All About Baking: Quick Breads

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The Versatile Quick Bread

It's no wonder quick breads are so popular. They are easy, fast-as the name implies, nearly foolproof, versatile, and oh, so good. We commonly know them as sweetened loaves with fruit or nuts, somewhere between yeast breads and cakes in texture and sweetness. They are leavened with baking powder and baking soda. Banana bread and date nut bread are typical though some books list recipes for savory varieties.

Quick breads have less sugar and less fat than cakes. The nuts often found in quick breads add to the fat content. The fruit adds to the moisture as well as the flavor. Because quick breads tend to be drier than cakes, they are often spread with butter, cream cheese, or jam. Peanut butter is one of our favorite toppings.

Quick breads tend to be more dense and moist than muffins though the batter for quick breads can be baked in muffin tins. Generally, muffin batter is thinner than quick bread batter.

Quick breads are wonderfully versatile, appropriate whenever the richness of a cake is undesirable. They are often served at breakfast and brunch, for snacks, and they finish a meal well in place of a sweeter dessert. When used for a dessert, they can be topped with ice cream or a syrup. Slices can be toasted or dipped in eggs and made as French toast. They make great sandwiches-though a bit fragile unless "stuck" together with cream cheese or peanut butter. Try a fruit filled quick bread topped with shavings of ham or turkey.

How to Bake Quick Bread

There are two methods for mixing quick breads: the creaming method and the muffin method. With the creaming method, sugar and fat (butter, margarine, or shortening) are beat together to entrain air in the mixture and provide added lift to the batter. With the muffin method, the liquids are combined in one bowl, the dry ingredients in another, and then the two are mixed together. The creaming method tends to make a more cake-like bread. The steps for each method follow.

The Creaming Method

1. Place softened butter, margarine, or shortening in a bowl. Add the sugars, spices, and salt and beat until light and fluffy and air is entrained throughout the mixture. (Do not let the butter or margarine get warm enough that it approaches the melting point. Friction from the mixing, especially with an electric mixer, will increase the temperature.)
2. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
3. Add any liquid ingredients and stir lightly.
4. Stir or whisk the remaining dry ingredients together. Add them to the mixture and stir until just combined.
5. Remove to the baking pan(s) and bake.

The Muffin Method

1. Sift or whisk the dry ingredients together to thoroughly disperse the salt, sugar, and leavenings throughout the flour.
2. Combine all the liquid ingredients including the melted fat.
3. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the liquid ingredients. Mix with a spatula until just combined-some lumps may remain.
4. Remove to the baking pan(s) and bake.

Pointers for Success

1. Do not over mix. Over mixing will develop the gluten and make the bread tough instead of tender.
2. Choose low gluten flour, either pastry or all-purpose flour. Bread flour will make a tough loaf.
3. Do not scoop the flour. Sift or whisk the flour to make it light and fluffy, not packed, then spoon it into the measuring cup.
4. The creaming method produces a more cake-like product and is well-suited for those recipes that have a high fat or sugar content. Consider the creaming method for those recipes that call for more than four tablespoons of butter per loaf.
5. Bake soon after mixing before the effect of the leavenings begin to dissipate.
6. If you use dry milk in your recipe, add it to liquid ingredients so that it can be stirred and thoroughly dissolved.
7. Commercial muffins tend to be very high in fat and sugar-more like a tea cake than a bread. Your quick bread should be more bread-like and not as rich as commercial muffins.
8. Grease pans well and consider dusting the pans with flour as well. (If you use butter, always dust your pans to absorb the water in the butter.) With the high sugar content, the loaves tend to stick in the pans. Non-stick pans are helpful.
9. Breads are easier to remove from the pan if they set for five or ten minutes before removing the bread.
10. Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick into a crack in the center of the loaf. If the bread is done, the toothpick should come out clean.
11. Quick breads are best if they are tightly wrapped and stored in the refrigerator overnight. After the bread has completely cooled, wrap it tightly in plastic or foil. As the bread chills, both the flavor and the moisture permeate the bread. The bread can be stored in the refrigerator for five to seven days.
12. Quick breads can also be frozen. Place the wrapped breads in freezer-grade plastic bags and freeze them for up to three months. When ready to use, thaw the loaves in the refrigerator while still wrapped.

Troubleshooting Tips

1. Cracked top: A cracked top is desirable and not a fault.
2. Tunnels and voids: Tunnels and voids in the bread are a symptom of over mixing. Mix only until the dry ingredients are moistened. Some lumps may remain.
3. Tough texture: A tough texture instead of a tender texture is another symptom of over mixing. Occasionally, too high of baking temperature will cause toughness.
4. Soggy texture: If the batter is left for too long before baking, it may be soggy or sunk in the middle. If the there is too much liquid or not enough leavening, the bread may be soggy.
5. Coarse, crumbly texture: The bread should be moist and dense. Too much fat or too much leavening will cause the bread to be crumbly.
6. Bitter, soapy aftertaste: Too much baking soda or baking powder will create an aftertaste.
7. Too thick or too brown of a crust: A tough thick crust may be caused by too high of oven temperature or too much sugar.
8. Greasy crumb: Too much fat will create a greasy texture.
9. Crisp edges: Too much fat or too much fat and sugar will create crisp edges.

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? 2004 The Prepared Pantry

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