoon tea. And if you slathered a thick slice with clotted cream, I don’t think anyone would complain.
Blackberry Bourbon Bread
Makes 1 large 9×5 loaf
For the bread:
1 ½ sticks butter (12 TB, or ¾ of a cup)
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup bourbon (I like Knob Creek)
½ cup Greek yogurt, though likely any plain, unsweetened yogurt would do
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
12 oz. blackberries, rinsed and air-dried (I realize this is an odd quantity, but that’s how much was in the container I found. The advantage here is that it means you can start with two pints [16 oz.], and the inevitable handful you end up eating by sneaking “just one more” at a time will leave you with just the right amount!)
½ cup flour
½ cup powdered sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
- First, you’ll need to brown the butter for the bread. In a small saucepan, preferably not black (it’s harder to see the browning against a dark background), melt the butter over medium heat. Continue cooking, occasionally swirling gently, as it foams up. That’s the water separating and steaming away. After a few minutes, the solids will start to collect on the bottom of the pot, and begin to darken to gold and then coppery brown. When that happens, turn off the heat. It’s amazing how quickly those cooking solids go from perfectly brown to burned. Set the pot aside to cool while you work with the other ingredients (I stuck mine in the freezer on top of a pot holder to chill down quickly).
- While your butter cools, preheat the oven to 350F and prepare a 9×5” loaf pan by rubbing the bottom and sides with butter or spraying with a non-stick spray.
- In a large bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer), beat the eggs until slightly foamy. With the mixer running (you could do this by hand with a whisk, I suppose, but an electric mixer of any kind will make it much easier), add the sugar ½ a cup at a time, integrating it completely before the next addition. When all of the sugar is added, continue mixing for another 2 minutes, or until the mixture has become quite pale in color and increased in volume.
- Add the vanilla, bourbon, yogurt, and cooled butter, and mix until well combined. The yogurt may break up a bit and make things look curdled, but don’t worry. Once you add the dry ingredients everything will be fine.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add 1/3 of the dry mix to the wet ingredients, mixing on low speed just until the flour is integrated. Add another 1/3 of the dry mix and combine again.
- When you have just 1/3 of the dry mixture left, toss the blackberries in it gently. This will help keep them evenly distributed in the batter as it bakes, rather than all sinking to the bottom. Add this final portion of flour, with the berries, to the batter and fold it in gently with a spatula. This is harder to do evenly, but will keep the berries intact better than using a mixer blade. The resulting batter will be quite thick.
- Scrape-pour the batter into your prepared loaf pan. Mine got tremendously full, and to prevent any chance of overflow during baking, I relocated some of the batter to a 6-inch cake pan instead. If you are concerned about overflow, I suggest filling the loaf pan only about 2/3 full, and make muffins or tiny cakes out of the rest of the batter.
- For the streusel, which I insist you use because it adds such a nice textural contrast, combine the flour, sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Using a fork to whisk them together works nicely.
- Rub in the butter with your fingers or a pastry blender until it is very well integrated. Ordinarily I use a pastry blender for this sort of thing, but here I think your fingers really do work best, since you can squash and smoosh the butter more efficiently. You want tiny pebbles – the biggest should be smaller than peas and the smallest like grains of couscous.
- Sprinkle the streusel over the surface of your bread in an even, thick layer. You will probably have a bit extra, but I think that’s hardly a bad thing.
- Deposit your loaf in the oven and bake for 80 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle comes out with only a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Since ovens are all different, I recommend you first test for doneness at 60 minutes, just to be safe.
- Remove and cool in the pan on a wire rack until you can’t stand it any longer. Then slice and enjoy with tea, with cream, with a dollop of yogurt, or just all on its own.