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Cranberry Walnut Bread with Pumpkin Cream Cheese (Gluten-free & Vegan!)

(post, Martine Holston)

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{for complete post, recipe, and pictures, click here}
I love the transition between seasons: watching, feeling, and smelling the weather change around me and anticipating the particular experiences and traditions tied to each season.

Wearing short dresses and getting an ice cream cone to cool down in summer.  The 4th of July.  Tomatoes.  Watermelon.  Making jam and pickles with the end-of-summer crops.

Drinking hot apple cider wrapped in a sweater and planning for the holidays in fall.  THANKSGIVING.  Pumpkin-flavored everything.

Seeing my breath as I walk down the street looking at lit-up houses in winter.  Seeing smoke coming out of a chimney and reading a book by the fire.   Baking cookies.  Wrapping presents while watching horrible Lifetime holiday movies.

Watching the first flowers bloom in the spring.  Daring to wear a short-sleeved shirt for the first time.  The first glimpse of summer on Memorial Day.

Seasons give me a sense of time, knowing where I am in the year simply by the weather.  And the are central to our memories – the weather dictates whether we celebrated with a sunny picnic or a warm cozy supper.  I think that’s why I find living in San Francisco so disorienting – it feels like the same season year-round.  You can have a BBQ in November (just did) and often wear a winter coat in July.

In the last two weeks the transition into fall has been noticeable even here.  Around my office, the leaves on the trees have turned bright red.  The air is decidedly crisp.  The pure experience of witnessing the change of season is grounding.

Fall may be my favorite season.  It holds the promise of the holidays to come and is bright with color – the reds and yellows of the turning leaves against a bright fall sky.  It has a narrow window of time to enjoy it: while the other seasons are measured in months, at least in Northern California autumn is measured out in weeks.  But I think that’s why I like it, because it feels precious and fleeting.  Knowing that there are only a few weeks to enjoy pumpkin flavored things (even though I don’t really crave them) and drink apple cider and watch the leaves change make them even more special, almost magical.   It feels like I’m racing against the clock to soak up as much of fall as I can before winter begins, which in my mind is December 1st.

So when I was at Trader Joe’s two weeks ago and tasted their sample I immediately thought to myself – I have to make this.  It’s so fall that there are probably only a couple of weeks where it is acceptable: Cranberry Walnut Bread with Pumpkin Cream Cheese.  But of course, I’d make it vegan and gluten-free so everyone could enjoy it.

Clicking around on  Shutterbean, I stumbled across a recipe for No Knead Walnut Raisin Bread.  If I substituted cranberries, it looked exactly like the loaf I had tried at Trader Joe’s.  Perfect.

I followed the directions substituting  Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free All Purpose Flour and adding some xantham gum to make it gluten-free (GF).  After letting it rise for 18 hours, it should turn all bubbly and double in size.  But mine looked exactly the same the next morning as it had the night before.  Bummer.

I decided to continue with the directions and bake it anyways, because I figured it would taste good – just dense.

Indeed it did.  Straight out of the oven, it was delicious – but definitely heavy.

Which made me wonder – what makes dough rise, really?  Because obviously I was doing something wrong.  Did the yeast need gluten?

Enter Wikipedia: If this dough is leavened with yeast, fermentation produces carbon dioxide bubbles, which, trapped by the gluten network, cause the dough to rise. 

Aha!  The reason GF breads don’t rise is because there’s nowhere for the CO2 created when the yeast ferments to go; it’s smothered since there’s no gluten to expand into.  But I knew there had to be a way to make a light but crispy GF bread.  I’ve seen it before.  So I headed over to Gluten Free Girl and looked at her bread recipes to see if she had figured it out.

Shauna’s post “i am stubborn. i don’t give up.” is about one of her first successes after many trials with baking GF bread and gave me a tip to help force some air into my dough: replace the water in the recipe with room-temperature club soda.  If the yeast couldn’t supply CO2, I would force it in there to make the bread more fluffy.

I gave it a go.  The result?  Decidedly lighter.  This bread can be sliced without falling apart, has a decent crumb, and – can you believe it? – pockets of air in it.  While it’s definitely still a bit denser than regular bread, it is not the thick, chewy texture that you’re used to with GF bread.

That same post by Shauna gave an awesome revelation: GF bread doesn’t need that initial 18 hour rise.  The purpose of that rise is to allow the gluten strands to grow and lengthen.  No gluten = no need to rise.  Who knew there’d be a bonus to being GF?  It dramatically cuts down the time needed to make bread.

So while this post has been ridiculously long, making the bread-making process seem long and tiresome – know this.  This bread is shockingly easy to make.  Stir together the ingredients, let it rest for 2 hours, bake for 30 minutes with the cover on and 10-15 with the cover off, and that’s it.  Fresh, yeasted bread in two and half hours, with no kneading.  Awesome!

Now on to the cream cheese…  This story is pretty straight-forward.  I started with the first part of the cream cheese recipe in Crazy, Sexy Kitchen and instead of adding the flavorings and spices, added canned pumpkin, maple syrup, vanilla and pumpkin pie spices.  Result?  Delicious!  The cream cheese before the addition of pumpkin and spices was actually pretty good plain; it would be good with dip or spread on a bagel – or anywhere else you would use cream cheese.  Soaking the cashews overnight requires some advance thought, but aside from that this cream cheese comes together in about 5 minutes.  It’s good both chilled and at room temperature, whatever your preference is.

Together, the result is heavenly.  Great with coffee or afternoon tea.  A nice satisfying bread with a slightly sweet spread.  Flavors of fall.  Something to be enjoyed only a few weeks out of the year.  Hurry up and make it quick (or just go to Trader Joe’s and buy it pre-made) before the window passes!

For the recipes, click here.