When I was living in New Orleans (well, Metairie, just outside of New Orleans), there was a place down the street called Foodies, where I would pop in for breads, cheeses, take-out, etc. One of my favorite items there was the Pecan Crusted Chicken. I went to stop in on my way home from work one night and found pylons at one entrance. I drove around to another entrance, but when I pulled in, I realized they were closed. I thought maybe there was a construction problem, but they never re-opened! :( After the chicken and their stuffed artichokes, my next favorite was their bread! You name it, they had it - olive bread, sweet potato bread, etc. My favorite had chocolate in it and a few other things, but for the life of me, I can't remember what anymore! I'm way too young to be going senile. You would think I would remember something I liked so much!
That bread has been on my mind for a while now, so I have been wanting to try a version, but when doing a Google search to see if I could find something to remind me of what else was in it, I came across another blog, The Seasonal Gourmet, with a post for Cherry Almond Bread. Hmmm, that looks good! Of course this is a quick bread rather than a yeast bread, but still...yumm.
The other thing I have been wanting to do is find other uses for mahleb. We use it to flavor Choreg and in Baraze, but that's about it. I think mahleb has a completely unique flavor, but it is said to have a hint of almond to it and is actually the ground filling of a St Lucie Cherry pit! Who comes up with these things?!?! That's how I came to the combination of ingredients for this bread - the chocolate from the Foodies bread, almonds and cherries because of the Mahleb. It is loosely based on the Cherry Almond Bread I mentioned above.
I rummaged through the pantry and found a bag of sliced almonds and some dried cherries, along with an open can of almond paste in the fridge. Because there was only about a half cup of cherries, I decided to stick with that ratio for the chocolate and almonds as well, but will definitely increase it next time.
8 T (1 stick) butter
3/4 c sugar
3/4 c plain yogurt
1 t vanilla
1 T mahleb (OK to omit)
1 T almond paste
1/2 t baking soda
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 c dried cherries - chopped
1/2 c sliced almonds - lightly toasted and crushed
1/2 c milk chocolate - chopped
Preheat your oven to 375 and spray a loaf pan with PAM Baking. Rough chop your cherries and chocolate, and in a dry pan, lightly toast your almond slices. You're just trying to enhance their flavor, so as soon as you smell them cooking and see a little brown, turn off the heat and just shake them around so the residual heat will brown them a touch. I didn't want them whole in the middle of the cake, so I just sort of crushed them in my hand.
Cream together your butter and sugar. Add the eggs, yogurt, vanilla, mahleb, and almond paste and mix until relatively smooth - the paste may leave little lumps, but that's fine. Then mix in your dry ingredients, with the cherries, almonds, and chocolate being lightly mixed in at the end. Pour into prepared pan and top with additional almonds.
NOTE: I used homemade yogurt, which is on the thick side, so you may want to strain your yogurt first. To do that, set a strainer over a bowl, line it with a paper towel or a piece of cheesecloth and add the yogurt. The longer it sits, the more liquid will drain out of it.
Bake for about an hour until a toothpick (or spaghetti strand) comes out clean. Because the top was so dark, but the center was not cooked yet, about half way through, I put a piece of foil over the top to prevent it from burning.
Let cool on a rack for about 30" before inverting out of the pan to cool completely.
As much as I like this bread, as I mentioned, I will definitely increase the cherries and almond paste next time. Also, as it turned out, the mahleb didn't really come through. That surprises me because I used a whole tablespoon. I think it must have been in the freezer for too long. :( I'm not sure if this will be good or bad, but if I use fresh mahleb next time, it might have a whole different flavor profile. We'll see ...