Cooking – A Home Cook’s Quick Bread Primer

A Home Cook's Quick Bread Primer

What is Quick Bread?

A quick bread should be just that, quick, and anyone can make them, even an idiot. But you’re not an idiot; you’re funny, smart, witty and everyone eats everything you prepare, thoroughly enjoying it. Most likely, you are only reading this primer to satisfy yourself that you do know how to make quick bread and that yes, you are good at it. Of course, you could be here because you’ve heard all about quick bread and are wondering what on earth it is.

The thing is, while the ‘quick’ bit is absolutely right, the ‘bread’ bit, not so much.  Most of the time, bread isn’t sweet, and yeast is used to leaven it. With the quick bread, chemical leavening is used, and the quick bread is lovely. In fact, it’s safe to say that quick bread is, in actual fact, a type of cake.

Where Did Quick Bread Originate?

We can’t really be sure, but quick bread likely originated in the USA, as the 18th century drew to a close. Before quick bread, yeast was used to leaven bread or, sometimes, eggs would be mixed with the dough.

We can date the discovery of chemical leavening to 1846. Chemical leavening was used widely in the military, at home, and for commercial use, and it was in 1846 that baking soda was first commercially introduced in New York by the famous Church & Dwight, remembered for their Arm and Hammer theme.  In 1865, baking powder was introduced commercially in Massachusetts. Both Baking powder and soda were chemical leaveners, and today they are still produced en masse.

From 1861 to 1865, while the American Civil War was raging, demand for portable, quick foods shot up. Because of a lack of skilled labor availablity to make bread, and it encouraged people to make bread quickly, using baking soda for leavening rather than yeast.

As the industrial revolution sped up, prepackaged foods that had previously been mass-produced eased off, thanks to chemical leaveners being used. These leaveners could produce consistency in products, irrespective of different ingredients, location, time of year, weather, and more, all factors that affected yeast formulations that were sensitive to the environment and were somewhat temperamental. Those factors acted as a trade-off against the loss of texture, nutritional value, and the yeast flavor we’d all come to know.

So, Where Does Cake Come Into It?

Well, it is safe to say that cake is a type of quick bread, but the main difference between cake and bread lies in the methods used to make them. Quick bread, which includes muffins, scones, and banana bread, for example, is made by mixing the dry ingredients in a separate bowl to the wet ingredients and then combining them. Cake, on the other hand, is made by creaming sugar and butter or, if you use the Chiffon method, by mixing egg yolk, sugar, and flour together and then folding in the whipped egg whites.

Whichever method you use, typically cakes are much lighter than quick bread and loaves, much like the difference between a muffin and a cupcake – the former is a quick mini bread while the latter is a mini cake.

What Leaveners Are Commonly Used in Quick Bread?

We’ve mentioned chemical leaveners, and I feel I need to set your mind at rest. We’re not using actual chemicals here, not the type you might find in a science lab. These leaveners cause a chemical reaction within the mixture, hence their name.

You can add eggs to quick bread to create some air in the mixture, but you still need a chemical leavener for it to be called a quick bread. There are lots of these, but there are some common types.

Baking Soda

Otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate, baking soda is alkaline and is typically used where the right acidic ingredient is also included in the recipe. Examples include:

  • Buttermilk
  • Yogurt
  • Chocolate
  • Cocoa (not the Dutch pressed type)
  • Brown sugar
  • Molasses
  • Fruit juice

Combining any of those acidic ingredients with baking soda causes an immediate chemical reaction, bubbling and causing the mixture to rise. You shouldn’t leave these batters once they have been mixed. Bake with them immediately, or the reaction burns out, and your bread will not rise.

Baking Powder

Baking powder contains both acid and alkaline components and, while there are loads of different ones, home bakers are more concerned with using double-acting powder. That’s because it contains baking soda and crystallized acids, and both react separately – once when the mixture is formed and again during baking.

