Lickity Split: Versatile quick breads deliver full flavor fast

My grandma is a baking grandma. No matter what, when I go to her house, I’m greeted by a hug, a kiss on both cheeks and a plateful of whatever she’s making – pumpkin pie, peanut butter cookies or banana bread. I can’t go over to that house on a full stomach, it just isn’t allowed.

Growing up, I was taught how to make the tried-and-true banana bread by my grandma, Pat Politte. And once I perfected that, I found myself hungry for more. Luckily, quick bread can do just about anything, opening up a world of opportunity.

Basic bread

Quick bread, as the name suggests, is quick. (Think cornbread, soda bread, biscuits, scones.) Unlike yeasted bread, which takes hours to rise, quick bread is leavened with baking soda and/or baking powder. These chemical leaveners allow the bread to start rising as soon as the wet and dry ingredients are mixed together.

“It’s simple to make,” said Agi Groff, pastry chef and co-owner of 4 Seasons Baked Goods and Catering. “It’s easily done by hand … and nice for the homemaker, convenient.”

From banana bread to zucchini bread, most quick breads follow a similar recipe and are made the same way. “Basically, you can use the same recipe for any of these. It’s versatile,” Politte said. “Sugar, eggs, oil and whatever you’re gonna put in it.”

The wet ingredients are combined in one bowl and the dry ingredients in another. Then they are added together. “The biggest trick is not to overwork the batter,” said Beth Thompson, owner of Ferguson’s Cose Dolci Bakery. Lumpy dough is best because mixing the batter too much activates gluten, which will make the bread tougher.

The main thing to remember when making quick bread is to experiment and have fun. “You can’t ruin quick bread,” Politte said with a laugh. “It might not rise, but you can’t ruin the taste.”

Nor are quick breads bound by the standard 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. “If you have the batter, play around with shapes,” Groff said. Smaller 3-by-6-inch pans make miniloaves that are great to bring for lunches or give as gifts. Bundt pans can also create an interesting bread shape for a gathering or party. Quick bread recipes can also be used to make muffins, though the baking time will have to be shortened.

Mix and match

Quick breads get their flavor from whatever’s added to the basic batter, making them the perfect way to showcase seasonal produce. Whether chopped, puréed or grated, fruits – both dried and fresh – add flavor and texture to quick breads. Nuts, spices and citrus zest can also be included, according to Groff.

Most recipes call for finely chopped nuts and mashed fruits or vegetables, but it really depends on your own style. If you like having a crunch to your bread, you can leave the nuts in larger pieces, or if you like chunks of banana in your bread, you can choose not to mash as thoroughly. “You can jazz it up however you want,” Thompson said.

“I like making quick bread, though, because it’s quick and you can do all kinds of things with it,” agreed Politte, who has turned out breads like apple-cranberry and chocolate chip-pumpkin. Yet, Politte still enjoys the plain varieties. “I like simple; I like ones that don’t call for a whole lot of stuff.”

Thompson makes both sweet and savory breads at her bakery, and the popularity of the latter has caught up to that of the sweet varieties, she said. Some of her fall breads include orange-cranberry, banana, cinnamon crumb and pumpkin-cranberry breads. “It’s all about the comfort food,” she said. “Banana bread is still a big seller because it’s a comfort food.”

“The thing about quick breads is that for a lot of people, it reminds them of them growing up and their mothers making banana-nut bread,” agreed Groff. Her specialty breads for the fall include pumpkin, ginger, apple and spice, pear and cranberry-orange.

But versatile quick breads aren’t limited to fruits; they can easily go beyond the comfort-food label by including savory elements such as sweet potato, sausage, chile peppers and cheese, among others.

No matter which way you make your quick bread or what you put in it, it will quickly become a family favorite. In my family, quick breads disappear as quickly as they’re made. “It kinda goes. You make it and it goes,” Politte said.