I love this time of year. The trees, the lights, the glittery storefronts, the Christmas music, the parties...in fact, for the month of December, I don't even mind the cold. Everything about this season seems magical–so expectant and filled with hope. But most of all, I love holiday baking. There's just something so cozy about an apartment filled with the smells of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves–and Micheal Bublé crooning Christmas tunes from Pandora. (Brandon doesn't quite agree with the last part, but he thankfully indulges my Christmas fantasy!)

This year, in lieu of store bought gifts, I thought it would be fun to create some homemade treats for friends and family. I have such fond memories as a kid, of my mom's friends popping over during the holidays with homemade goodies: cookies, caramel popcorn, fudge, and mini loaves of bread. Sure, maybe not the healthiest of fare, but I remember how fun it was to get these beautifully wrapped offerings that were made with such love. Why not bring this same holiday tradition into the city?

For my big baking project, I decided to make mini loaves because they are 1) easy 2) really cute and 3) they can be made in a variety of flavors. I pulled out a few of my trusty holiday recipes–delicate cranberry orange bread with walnut streusel topping, and pumpkin chocolate chip (same as my favorite pumpkin spice muffin recipe)–as well as a new one: old-fashioned gingerbread.

Since I didn't have a good recipe for gingerbread, I reached out to some friends for ideas. My friend Emily sent me an old family recipe (thank you!) which I ended up using, with a few tweaks. I substituted the shortening for butter, the white sugar for dark brown, and added a few more spices (extra ginger + some nutmeg). But the end result was just what I was hoping for: super dense, moist, and intensely spicy.

You need just a few things to make your own mini loaves. First, get some nonstick 5 1/2" x 3" x 2 1/4 mini loaf pans. I bought mine at Bed, Bath, and Beyond–a set of four is just $9.99. Next, figure out which recipes you want to make and stock up on your baking ingredients: flour, sugar, spices, eggs, butter, etc. I love Trader Joe's for this...the amount of money I save buying baking ingredients there is absolutely worth the time spent waiting in line. Last, stop by a craft or stationary store and stock up on pretty ribbons and a few gift tags (I used some pre-made ones...you could of course make your own if you're really feeling creative!).

Once you've baked your bread, let them cool completely on a cooling rack before wrapping them. Wrap them carefully in plastic wrap, tie a big 'ol pretty bow around them, and pick out a gift card. So Martha Stewart, yet so simple. The only problem is that so many of the loaves seem to disappear before they actually get wrapped up and given away. Must be the cats again...



Makes 4 mini loaves

4 eggs

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

1 (15-ounce) can pureed pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix)

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray four 5 1/2" x 3" x 2 1/4 mini loaf pans with vegetable oil cooking spray or grease with a little butter or vegetable oil.

Beat the eggs, sugar, oil, and pumpkin in a large bowl until smooth, using a hand-held mixer. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.

With the mixer on low speed, add half the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and mix until almost combined. Add the rest of the flour mixture and mix until smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans (they'll be about 3/4 full). Bake on the center rack of the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until the tops are puffed up and lightly browned, and a toothpick inserted in the middle of a loaf comes out clean. Let cool on a cooling rack for 15 minutes, then remove from the pans and continue cooling directly on the rack.