Central Texas Foodie: I bake for attention


Oh, lovely autumn! This may be my favorite time of the year. It means cooler weather, colorful leaves, football, fall picnics, and, of course, fall baking.

I’m not certain why I love to bake and share baked foods. I thought that maybe I wanted to make others feel good, or that I needed a creative outlet. Then I saw this on PostSecret.com and thought, “Bingo!”

PostSecret is an ad-free blog where individuals can anonymously share any secret — with a few stipulations. Check it out. It’s occasionally offensive, but mostly fun.

To me, fall baking is extra special, and, while I enjoy baking yeast breads, I find it can be too time-consuming during the season that gets gobbled up with sporting events, extracurricular school activities and holiday gatherings.

Here is a bit of science to consider regarding yeast breads. Kidsdiscover.com explains that saccharomyces cerevisiae, or “sugar-eating fungus” is basically the yeast “… responsible for fermentation. Fermentation is the step when the yeast makes carbon dioxide in the bread-making process.”

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Carbon dioxide makes the bread dough rise. Thus, the requirements for yeast breads are the leavening agent (yeast), sugar, moisture and warmth. And one more big requirement: TIME. As the baker mixes and kneads the bread dough, tiny bubbles form and help the bread rise. That bubble-making takes lots of time.

Baking quick breads is an easy alternative that satisfies both my urge to bake and my craving for homemade breads. They’re called “quick breads” because they are, well, quick. Or at least quickER.

The typical leavening agents (or the compounds that make batters and doughs rise) are baking soda and baking powder. The two are not interchangeable.

Brian Geiger explains the science behind these two leaveners in an article in “Fine Cooking” appropriately titled “Baking Soda and Baking Powder.”

Baking soda needs an acid to enable it to give off the gas that enlarges a batter’s bubbles. This acid could be lemon juice, buttermilk, yogurt or vinegar. But more baking soda doesn’t necessarily equal more lift. You want to use only enough to react with the amount of acid in your batter. Too much soda and not enough acid to activate it all means that you’ll have unreacted soda left over, which will create a bitter or soapy flavor.

Baking powder, on the other hand, is a complete package: it contains baking soda and enough acid to cause a balanced reaction. To activate it, all you need to do is add a liquid (which, by definition, a batter has to contain anyway). To complicate matters just a bit, some quick bread recipes, like my mother’s buttermilk cornbread and classic Irish soda bread, require both baking powder and baking soda. These recipes typically need just a little more lift from a base (sodium bicarbonate) to get the batter to rise.

Additionally, too much acid inhibits browning; so, it’s a balancing act. Thank goodness our ancestors figured out most of this stuff out for us.

The French created a savory quick bread that is different from American cornbread or Irish soda bread. Theirs is more of an appetizer. As one New York Times article says, “But it is with savory loaves (cakes sale) that the French have expressed their genius, reinterpreting what is basically a muffin mixture by losing the sugar and bumping up the richness and piquancy.”

If you’re feeling spicy, try this cake sale. I adapted a goat cheese, bacon and olive quick bread from “Food & Wine” magazine, substituting with ingredients that I had on hand. Below is my version. I halved the original amount and still used a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Fully baked, it filled the pan about two-thirds full.

Prosciutto, Feta, Kalamata Quick Bread

3 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

¾ freshly grated parmesan cheese

¼ c kalamata olives, quartered

(The original recipe also adds ½ red serrano chile, seeded and minced, and 1 t thyme leaves, minced.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a loaf pan with olive oil. Line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a non-stick skillet, cook prosciutto over medium heat with 1 T water until the meat is crispy. (I recently learned that this little trick makes crispier bacon.) Remove from heat and let cool. Chop coarsely.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, cayenne and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with buttermilk, olive oil and mustard. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in egg mixture until just combined. Fold in cheeses, olives and onion. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan, ensuring that it is smooth.

Bake approximately 35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges and invert onto plate to cool completely. Serve warm or at room temperature. This savory quick bread is also delicious paired with a salad or soup for a light meal.

My friend Dawn Schulz introduced the following (sweet) apricot bread recipe in a baking class she taught at Gourmet Gallery. Dawn found the recipe in Lisa Fain’s cookbook, “The Homesick Texan’s Family Table,” and has since adapted it for muffins.

You can easily alter this versatile recipe for other dried fruit breads like cranberry orange bread. The warm scents alone will lure you in.

Lisa Fain’s Apricot Bread

c unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 c dried apricots, chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. (The original recipe says 350, but I have found that it gets a little too dark and dry.) Lightly grease and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt until well blended.

Stir together the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and melted butter. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients and stir until a thick batter forms. Fold in the apricots, pecans and orange zest. Evenly spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake, uncovered, for 50-60 minutes or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

Wrapped tightly, this can be stored at room temperature for 3 days or refrigerated for 1 week. (It also freezes well if double-wrapped and stored in a freezer bag zip-lock bag.)

I hope you get the attention you want from baking these quick breads. I receive plenty from family and friends when I share them. They even let me bore them with the science and bubbles behind the baking.

Karyn Miller Brooks’ passion for food, cooking and bringing people together spurred her decision to open Gourmet Gallery, a locally owned cooking school. After graduating from Texas A&M with a degree in journalism, she studied culinary arts at Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and Orange Coast College. Karyn married Joe Brooks in December 2016, and he shares her passion for food and cooking. She has one daughter, Molly, and two stepchildren, James and Becky.

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