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Say 'Merry Christmas' with a loaf of homemade bread

Quick breads, most of which require less than an hour in the oven, can be one of the most rewarding and creative baking enterprises of the holiday season because they are one way of the expressing personal regard for others. They're a nice way of saying Merry Christmas to your boss or co-workers and would be a fine surprise for elderly friends and neighbors, as well as those who may not have the time or inclination to cook.

These loaves do not need to be baked when you are in the last-minute frenzy of holiday activities. Bake and freeze them as you have time throughout the year.

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Some sweet breads might substitute for fruitcake. They require fewer ingredients, tend to be less expensive, and can be served with any meal, or as after-school snacks or late evening nibbles if you haven't eaten it all at breakfast.

Wrap the bread in attractive paper or choose containers that are reusable when the bread is gone, and include your recipe along with the gift. Fruit Holiday Bread 1 cup white sugar 1/2 cup golden brown sugar, packed 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened 3 eggs 18 1/2-ounce can crushed pineapple in syrup 2 1/2 cups white flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon soda 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon allspice 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 cup chopped figs 1/2 cup chopped candied cherries 1/2 cup chopped pitted prunes 1/2 cup golden raisins

CReam sugars and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs until blended. Beat in pineapple. Combine flour, baking powder, soda, salt, allspice, and cinnamon. Gradually stir into pineapple mixture until just blended. Stir in figs, cherries, prunes, and raisins.

Pour into 4 well-greased 6 by 3/4-inch mini-loaf pans or 18 muffin tins. Bake in a 350 degrees F. oven 45 minutes until bread tests done. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Invert onto wire racks and cool completely. Makes 4 mini-loaves, 1 regular loaf or 18 muffins. Apricot-Banana Bran Bread 1 1/4 cups sifted flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon soda 1 cup whole bran 1/2 cup walnuts 2 eggs 1/3 cup shortening 2/3 cup sugar 1/4 cup buttermilk 3 ripe bananas, peeled and cut up 1 cup dried apricots

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan or two 7 by 3/4 by 2 1/4-inch loaf pans. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and soda into a medium bowl. Add whole bran. Put nuts in blender container. Cover and run on low until chopped. Add to flour mixture.

Put eggs, shortening, surgar, and buttermilk in blender container. Run on high to mix. Add bananas while blender is running. blend until completely liquefied. Stop blender and add apricots.

Run on high until all apricots are coarsely chopped. Add to dry ingredients. Stir well and pour into prepared pan or pans. Bake 45 minutes or until done. Spicy Apple-Walnut Loaf 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon allspice 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 3/4 cup shortening 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed 8 eggs 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 1/2 cups shredded apple, peeled 3 tablespoons cider vinegar, plus water to make 3/4 cup 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

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Mix and sift flour, baking soda, and spices. Cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Stir in flour mixture, alternating with apples and vinegar liquid. Stir in walnuts.

Turn into greased 11 by 4 by 2-inch loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees F. for 1 1/2 hours, or until done. Cool on wire rack. Makes 1 loaf. Date-Nut Cheese Bread 3/4 cup boiling water 1/2 pound pitted dates, finely cut 2 tablespoons butter or margarine 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted before measuring 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon soda 1/2 cup sugar 1 egg, well beaten 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese 1 cup walnuts

Pour boiling water over dates and butter. Let stand about 5 minutes until all butter is melted and mixture has cooled. Sift flour again with salt, soda, and sugar into a bowl. Stir in the date mixture, beaten egg, cheese, and walnuts. Stir only until well-blended.

Pour into a buttered 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan. Bake in a 325 degrees F. oven for 50 to 60 minutes. Turn onto rack to cool. Wrap in foil or clear plastic wrap to store. Makes 1 loaf. Cran-Orange Nut Bread 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour 1 cup sugar 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 cup shortening 1 egg, well beaten 3/4 cup orange juice 1 teaspoon grated orange peel 1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. Sift dry ingredients into large bowl. Cut in shortening. Combine egg, orange juice, and peel and add to dry ingredients, mixing just to moisten. Fold in berries and nuts.

Turn into pan and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool on wire rack before removing from pan. Wrap and store overnight to develop flavors before slicing. Sweet Pumpkin Bread 3 cups sugar 1 cup salad oil 4 eggs, beaten 2 cups canned pumpkin, mashed 2 teaspoons baking soda 3 cups flour 1 teaspoon nutmeg 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 cup water 1 cup dates, chopped 1 cup nuts, chopped

Mix sugar, oil, and eggs together. Add pumpkin, blending thoroughly. Sift dry ingredients together, adding water in small amounts a little at a time. Mix in dates and nuts.

Divide mixture between 2 well-greased 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pans. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F. oven for 1 to 1 1/4 hours or until bread feels hollow when tapped. Makes 2 loaves.

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