I’ve been waiting ever since last Christmas to give you this mouth-watering Bishop’s bread family recipe. Just in case you think this Bishop’s bread is your great-grandmother’s typical heavy fruitcake, think again! You would be wrong!
There is a distinction between my chocolate cranberry Bishop’s bread and the kind of fruit cake that people make jokes about and pass onto relatives year after year.
But, give me a chance to explain.
My mother wrote my recipe out as a twist on an old European recipe back in 1974 or ’75 just after we were married. She would make it for company and get rave reviews, but more often (because my Dad was Dutch and loved the old-style kind) she would serve one of those eternal heavy fruitcakes which I detest.
I’ve been known to take a bite of someone’s prized fruitcake, to honor them, thinking that maybe my taste buds have changed or that I’ve grown up somehow. But no. I never have liked it and never will. I honestly can’t stand the usual dyed citrus and maraschino cherries. So when I pulled Mom’s recipe for Bishop’s Bread out, I paused for a moment – suspicious – until remembered it wasn’t any old fruitcake. No, not at all.
I guess this does bear some likeness to the basic fruitcake – heavy like a pound cake. Nuggets of goodness stuck together in a bread. But, instead of copious amounts of dried fruit (lemon, lime, orange, red and green candied cherries, etc.) there is nothing but chocolate chips, walnuts, cranberries (or tart cherries) for a occasional burst of tart, and dates. You know how some foods are just better after several days of the flavors melding? Well, this sweet dessert bread is one of those. It is scrumptious especially served warm so the chocolate is all melted!
Festive Chocolate Cranberry Bishop’s Bread
1 1/2 cups King Arthur’s whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips (or chunks)
1 cup sugar (I used 3/4 cup honey)
2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
1 1/2 cups chopped dates
1 cup chopped cherries (I subbed unsweetened fresh cranberries halved- add only a hint of tart)
Mix together flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir cut-up fruit and chopped nuts into flour mixture to coat. Incorporate sweetener and eggs. Before you go further, line 10x5x3 loaf pan or a 7 1/2″ round casserole dish with parchment or wax paper and dot with butter or solid coconut oil so it will come out clean.
Now this is where it gets fun: Mix as much as you can with a heavy spoon; at one point, it will become pretty hard to stir. Taking the mass into your hands, squish and knead just enough to fully blend. You will be able to form a ball and drop it into your parchment-lined baking pan. Cut tall edges off parchment, so they don’t smoke and bake 65-70 minutes at 350 degree.
My Variation From Normal: I make the whole thing a few days before Thanksgiving before food prep gets heavy but do NOT bake it. I simply wrap it up and stick it in the fridge to blend flavors. Then when we have spontaneous friends knock on our door, I have this pretty bread to serve hot right out of the oven. It takes a bit of work off my shoulders, and it also makes the whole house smell amazing. Either way, bake it immediately or later.
Non-Alcoholic Rum Version: I have read this cake can be made 3 to 4 weeks before Christmas and put in a covered cake tin with an ounce of bourbon or rum poured over the cake itself. The alcohol will evaporate during this time and flavor your cake. It will keep well for several weeks in a cool spot or refrigerated.
A Jeani Jessen of Ladson wrote about a recipe that her mother found in a ladies magazine at Christmastime in 1939. “Our family has made it yearly ever since. It’s wonderful for folks who don’t like fruitcake – but love chocolate! Our friends start requesting it about Thanksgiving.” Jeani says the recipe originally called for chopped chocolate rather than chips. That got me wondering when chocolate chips were first sold. It turns out that the Nestle Co. first produced them in 1939 – the very year Jeani’s mother found the recipe in the magazine.
When researching origins, I found one reference to Bishop’s bread being made in medieval times for the local Bishop. Nuts and dried fruits were scarce, so it would be a fit ‘treasure’ for the Bishop. Melissa Bowen, a research librarian at the culinary university Johnson & Wales, did some digging in the school’s vast resources and found that there is a reference to a traditional Slovakian Christmas cake – a loaf bread – called Bishop’s Bread or Biskupsky Chlebicek. It has fruit, nuts and – surprise – sometimes chocolate. She also found a website that mentions a story about the bread much like the Bishop’s Bread served to circuit-riding preachers in the days of early America. Those stories shed a little light on the name, but there still seems to be some confusion about whether the bread/cake contains chocolate.
Once we get settled down after Thanksgiving, we will be making triple the recipe as one of our Christmas traditions. Yes, it is bread-shaped, keeps refrigerated for weeks like fruitcake, but it for sure isn’t fruitcake. I promise! You, too, will became a Bishop’s Bread convert from the first taste, especially if you are a chocolate lover.
“Go, eat your bread with joy…” ~Ecclesiastes 9: 7
Thanks for reading!