We should all have a solid command of the ABCs of baking. Thankfully, Food52's Test Kitchen Manager Erin McDowell is here, with tips and tricks to help you master the most essential desserts and the simplest breads.
Today: Whether you're an expert or beginner, this is the easiest -- and arguably the most delicious -- thing you'll ever bake.
If you’re a baker, you love to make quick breads. If you’re scared of baking, chances are you still love to make quick breads. And no matter who you are, you love eating them.
Quick bread is the name given to a weird cakey-muffin hybrid that’s baked in a loaf pan. Personally, the name has always delighted me -- because of its accuracy and the fact that it’s always okay to eat bread for breakfast, even though sometimes it contains chocolate. The bottom line is that a few good quick bread recipes are the perfect thing to have in your back pocket: They make good morning treats, can serve as an excellent afternoon snack, and are a perfectly respectable (if not humble) dessert when warmed up and topped with a scoop of ice cream. The name is there for a reason -- these breads are quick and easy, and near impossible to mess up. Here’s what you need to know to make a perfect quickbread:
Prepare your ingredients. This is a simple step, but it's essential: Quickbread recipes come together so quickly that it’s really good to have everything on hand from the get go (and it makes a fast recipe even faster). If you’re throwing nuts in, have them toasted, chopped, and ready to go. If you’re folding in fresh fruit, peel and chop it as needed. If you’re dreaming of a caramel swirl, have that stuff at room temperature and a skewer at the ready.
The most important rules: Quickbread recipes commonly use oil or melted butter as a base, which (generally) means you can mix up all your liquid ingredients together from the get go, too. Add the sugar to this and whisk to combine. Some recipes may have you start with the fat and sugar mixed together before adding the eggs, extracts, and so on. Also, sift or whisk your dry ingredients (sans sugar) together (I’ll be honest, I usually go the whisking route -- sifting seems like too much effort for something so fast). Add-ins will be folded in at the end (more on that next).
Mix it up. The bottom line is that almost anything goes with a quickbread. Once you have a basic outline for a recipe, you can switch the ingredients to your heart’s content. Zucchini bread can turn into carrot bread, parsnip bread, corn bread, and so on. Mashed bananas can be replaced with applesauce, smashed pears, and more. A basic brown sugar bread can be livened up with fresh or dried fruit, toasted nuts, or chocolate. Some of my favorite combinations are oats, cranberries, white chocolate, and pears with a dulce de leche swirl; and citrus, raspberry, and almond -- but the sky’s the limit.
More: Quickbreads are perfect for gifting. Here are the best -- and prettiest -- ways to wrap them up.
Grease it, grease it good. Butter your pan well or spray it with nonstick spray. You shouldn’t need to flour the pan, but if you’re using a particularly sticky ingredient, feel free to line the bottom of the pan with parchment just to be safe.
Whisk to combine. No seriously, that’s it. As mentioned, whisk the fat and sugar to combine, add the eggs one at a time, then stir in any other liquids (mashed or stewed fruit, juice, flavor extracts, yogurt, milk, etc.). Add the dry ingredients and mix, but just until all the ingredients are combined. The only real rule here is not to overmix -- you want a tender, moist quickbread, and overmixing will make for a denser result. Fold in any extra additions at the very end just until they are distributed, but still taking care not to overmix.
Get creative with finishing. With a recipe so simple, you can take an extra minute or two for some fancy flair. Typically, I like to finish quickbreads with a sprinkling of vanilla or turbinado sugar -- it’s sparkly and gives a crisp, caramelized crust on the top of the loaf. A sprinkling of lightly sweetened nuts or coconut just on the surface of the bread is another nice (and easy) touch.
I’m also a big fan of the swirl, whether it’s peanut butter, melted chocolate, cream cheese, or (as in the recipe below) a healthy dose of Nutella. To get a good swirl, pour half of the quickbread batter into the prepared pan, then pour in half of your filling. Top with the remaining quickbread batter, then the remainder of the filling. Use a wooden skewer, chopstick, or a knife to gently swirl the two together. Don’t overswirl -- bigger chunks of both batters make for a more dramatic -- and perfectly imperfect -- look.
Bake it off. The baking time will depend on the size of your loaf pan and the recipe at hand, but typically quickbreads bake for somewhere between 35 and 55 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out with a just a few moist crumbs clinging to it, and the bread should slightly pull away from the edge of the pan. Cool the bread in the pan for at least 15 minutes before inverting it onto a cooling rack. This is especially important the more add-ins you have -- cooling in the pan for a bit gives the loaf time to set. If you invert it too soon, this overly moist bread is more likely to fall apart.
Not into loaves? Almost any quickbread recipe can be turned into a muffin. This isn’t an exact science, and it may take a little experimentation to figure out how your favorite quickbread recipe bakes up in miniature form. But generally speaking, muffins made from quickbread batters take about 14 to 22 minutes in the oven, so that’s a good jumping off point. Fill your cupcake tins 3/4 of the way full and follow the same cues for doneness.
Banana Bread with Nutella Swirl and Cocoa Nibs
Makes one 9 x 5-inch loaf
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pinch of cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup whole milk yogurt
1/2 cup cocoa nibs
1/2 cup Nutella
See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.
Photos by Erin McDowell