Quick Vs. Leavened Bread

While quick bread can look very similar to yeast bread, the difference lies in the methods and the ingredients.

Quick bread is made using leavening agents other than eggs or yeast, commonly baking soda or powder. Typically, salt is added to help the leavening agent activate; unlike yeast bread, quick bread does not get left to rise before they are baked. Quick bread includes cornbread, banana bread, biscuits, muffins, scones, soda bread, some donut and pizza crust recipes, even pancakes, cookies and some cakes.

Yeast bread, as the name implies, uses yeast for the leavening. Typically, honey or sugar is added to activate the yeast, allowing the bread to rise. Yeast bread is left to rise before baking, usually for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size. Then, the dough can be “punched” down and allowed to rise once more. Yeast bread includes nearly all loaves of bread, most donuts, and some pizza crusts.

So, let’s examine the differences between quick and yeast bread, comparing them by leavener, catalyst, and the method used for baking.

 Quick BreadYeast Bread
LeavenerTypically, baking powder or baking sodaUsually dry or active yeast
CatalystQuick bread usually has salt added as a catalystYeast bread typically use honey or sugar as a catalyst, but sometimes salt may be used
Baking MethodWhen making quick bread, the wet ingredients are mixed separately to the dry and then combined. Quick bread is baked immediatelyYeast bread is started using sugar, yeast, and warm water, and then the remaining ingredients are added to the mixture. Yeast bread is left to rise before they are baked

Different Quick Bread Mixing Methods

There are three primary methods to mix quick bread batter and which one you use depends on what you are making. For example, you use the stirring method for pancakes, the creaming method to make shortbread cookies and layer cakes, and the shortening method to make a pie crust.

The Stirring Method

This is also known as the blending method, quick-bread method, and muffin method and is typically used for making fritters, pancakes, cornbread, muffins, and dumplings. It requires that the wet and dry ingredients are mixed separately and then mixed together quickly. Typically, beaten eggs will be included int eh wet ingredients because they trap air that helps the baked goods to rise. The fats are generally liquid fats, like cooking oils, and mixing is usually done with a spatula, spoon, or another implement that has a wide head on it. This stops the dough from being over-beaten, which would result in the lift from the egg being broken down.

The Creaming Method

This method is typically used for making cake batters and some biscuits. The sugar and the butter are creamed, which means they are beaten together until fluffy and smooth. Then the liquid flavoring, such as vanilla essence, and eggs are added, and lastly, the liquid and the dry ingredients. With the creaming method, air bubbles form in the butter as it is creamed, creating lift, which adds to the rise created by the chemical leavener. The final ingredients are folded gently to keep the air pockets from collapsing, the final ingredients are folded in gently.

The Shortening Method

This is also called the biscuit method and is typically used for scones and biscuits. Solid fats, usually butter, lard, or vegetable shortening, are cut into the flour and other dried ingredients. This is done with a pair of forks, a pastry blender, or a food processor. This process creates layering, which adds flakiness and rises as the fat begins to melt during the baking.

Consistency of the Dough

There are various consistencies in the batters or doughs for quick bread, and there are four primary types:

A Pour Batter

  • Think pancake batter. These have a ratio of 1:1 in terms of liquid to dry ingredients and pour steadily. Goods made using pour batter are also sometimes called low-ratio goods.

A Drop Batter

  • Think muffin and cornbread batters. In terms of dry to liquid ingredients, the ratio is roughly 1:2.

A Soft Dough

  • Think chocolate chip cookies. The liquid to dry ingredient ratio is roughly 1:3, and the dough is usually very soft and sticky.

A Stiff Dough

  • Think sugar cookies and pie crusts. The liquid to dry ingredient ratio is roughly 1:8, and the dough is easier to work with because it isn’t very sticky and won’t stick to your hands, work surfaces, and tools. Goods made with stiff dough are sometimes called high ratio goods.

Related References

Quick Bread Recipes

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