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Quick and delicious breads make great gifts

There was a time when I made mini loaves of quick bread for all the neighbors. Quick breads are fun and generally easy to make.

My favorite recipes came out of a 1989 December issue of Gourmet magazine. Well, the magazine folded a while back, and my energy level, has, too.

I still might take time to do a quick round of baking before the holidays arrive. I know you are busy, too, and the weather, from hurricanes to snow storms, has complicated things a great deal this year. More than one person has told me they had no or very few pecans this year, and another pointed to a walnut tree filled with nuts about the size of a penny gumball.

Do not despair! Maybe if you’re stuck inside again today you can whip up one or two of these recipes.

The key to good quick bread is not over-mixing. You mix too much and the gluten builds in the flour, making for a chewy bread. These breads are best mixed with a good wooden spoon.

Another important thing to remember is you can vary the size of pans, so if you have a big recipe, you can make two loaf pans or four to five mini loaf pans. Adjust your cooking time. The chart below, which I found at kitchenencounters.typepad.com, is useful for figuring out what your batter will make:

5 3/4″ x 3 1/4″ x 2″ (mini) = 2 cups

7 3/8″ x 3 5/8″ x 2″ = 3 cups

8″ x 4″ x 2 1/2″ = 4 cups

8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ = 6 cups

9 1/4″ x 5 1/4″ x 2 1/2″ = 8 cups

I also found this good information about choosing the right pans for baking, also from Kitchen Encounters:

“Glass transfers heat quicker than shiny metal (which deflects it), which shortens baking time, which causes bread to be undercooked in the center and overcooked outside. This doesn’t mean glass doesn’t work. If you love light-colored, slightly-softer bread, glass is great. Just lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees. This gives the bread enough time to cook through to the center without burning it on the outside.”  This method has always worked for me.

“Dull or dark-colored metals absorb more radiant heat than bright or shiny ones, which reflect it away.  

“Shiny pans tend to remain 15-20 degrees cooler in a 350 degree oven, which means you need to either increase the heat of the oven and/or extend the cooking time.  

“Dull or dark metal loaf pans are the best pans ever invented and sturdy, good-weight, medium-colored, non-stick aluminum pans can’t be beat. Aluminum is a fantastic conductor of heat and everything baked in them emerges beautiful and perfectly baked.” 

The writer of Kitchen Encounters does not like disposable aluminum pans, and I agree. They are too flimsy and make getting the pan in the oven tricky.  

I use mostly the dark, non-stick metal pans, or a lighter colored metal pan for the small loaves. Just be sure to grease them well. And the trick of using a piece of parchment paper hanging over the sides will also make it easy to remove the breads from the pan. Grease the pan, then grease the parchment paper, as well.

Rum Raisin Apple Bread

2 1/4 cups flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

3/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup rum

3/4 cup applesauce

1/4 cup apple butter

Soak raisins in rum for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degree. Line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides. Coat well with cooking spray. Mix dry ingredients with a whisk just to combine. Add applesauce and apple butter and mix carefully. Stir in raisins. Pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 60-70 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool one hour, then remove loaf from pan and transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Bread

1 1/2 cups sour cream

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1 1/2 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides. Coat well with cooking spray. Whisk together sour cream, vegetable oil, eggs and vanilla. Separately, whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and chocolate chips, along with the baking powder, salt and baking soda. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Pour into prepared pan and bake 60-70 minutes. Allow to cool in pan 1 hour, then remove to wire rack.

Double chocolate: Add 1/2 cup each semisweet and milk chocolate chips.

Minty chocolate: Add 1/4-1/2 cup mint chocolate chips.

Mexican chocolate: Use 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, and replace cocoa with 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa. Add 1 1/2 tsp. ancho chili powder and 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon.

Mocha: Add 3 Tbsp. instant espresso powder to the dry ingredients. Glaze with a mixture of 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, 1 Tbsp. milk and 1 1/2 tsp. espresso powder. Drizzle over warm bread.

Nutty chocolate: Add 1/2 cup toasted almonds, pecans or walnuts.

Glaze options: Use a simple orange glaze of 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, 1/4 tsp. orange zest and 1 Tbsp. fresh orange juice on top of the regular chocolate bread.

— Adapted from Food Network

Sweet Potato Bread

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 2/3 cup sugar

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

4 large eggs

3 cups mashed sweet potato

2/3 cup canola oil

2/3 cup milk

1 1/2 cups raisins

1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-by-5 inch or four 5 3/4-by-3-by-2 inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, combine first nine ingredients. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, sweet potato, oil and milk. Add to flour mixture; stir just until moistened. Fold in walnuts and raisins.

Put in prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes for the small loaves, or 55-60 minutes for larger loaves, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

Variation: Use dried cranberries instead of raisins.

— Taste of Home

Cranberry Orange Nut Bread

2 cups flour

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 cup butter, melted

1 cup orange juice

1-2 Tbsp. grated orange zest

1 egg, beaten

1 cup chopped fresh cranberries

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pan.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Stir butter into flour mixture until well combined. Add orange juice, zest and egg. Mix well. Fold in cranberries and walnuts. Spoon into prepared pan.

Bake 60-75 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack.

Optional glaze: 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, 1/4 tsp. grated orange zest

1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice, or as needed.

Whisk sugar, zest and orange juice in a bowl until smooth. Drizzle over top of bread while still slightly warm.

Baker’s hint: Chop cranberries using a hand-turned nut chopper. The small pieces blend better in the bread, but the cranberries are not pulverized into pulp, as a food processor might do. Then follow with the walnuts. The bread will have more texture.

Ginger Molasses Loaf

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg

1 egg

1 cup pumpkin puree

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

2 Tbsp. melted butter

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup molasses

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 Tbsp. chopped candied ginger

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 Tbsp. white sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger and nutmeg. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, pumpkin, brown sugar, butter, vegetable oil, molasses and buttermilk until well combined.

Add the candied ginger and vanilla extract to the wet ingredients to mix well.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir just until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

In a small bowl, mix the white sugar with the teaspoon of cinnamon and sprinkle over the top.

Bake 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

This is not an overly sweet bread.

Try using a lemon glaze of 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, 1 tsp. lemon zest and 1 Tbsp. or so of fresh lemon juice. The glaze is another layer of flavor.

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