Quick Bread Success
The key to baking delicious and tender loaves and muffins is to prevent the gluten in the flour from developing too much. That's why quick bread recipes instruct the cook to mix the dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately. Once the liquid hits the flour, the gluten starts to develop. Over-mixing also aids in gluten development, creating a tough texture, tunnels and holes in the finished product. Quick bread recipes often use the phrase, "stirring just until moistened." This means that you don't need to stir the batter smooth. You should still see patches of flour in the lumpy batter. Counting 12 to 15 strokes, as you fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients will give you a good idea of when to stop stirring. Preheating your oven and greasing your pans will allow you to move the batter from bowl, to pan, to oven. Again, the longer the batter sits out, the more potential it has for gluten development (a.k.a. toughness).
Of course, accurate measuring also plays a role in creating beautiful baked products. I found, however, that in this mix, I could add more than 1 cup of fruit and still come out with beautiful loaves. I believe that this is because most bread recipes require up to 1-cup additional milk or liquid. The extra juice from the fruit I added simply moistened the batter to the right consistency. If you desire to make nut bread, go ahead and add 1 cup of milk or buttermilk in place of the fruit, to provide the needed moisture. Should your loaf turn out heavy and dry on the outside, you most likely added too much or too little fruit. Don't give up, just try again!
Before adding dry fruit to the batter, pour boiling water or juice over it and let it soak for about 15 minutes. The fruit will soak up the moisture (and yummy flavor) of the hot liquid, instead of absorbing the moisture from the batter once in the oven. This will help keep your loaves moist.
To make loaves with less fat, you can replace part of the oil with applesauce or pureed plums (baby food aisle). Make sure you generously grease your pans though, as reduced-fat loaves tend to cling to the pans.
If you find that your bread is overbaking on the outside, yet is still doughy in the middle, turn down the oven temperature by 25-degree increments. Often, what the oven says is not what the oven does, meaning the temperature is not accurate. You can also cover the loaf with foil, shiny side out, to keep the top from browning too fast while the middle catches up. Dark bread pans will produce well-browned crusts, while shiny pans will create lighter products.
Don't be alarmed if your bread cracks down the middle. That crack is actually a standard of success. Pat yourself on the back and keep up the good work.
Completely cool the loaves before attempting to slice them. I know it's hard, especially when you are anxious to test your creation! However, cooled breads equal less crumbs, and you don't want your fresh-from-the-oven loaves to fall apart. Tightly wrapping the cooled breads and allowing them to stand for about a day often improves their flavor. Freezing the loaves lends for easy slicing, too.
?? Do you have any fabulous recipes to share with other Cook'n readers? Email your recipes to us. Include any preparation or serving hints, tell us about you and your family, and send us a picture. We'd love to hear from you...and who knows...perhaps you will be the star of the next newsletter!