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If you're like us, you look to the seasons for what to cook. Get to the market, and we'll show you what to do with your haul.
Today: A whole wheat, barely sweet quick bread that you'll want on hand as an edible gift, healthy breakfast, and anytime snack -- seasonal fruit optional.
Let's take a moment to dissect the etymology of our old friend the quick bread.
By definition it should be quick; you want to simply mix wet and dry and then combine, and you don't want to leave your home in search of ingredients. Quick breads should be easily stored not only in your proverbial back pocket but also in the back of your mind: memorize quantities, then use that template until the day you head to the big, roomy kitchen in the sky. (Convince Saint Peter to let you in by baking him a loaf -- that's how I plan to do it.)
It should also, let's call a spade a spade here, be bread. If you want to bake a cake in a loaf pan, that's fine, but it is not bread. Bread does not mean a cup of sugar and half as much oil. I like my quick breads whole wheat and just slightly sweet and, yes, moist (sorry, I know). I want to eat them for breakfast and then go conquer the world!
I recently found myself with odd bits of fruit, which I wanted to turn into a sturdy loaf. So I searched "Mark Bittman quick bread" because that's what you do when you need something free of bells, whistles, or fuss. And I found this lovely little recipe.
I have baked this bread roughly 20 times in two months. It has two liquid ingredients and four dry. It stays moist (sorry again) for days, and freezes well. Its heartiness comes from whole wheat flour, cornmeal, molasses (unsung, I say!), and yogurt (or milk, if you're out). Everyone loves it: hungry coworkers, picky friends, the barista you have a crush on. It is infinitely adaptable. It is very hard to mess up.
As far as edible gifts go, yogurt bread is something of a dark horse. It's unassuming, not as cute as cookies or as sexy as liqueur. But your friends will appreciate a present that doesn't shove them forcibly into a sugary daze.
Here's your plan: Make one large trip to the store and stock up on molasses and yogurt, plus flour and cornmeal if you need them. Bake many loaves. Mix the dry ingredients in a wide-bottomed bowl, incorporating the wet in grand, sweeping motions, not so much stirring as tracing half-moons that end with a flick of the wrist. Your not-overmixed dough, rife with baking soda, will fizz, softly, like a science experiment.
Speckle it with cranberries if you'd like to be festive, spices and apples when you crave comfort. Bake it for an hour or so. When it's done, a tester should come out clean, and the loaf should feel soft to the touch but not goo-filled; it should hold its own against a gentle press.
Please let it cool completely before slicing or wrapping. Please keep a loaf for yourself. Slice it in the morning and spread it with the best butter you can find. You will then be fully prepared to conquer the world -- or at least the holiday season.
Very lightly adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007)
Makes one loaf
2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (or regular whole wheat, or a mix of whole wheat and rye)
1/2 cup medium- or coarse-grind cornmeal
1 generous teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 2/3 cups whole milk yogurt, or 1 1/2 cups whole milk + 2 tablespoons white or apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup molasses
Optional: 1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, chopped fruit, or nuts
Butter, for greasing the pan
Photos by Eric Moran