Flavorful quick breads can rise to any occasion

By Sharon K. Ghag

The Modesto Bee (MCT)

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 15 2013 3:45 p.m. MST

Quick breads are just what the name implies, mix, bake, take and share relying on baking soda or baking powder for rise instead of waiting for yeast. They can be sweet or savory (Joan Barnett Lee/Modesto Bee/MCT)

Joan Barnett Lee, Mct

The idea came together in a flash. Someone mentioned quick breads, and everybody jumped on the bandwagon.

That's the beauty of quick breads: Mix, bake, take, share. They are sweet or savory, studded with fruits or nuts, and full of flavor and endless possibilities. Our gathering featured four sweet and two savory loaves.

Quick breads are in the same family as muffins and scones and rely on baking powder and baking soda for rising. The chemicals in the soda or powder react with acids to produce carbon dioxide, the gas that gives baked goods their lift. Baking powder and soda are not interchangeable, though, because baking powder is baking soda mixed with cornstarch and a dry acid.

If you find yourself without baking powder, "The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook" offers this recipe for a "passable substitution": Replace each teaspoon of baking powder with 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar and ¼ teaspoon baking soda.

For best results with these recipes, use baking powder and baking soda before their "best by" dates. If baking powder is nearing expiration, check to see if it is still active by mixing 2 teaspoons of it in a cup of hot water. If the foaming reaction is weak, toss it.

Here are some more tips for perfect loaves:

Preheat the oven.

Prepare the nuts and fruit ahead of time.

Don't overmix the batter. Too much mixing can result in loaves not properly rising, turning out tough and possibly with tunnels through them.

Tent the loaves with aluminum foil once they begin to brown to prevent overbrowning.

Loaves that are too compact are a result of too much flour or too much leavening.

Use a knife — a toothpick is too short — to check for doneness by sticking the blade in the center of the loaf. If the knife blade comes out clean, or with a few crumbs attached, it's done.

Shiny pans reflect heat, but dark pans absorb heat so baked goods brown more quickly. If using dark pans, lower the heat by 25 degrees.

Store loaves for 24 hours before slicing. Or freeze and slice with a serrated-edge knife.

WHITE CHOCOLATE CRANBERRY BREAD

Serves: 10

6 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¾ cup sugar

8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1/2 cup buttermilk

Grated zest of 1 orange

¼ cup fresh orange juice

2 teaspoons pure vanilla

1 cup fresh or frozen whole cranberries, not thawed

1 cup toasted, skinned, coarsely chopped hazelnuts

1 cup white chocolate chips

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a 9-by-9-by-3-inch loaf pan and tap out excess flour. Melt and cool the chopped white chocolate.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. In a large bowl, beat the sugar and butter with an electric mixer set on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3minutes. One at a time, beat in the eggs, beating well after each addition, and scraping down sides of the bowl as needed.

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