From choosing the right ingredients to achieving the right texture, Made at Home: Breads (Mitchell Beazley, 2013), by Dick and James Strawbridge, is the perfect guide to making flavorful breads for every occasion. In this excerpt from chapter 5 “Quick Breads,” learn how to stock your pantry so you can bake bread in minutes.
You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: Made at Home: Breads
Unfortunately, the resurgence in home baking doesn't fit well with everyone's lifestyle. Taking the time to slow down and bake is impossible for some people. This article is for all of you who struggle to find enough hours in the day. Instead of waiting for yeast to get the dough to rise, this selection of quick breads uses other leavening agents to increase the volume of the dough using a simple chemical reaction. The best thing about quick breads is that it is easy to keep the ingredients on hand—with a quick raid of a well-stocked pantry, you can be baking in minutes.
Quick Breads Without Yeast
The Lazy Loaf
Baking bread is hard work and takes time to fit into your daily routine. Quick breads reduce the time that you have to set aside but still offer tasty homemade food. When you are short of time or have guests arriving imminently, you'll find that a loaf of soda bread or a batch of muffins is quick to make and throw into the oven.
If you need to be persuaded to try some of the recipes in this section, imagine taking away all of the rules, constraints, and discipline associated with traditional baking and replacing them with a loaf made in a fraction of the time. The simplest quick breads are made by mixing together the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients and baking immediately.
The Magic Ingredient
Baking powder (a combination of baking soda and cream of tartar) is the leavening agent used in most quick breads. The acidic cream of tartar and alkaline baking soda react when they come into contact with water. This is why, once you have added the liquid to your dough, it is sensible to bake it quickly and not waste all of the expanding carbon dioxide bubbles that will give it a light texture. It also explains why most commercial baking powders have a little flour or other starch added to them, to absorb any moisture that may get in during storage. After all, no one wants an exploding container of baking powder in their cupboard.
Some recipes don't call for cream of tartar, because they use an acidic liquid, such as buttermilk, to start the reaction with the baking soda instead. Make your own baking powder although baking powder is readily available, it’s very easy to make your own at home. All you will need are two key ingredients: Cream of tartar and baking soda.
Combine 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar with 1/4 teaspoon o f baking soda to make the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of baking powder. We scale this up and spoon 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar into a small sealable jar and shake together. We use the mixture within one month, using 3/4 teaspoon of our homemade baking powder when a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of baking powder.
Quick breads offer a lot of flexibility to explore different types of flours and add different textures to the dough. We love to try out different flours in these breads, and also add a selection of other ingredients, such as wheat germ, rolled oats, or flaxseed to increase the fiber. The evolution of soda bread to wheaten is just this and you can try a similar approach with all the recipes in this section. The similarity in texture to cakes makes some quick breads, such as banana bread, perfect for sweetening up and experimenting with inventive flavors. Once you have understood the basic ratios of ingredients, you can experiment with all kinds of flavors to create your own unique sweet breads.
Using Up Day-Old Bread
Quick breads have a crumb texture that lends itself to toasting, and this is the best way to enjoy a loaf like soda bread on the second day. However, we have grown up with a slightly less healthy but extremely tasty tradition. Fried sliced soda bread or wheaten is delicious. Fried farls, made from soda bread dough, are a key part of a breakfast with eggs and bacon. Along with fried meats and pancakes, they will give you enough energy to work all day long—or sit down and have a nap.
Batters & Doughs
Quick bread doughs tend to have a much wetter consistency than standard bread doughs, and this makes it easy to pour out the dough into a mold like a batter. For the likes of corn bread, you can actually use a ladle or spoon to drop the bread onto a hot skillet. Some, such as soda bread, are slightly firmer due to a higher flour to liquid ratio, but the dough should still be pourable.
Essentially, if your dough is too thick to pour, then it is probably not wet enough. Remember that the leavening agents need liquid to activate them, and you could end up with an unappetizing bread.
Perfecting Your Technique
The techniques used to make quick breads differ from those used to make yeast-risen breads, so here are some hints and tips.
This is a technique often used in cake baking and combines the sugar and butter by beating together into a smooth and fluffy cream. Use a wooden spoon to beat the mixture until it is pale and light. This captures air bubbles, which react when you gently fold in the rest of the ingredients.
We use a metal spoon to fold the remaining ingredients into the creamed mixture. A metal spoon has a sharper edge than a wooden spoon that prevents the air bubbles from being squashed out of the batter. It's a little extra washing up but worth the effort.
We mix butter into flour by rubbing in with our fingertips or blending in a food processor until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. This process adds air and gives the dough a flaky texture. When the fat melts during baking it contributes to the layers—perfect for biscuits!
This excerpt is reprinted from Made at Home: Breads by Dick and James Strawbridge and published by Mitchell Beazley, an imprint of Octopus Publishing Group, 2013. Purchase this book from our store: Made at Home: Breads.