Use summer’s bounty in quick breads

Robin Mather
Chicago Tribune

Need something easy to add to an otherwise mundane menu? Or something simple to take to a potluck, cookout or another social occasion? What you need is a good quick bread. They’re called quick breads because they’re quick to make, at least compared to yeast-risen breads, and they fall halfway between cake and bread. Whether sweet or savory, quick breads can incorporate the best of summer’s fruits and vegetables.

Quick breads have a rich history in American foodways. Life changed for home cooks back in 1846, when baking soda — often called saleratus at the time — was marketed, making the first quick breads easy to bake at home. Mixed with acidic soured milk or buttermilk that might otherwise have gone to waste, baking soda created a chemical reaction that made possible the gas bubbles that leaven these breads.

Further innovation came 10 years later, when baking powder, a mixture of a carbonate or bicarbonate and a weak acid (like tartaric acid, for instance), became available. Baking powder leavens without an acidic ingredient, further expanding the home cook’s repertoire.

The quick bread family is big. Its members are baked goods made with leaveners other than yeast. The family includes muffins, biscuits, scones, tea cakes and many other siblings. Cornbread is a quick bread, and so is banana bread.

The whole friendly family requires the simplest equipment to prepare. You’ll need two bowls — one for dry ingredients, one for wet ingredients — and a wooden spoon or spatula.

Whatever kind of quick bread you’re making, take care not to overmix the batter. When you stir the wet ingredients into the dry ones, combine with only 10 to 12 quick strokes. The batter should still show wisps of flour and will be lumpy. Overmixing causes quick breads to deflate after baking, and the baked bread’s interior will have tunnels or holes. Stir add-ins such as nuts or cheese into the batter just before putting it into its baking vessel.

Baking tips: Quick breads can bake in loaf pans, square pans or heavy skillets, whatever is easiest. Baking time will vary depending on what you’re baking in. Expect a loaf to take an hour or more to bake, while a round or square pan or a skillet-baked bread may take just 30 to 40 minutes. Choose your baking vessel to suit your schedule. Whatever you’ll bake your quick bread in, it should go into a preheated 350-degree oven on the center rack. Start to check if your quick bread is done about 10 minutes before you expect it to finish.

Quick breads are done when a pick inserted in the middle comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. It’s normal for quick breads baked in loaf pans to have a crack in their tops. Under-baked breads will collapse; over-baked quick breads will be tougher and dryer than they should be.

Summer fruits star in a cherry-almond sweet bread that’s terrific as a breakfast or afternoon treat. But don’t stop there. Substitute any summer fruit for the cherries, change out the nuts and choose a different extract. Try blueberries or blackberries with pistachios and lemon extract, or peaches with pecans and rum extract. Ice it with a simple glaze of powdered sugar and milk if you wish.

Bacon and cheddar cheese combine in an evergreen favorite quick bread. Our version has a bit of cayenne for a lively lift. Vary it by substituting diced ham for the bacon and shredded Swiss for the cheddar, or make a vegetarian version with a Mediterranean bent with chopped Kalamata olives and feta.

Zucchini bread is a summer classic, and we have one for you here. But it’s not a sweet treat. Ours is a savory version with fresh tomatoes, cornmeal and chile powder. It’s a fine accompaniment to a light supper of soup or grilled meat.

Cherry Almond Sweet Bread

Note: This bread will slice most easily the day after it’s baked. Wrap the completely cooled loaf tightly in foil and refrigerate. After its overnight rest in the fridge, it can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator. You can also use an 81/2-by-41/2 inch pan here with good results.

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 60 minutes

Cool: Overnight

Makes: 1 loaf, about 16 servings

21/4 cups flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

11/4 cups milk

3 tablespoons cooking oil

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup pitted, coarsely chopped sweet cherries

2/3 cup chopped almonds

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan with baking spray or lining with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, stir together egg, milk, cooking oil and almond extract until well combined.

Add egg mixture to flour mixture all at once. Stir until just moistened. Fold in the cherries and chopped almonds. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in loaf pan on wire rack, 10 minutes. Remove loaf from pan. Cool completely on the wire rack. Wrap and store overnight before slicing.

Nutrition information per serving: 180 calories, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 13 mg cholesterol, 30 g carbohydrates, 15 g sugar, 4 g protein, 180 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

Bacon-Cheddar Quick Bread

Note: This savory quick bread gets a little bump of spiciness from cayenne pepper, but you can omit it if you wish. You can also use a 81/2-by-41/2 inch pan here with good results.

Prep: 20 minutes, plus cooling time

Cook: 45 minutes

Makes: 1 loaf, about 16 servings

6 slices bacon

21/4 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 large eggs

11/2 cups whole milk

6 tablespoons bacon drippings

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees; coat the inside of a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan with baking spray or by lining it with parchment paper; set aside.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until it is crisp. Remove the bacon and drain it on paper towels. Reserve the bacon drippings. When the bacon is cooled, crumble or chop it coarsely.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cayenne.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and bacon drippings. If you don’t have 6 tablespoons of drippings, use a neutral cooking oil for the rest of the 6 tablespoons.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Use a spoon or a rubber spatula to stir the two together just until combined, about 1 minute. Fold in bacon and cheese.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs, 40-45 minutes. Cool in the pan, 10 minutes, then tip the loaf onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Nutrition information per serving: 177 calories, 10 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 51 mg cholesterol, 15 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 6 g protein, 329 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Zucchini Tomato Chile Cornbread

Note: If you don’t have buttermilk in the house, make a substitute for this recipe by stirring 11/2 teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice into 1/2 cup whole milk. Let stand for 5 minutes at room temperature and stir before using.

Prep: 25 minutes, plus cooling time

Bake: 25-30 minutes

Makes: 8 to 10 servings

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter plus more for pan

2 large meaty tomatoes, such as roma

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 large zucchini (about 10 ounces), to yield about 2 cups grated

11/4 cups all-purpose flour

11/2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon each: baking powder, chile powder

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup medium-grind cornmeal

Position a rack in the middle of the oven; heat to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-by-8-inch baking pan.

Dice the tomatoes. Salt generously and place them in a sieve; let drain, 15 to 20 minutes.

Melt 1/2 cup butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Whisk in eggs and buttermilk.

Grate zucchini. Add to bowl with butter mixture; stir until well blended. Stir in diced tomatoes.

Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda into a separate bowl. Whisk in chile powder and cornmeal. Add zucchini mixture; fold just to blend. Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top.

Bake bread until golden and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool in pan, 10 minutes. Remove from pan; let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Nutrition information per serving (for 10 servings): 238 calories, 11 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 63 mg cholesterol, 29 g carbohydrates, 4 g sugar, 6 g protein, 366 mg sodium, 2 g fiber