By Barbara Beltrami

There seem to be very few ways to escape the early onslaught of the commercialism of Christmas. With stores and websites foisting the holiday upon us almost as soon as we’ve put away our sandals and sunscreen, it loses its magic long before it even arrives.

I find that the best way to avoid that is to revert to what Christmas used to mean by making my own gifts. Nothing fancy or lavish, but something that shows originality, care and affection. I’ve made everything from potpourris to potholders, jams and tree ornaments, cookies and candles and candy, but I find that the easiest and most appreciated gifts from my kitchen have often been miniloaves of quick bread in inexpensive ceramic or foil loaf pans. Wrapped in colored cellophane and tied with a length of pretty ribbon, they’re always welcome.

Here are three of the many versions.

Banana Raisin Bread

Banana Raisin Bread

YIELD: Makes 3 miniloaves

INGREDIENTS:

¾ cup golden raisins

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (about 2)

1/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar

DIRECTIONS:

Soak the raisins in hot water. Preheat oven to 350 F and generously grease three 6- by 3- by 2-inch loaf pans. Sift flour with baking soda and salt. Cream butter and sugar; add eggs and bananas and blend thoroughly. Combine the milk and lemon juice (don’t worry if it curdles a little). Slowly and alternately fold in the flour mixture and the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and blending well, but not overmixing. Drain raisins and fold into batter. Divide batter evenly among three prepared loaf pans; bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on racks. Serve with hot coffee, tea or hot chocolate.

Bourbon Bread

Bourbon Bread

YIELD: Makes 3 miniloaves

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups flour

2½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1½ teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup sugar

1 cup sour cream

1 egg, well beaten

¼ cup vegetable oil

½ cup bourbon

1/3 cup brown sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F and generously grease and flour three 6- by 3- by 2-inch miniloaf pans. In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, walnuts and sugar. In a medium bowl combine sour cream, egg, oil and bourbon; add to dry mixture and stir just until blended. Divide batter evenly among the miniloaf pans, sprinkle with brown sugar before baking. Bake 35 to 45 minutes, until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on racks. Serve with brandy, liqueur or chai tea.

Date Pecan Bread

Date Pecan Bread

YIELD: Makes 3 miniloaves

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup boiling water

8 ounces chopped pitted dates

Half a stick softened, unsalted butter

1¾ cup flour

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 beaten egg

¾ cup chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F; generously grease three 6- by 3- by 2-inch miniloaf pans. In medium bowl, pour boiling water over dates; add butter, stir and let sit 5 minutes. In another medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt; stir in date mixture, egg and pecans; mix well but do not overmix. Divide batter evenly among three loaf pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on racks. Serve with eggnog, hot spiced wine or dessert wine.

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