Maybe you remember waking up to your Grandma’s fresh-baked bread cooling on a countertop, filling the house with its warm, sugary aroma. Or maybe you wish you’d had a Grandma who baked. Either way, most everyone appreciates a piping hot loaf of bread come wintertime.
While I’d like to tell you how I rise every day at dawn to set the yeast in motion, kneading and working the dough all morning — this piece ain’t fiction. The real story is that I’m a teacher, surrounded by very active children by 9 A.M. each Monday through Friday, with no morning time to spare. However, I constantly get cravings for slices of homemade bread, so I found a solution: quick breads. Because there’s no yeast in these breads, I’m not tied to the house for hours waiting for them to rise.
Quick breads are ideal for the holidays, the busiest baking season. (” ‘Tis the season to be jolly,” not flat out exhausted.) They take up less preparation time than cakes, can be frozen for a few weeks in advance, and are a heck of a lot easier to wrap than Christmas cookies.
But you know I’m a health buff, and you’re probably wondering how we’re going to magically produce moist, cake-like breads while using whole grains and less sugar and fat. Don’t worry, you’ll hardly know they’re gone. Instead of using cups of sugar, we’ll sweeten with fruit or other natural sweeteners. For not-so-sweet breads such as cornbread, we’ll cut back on the oil and buttermilk. The main objective is to create healthier alternatives to old family recipes. The other goal is to avoid making bread so solid it could brick a patio.
Keys to Success
- Use whole wheat pastry flour (made from soft wheat berries) instead of whole wheat flour to produce a lighter bread.
- Buy small cans of baking powder to ensure the powder remains fresh.
- Use yogurt to create moist, less crumbly breads.
- Cut down on sugar by using honey, rice syrup, barley malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, applesauce, pureed fruit, and fruit-juice concentrate. Make breads sweeter by adding fresh or dried fruit such as currants. A little sugar, however, is sometimes necessary to help the bread rise.
- Add extra flavor by adding spices, lemon or orange rind, extracts, and liqueurs.
- Reduce fat by using one egg instead of two, or two egg whites in place of one whole egg. By using mashed banana, pumpkin, or yogurt, you can reduce the amount of oil to only two tablespoons.
- Use an electric mixer (hand mixers are fine) to beat air into the dough. Be careful not to overmix.
- Don’t use cheap nonstick pans. The whole grains and natural sweeteners will cause the bread to burn on the outside while remaining mushy inside. I use only tin-plated pans for my baking. They require a little extra care but produce excellent results. Invest in some miniloaf pans. The baking time is less and there’s less chance of the bread falling in the center.
- Bake just until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Overbaking results in a dry, crumbly bread. If the outside of the bread is getting too dark but the inside is still sticky, reduce oven temperature to 325°F for the last 15 minutes of baking.
- Cool breads thoroughly on a rack before removing the bread from the pans. Loosen around the edges first with a pan cake turner.
- To freeze, wrap bread loaves individually in plastic wrap and then place in plastic freezer bags. Loaves can be frozen for a few weeks.