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“Quick bread” refers to any bread that uses leaveners, like baking powder or baking soda instead of yeast, and requires no kneading or rising time. Quick breads are always popular; blueberry muffins and zucchini bread in summer, pumpkin muffins in the fall or coffee cakes and banana bread, any time of the year! More versatile than most other baked goods, quick breads give you greater freedom to add ingredients (like nuts and dried fruit) and make healthy substitutions. To lower the fat, for example, you can substitute some of the oil with an equal amount of almost any fruit puree (applesauce, plum, pumpkin, bananas).

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If you’re adding dried fruit, try soaking it first. This will moisten the fruit, make it tender and juicy and also preserve the bread’s moisture. To soak dried fruit, place it in a heatproof bowl and pour over just enough boiling water to cover. Let it soak about 15 minutes, then drain and add to the finished batter. For added flavor, soak fruit in hot apple or orange juice–or soak it overnight in rum or brandy. Don’t sprinkle dried fruit on top of quick breads before baking, as it will burn before the loaf is done.

The secret to moist, tender quick bread is in the mixing: use a gentle touch. Combine in a bowl the dry ingredients–flour, leavening, salt, and spices; sift them together or mix them thoroughly with a wire whisk. In another bowl, beat together the fat, sugar and eggs in the order the recipe advises. Stir any other ingredients (fruit puree, flavorings or extracts) into the wet ingredients. Only when each bowl of ingredients is mixed thoroughly should they be combined. When you are ready, pour the dry ingredients into the wet ones and fold them together gently. Do this part by hand rather than with a mixer. Add nuts and fruits; stir just until incorporated. Over-mixing will cause “tunnels”–holes where the air bubbles escaped–and will make the bread tough.

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Unless you’re using high-quality non stick metal or silicone baking pans, you should always grease the pans before you pour in the batter. The best thing to use for greasing the pan is shortening, because its melting point is higher than any other kind of fat, which helps maintain a “shield” between the pan and the batter while the bread is baking. A high-quality cooking spray–one that won’t bake on to your pans and discolor them–is also a fast, easy fix. Let the bread cool for at least twenty minutes before inverting the pan and removing the bread.

The crack on top of the bread happens when the loaf “sets” in the heat of the oven before the bread is finished rising. Don’t worry–it’s normal for quick breads. Drizzle the loaf with icing or dust with confectioners’ sugar to cover the crack.

The bread looks done on the outside but it’s still raw in the middle. This is one of the most common quick bread problems and it can be caused by a few different factors:

  • The oven temperature could be too high. (Use an oven thermometer to check.)
  • Try lowering the oven temperature and/or putting a loose tent of foil over the top of the bread so it won’t burn before the middle has time to catch up.
  • Another cause of a “raw center” could be using a different pan size than the recipe calls for. One of the advantages of baking quick breads is that you can use the same batter to make muffins, mini loaves or large loaves. Each size, however, requires different baking times–and some require different baking temperatures. The larger and thicker the loaf, the longer it’s going to take to bake. If you’re using a different size pan than your recipe calls for, adjust the baking time accordingly and check the bread often.

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Pear and White Cheddar Bread

Makes 16 servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup flaxseed meal or toasted wheat germ
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded pears
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup refrigerated egg substitute or 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup shredded white cheddar cheese (2 ounces)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of one 9x5x3-inch loaf pan or two 7 x 3 1/2×2-inch loaf pans; set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, flaxseed meal, baking powder and salt. Make a well in center of flour mixture; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine pears, sugar, eggs, oil, buttermilk, honey and vanilla. Add pear mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy). Fold in cheese. Spoon batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes (45 to 50 minutes for the smaller pans) or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove bread from pan.

Cool completely on wire rack. Wrap and store overnight before slicing.

Variations: 

Cinnamon, Chocolate, and Pear Quick Bread:

Prepare as directed, except stir 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon into the flour mixture and substitute 1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate pieces for the cheese.

Fig, Ginger, and Pear Quick Bread:

Prepare as directed, except stir 1-1/2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel and 1 teaspoon ground ginger into the flour mixture and substitute 1/2 cup finely snipped dried figs for the cheese.

Blue Cheese, Pecan, and Pear Quick Bread:

Prepare as directed, except substitute 1/4 cup finely crumbled blue cheese and 1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans for the white cheddar cheese.

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Healthy Banana Bread

One 9 x 5-inch loaf (about 15 slices)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs or 1/2 cup refrigerated egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt or buttermilk
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (2 very ripe bananas)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle.

Spray a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with pan spray, and line the bottom with parchment. Spray the parchment.

Sift together the flours, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the eggs and sugar until thick; five to eight minutes. Beat in the oil, the yogurt or buttermilk, bananas and vanilla.

At low-speed, beat in the flour in three separate additions. Fold in the nuts.

Pour into the loaf pan and bake 50 to 60 minutes, until the bread is firm and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

This bread will keep for several days, but put it in the refrigerator after three days and the bread freezes well if wrapped air-tight.

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Apricot Bread

Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup dried apricots
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch loaf pan and set aside.

Soak apricots for 20 minutes in hot water to cover. Drain and chop apricots into 1/4-inch pieces. Set aside.

Beat sugar, oil and egg together in a mixing bowl. Stir in water and orange juice. Add the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt, mixing until thoroughly combined. Stir in walnuts and apricots.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 55 to 65 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to continue cooling.

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Blueberry Oatmeal Bread

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats, plus extra for the top of the bread.
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

Directions
Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease bottom only a 9-inch loaf pan.

In large bowl, mix brown sugar, milk, oil, vanilla and eggs with spoon. Stir in remaining ingredients except blueberries; mix thoroughly. Fold in blueberries. Pour into pan. Sprinkle with additional oats if desired.

Bake 45  minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Loosen sides of loaf from pan with a thin spatula; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours, before slicing. Wrap tightly and store at room temperature up to 4 days or refrigerate up to 10 days.

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Whole Wheat Fruit-Nut Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 6 ounce carton plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/3 cup dried cherries or cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon toasted wheat germ

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease the bottom and 1 inch up the side of a 1-1/2-quart ovenproof casserole; set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Make a well in center of the flour mixture; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, applesauce, yogurt, brown sugar and oil. Add egg mixture all at once to the flour mixture. Stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy.) Fold in nuts and dried fruit. Spoon batter into the prepared casserole. Sprinkle with wheat germ.

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cover loosely with foil during the last 15 minutes to prevent overbrowning.

Cool in the casserole dish on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove bread from the casserole. Cool completely on wire rack. If desired, wrap and store overnight before slicing (bread will be slightly moister the second day). Makes 12 servings

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