Seasonings: ‘Quick breads 2.0’

Jumping back into making bread, from structure to ingredients to mixing 

BY ALETHEA PRICE

Editor’s note: This is the final of a two-part series on quick breads. 

Alright all you bread-makers-to-be — let’s jump back in where we left off with bread making.

Although the structure of quick breads is affected by the flour used in your recipe, a more tender bread is made when little gluten development occurs. Some gluten is needed so that the bread will rise quickly. 

Most modern day recipes call for all-purpose flour. Self-rising flour may also be used in recipes, but because it has added baking powder and salt, these ingredients must be eliminated from the original recipe. The best opportunity to start using whole wheat flour is in quick breads. 

Often times breads such as zucchini and banana bread taste so good from all the butter and sugar that you can sneak in the extra fiber with whole wheat flour. Trust me, I have made pumpkin bread with whole wheat flour and my dad didn’t even notice. 

For those of you who don’t know my dad, he doesn’t eat many healthy things, so this was a huge win. If you don’t want to go full on with the whole wheat flour, try using half whole wheat and half all-purpose flour instead.

Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda plus an acid. Most consumers use double-acting baking powder. It contains a fast-acting acid that reacts with the moisture in the recipe and a slow-acting baking powder that reacts with the addition of heat. If moisture is present, the acid (cream of tartar, lemon juice, and buttermilk are examples of an acid) reacts, causing the release of carbon dioxide, which causes cake to rise. Too much leavening agent will cause air bubbles to be too big. They combine and burst, leading to a flat cake. 

Too little leavening agent will lead to a heavy cake. This is the perfect example of the importance of proper measuring while baking. To make your own baking powder, you can substitute ¼ teaspoon of baking soda and ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar for every teaspoon of baking powder.

Salt is used in quick breads to enhance the flavor of the other ingredients. There is not a specific ratio for home baking, and the recipe may need to be adjusted if salted butter is used. Leaving the salt out completely will leave your bread tasting bland. Spices, flavorings, and extracts add flavor and interest to quick breads. Usually these ingredients are added in small amounts. If adding nuts, raisins, or chopped fruits, toss them in flour first. This helps prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the pan. Also, dried fruit can be soaked first for about ten minutes to add extra sweetness to the baked bread.

There are three types of quick bread batters. Pour batters are usually those with a thick liquid consistency. These are appropriate for pancakes, waffles, and funnel cakes. Drop batters are much thicker and need to be pushed out of the bowl with a spatula. These include muffins, tea loaves, nut breads, corn bread, and coffee cakes. Lastly, the quick bread may be a dough that is dry enough to be kneaded slightly, rolled, and cut into shapes. Biscuits and sticky buns are usually made with a dough.

The key to making moist and tender quick breads is proper mixing. The first step is thorough mixing of all the dry ingredients or just stirring. In a separate bowl, the eggs, sugar and fat should be mixed according to the recipe. Any remaining ingredients such as fruit, nuts, or vegetables should be added to the bowl of wet ingredients. At this point the dry ingredients can be poured into the wet ingredients. The dry mixture should be folded gently just until the dry ingredients are moistened. The batter should be lumpy.

Sometimes the recipe calls for the fat and sugar to be creamed together first, until a fluffy texture and light color is obtained. Then the remaining ingredients are added and stirred together as described above. As the bread bakes, trapped carbon dioxide, along with the production of steam, allows the bread to rise.

To obtain the desired appearance, the mixing has to be done properly. If the batter is under mixed, the bread will rise insufficiently. If the batter is over mixed, too much air will be incorporated, and large holes or tunnels will form during baking. Muffins show this very well. Either way, you’ll be disappointed with the results; follow the recipe instructions for the desired texture.

Preheat your oven before mixing the ingredients. Bake your quick breads in the center of the oven. Check for doneness about 7 minutes before the recipe directions call for it to be finished. To check for doneness, the center should be checked using a toothpick. If the toothpick is clean or comes out with just a few crumbs from the center of the bread, the bread is done. A coated toothpick means the bread requires more baking; check about every 2 minutes until the bread is done.

Quick breads should be completely cooled before storing. If the bread is going to be used within the next few days, simply label it and seal it in an airtight container to retain the bread’s moisture. Most quick breads can be left at room temperature and still maintain their freshness. 

Keep in mind that if the bread contains added fruits, sour cream, yogurt, cheese, or other highly perishable products, the bread should be refrigerated for safety reasons. If the bread will not be used within a week, wrap the bread in an airtight container or in plastic wrap inside a freezer bag and freeze it until time of use. The bread should be set out for about an hour and a half at room temperature to thaw before needed.

Here’s an idea: Bake an extra loaf, put a bow on it and take it to a friend or neighbor. Brighten someone’s day and show you care by bringing them some homemade bread. There is a lot of science in baking, I hope you feel smarter after having read all this.

If you have questions or comments about the column, or if you’d like more information feel free to contact me by email at thekitchenagent@gmail.com.