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As the autumn season begins, countless delicious baked goods flood the internet. I’m a willing participant in the baking and the eating of them. One of my favorites has always been a sweet loaf of quick bread…or at least what I thought was quick bread. Then I actually learned what qualifies as a quick bread. Turns out, we all make quick breads, all year long, and the term encompasses a lot. I sat down to research, thinking I had a clear idea on what would show up: the loaf pan, filled with a thick batter. I mean, pumpkin bread, banana bread, zucchini…that’s what we’re talking about right? Wrong. What qualifies as types of quick bread might just surprise you. It certainly surprised me!
Quick Breads: The Definition
So far on The Flour Handprint’s journey to mastering cooking, I’ve let what I want to cook to dictate what I learn about, such as my Jalapeno Mac & Cheese, and my How to Make Roux post. Once again, it paid off here! I started with a basic investigation, looking through my cookbooks and my trusty Ratio book. I thought I’d write a post on what made cakes and scones different from quick breads. But actually, they’re all types of quick breads.
As it turns out the term quick bread is an all-inclusive title for any baked good that is leavened without yeast. Instead, quick breads use a chemical leavening agent. The title ‘quick’ refers to how little time they take to reach the oven. Rather than waiting for a rise, we simply mix the ingredients and pop them into heat. Suddenly the neatly defined categories of cakes, cookies, breads, muffins, etc, took on new meaning. Where I had thought them all separate, and unique (and they still are to a degree), quick breads isn’t a different category. It’s the parent category.
Quick breads utilize baking powder or soda as a leavener. The origin of the name quick bread was even thought to date back to when baking powder was invented in the late 1800’s. But, I’d like to mention the few exceptions to both the quick bread, and the yeast risen baked goods. Egg whites, and even steam are both ways to create rise; such as meringues and popovers.
The Same, but Different: Organizing Types of Quick Bread
This new information demanded a reorganization of how I thought about baked goods. In my go to Ratio book, Michael Ruhlman says at one point that when we understand that many baked goods are simply different ratios and mixing methods of the same ingredients, they become less intimidating. And guess what? I’m actually finding that to be true!
Most quick breads consist of the same core ingredients: flour, sugar, eggs, fat, liquid, leavening agent, and a flavoring ingredient. Each of the many types of quick breads use different ratios of these ingredients, so how does one know what they’re making and how to approach it? Rather than organizing them by the type of pan used, or the ingredient list, I’ve learned the easiest way to categorize the types of quick bread is by the mixing method chosen, and the density of your mixture. Once you understand those, you’ll know how to make any of the many types of quick bread.
Types of Quick Bread: Mixing Methods
I’m going to venture to say that quick breads are far more common, and less intimidating for the home cook, because of the ease in which they come together. Yeast can be temperamental, and the fermenting process takes time that not many of us have. Though I highly recommend exploring the world of yeast leavened baking, understanding the three mixing methods used for the types quick breads can open the doors to a seriously enormous variety of baked goods.
Straight Mixing Method
The straight mixing method is the easiest, in my opinion. It’s the method you’ve used for muffins, loaves, pancakes, and any other recipe that calls for the simple addition of wet ingredients to dry. I often think of this as the two bowl method. In one, I combine the dry ingredients, my flour, leavener, spices and salt. In the other, all my liquids (sugar goes here!) get quickly whisked together. Different from the creaming method listed below, this doesn’t require first beating the sugar and eggs together. Instead, simply dump it all into a bowl and stir to combine. Once the eggs are fully incorporated, it’s as simple as adding all the wet stuff to the dry bowl.
This mixing method will produce a batter, sometimes thick and sometimes thin. The key to this mixing method is to not over-mix. The gluten in flour gets tougher the more you mix, and can lead to tough, chewy results. Think of your brownie batters, your muffins, and your pancakes – all have little lumps, and it’s okay. Simply mix the wet ingredients into your dry until they’re just combined (no major dry spots and no giant lumps) and your done. Pour into you’re prepped baking vessel, and your off to the oven. Simple and easy.
Creaming and Foaming Methods
I’ve lumped these two together for one reason, it’s the same process just with a different order of ingredients. To be truthful, without my trusty Ratio book I don’t know if I would have known there was a difference! You can buy Ratio by Michael Ruhlman for yourself, I highly recommend it obviously, since I’ve mentioned it three times.
If you’ve ever made cookies or pound cake, odds are you’re familiar with the creaming method. It’s exactly what it sounds like, the creaming of sugar and butter together before adding the rest of the ingredients. My recipe for Chewy Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies are a good example of this method. It serves a particular purpose. By beating the sugar into softened (important!) butter, you’re aerating the mixture. The tiny air bubbles that are formed in this essential step helps to create air in the final baked good. Without this step, you’d have tough cookies and cake.
The foaming method is one I’ve used less often, but it’s a similar process. Instead of creaming butter and sugar, instead you’re whipping or foaming, the eggs and sugar. This is used for lighter cakes, like the angel food cake, because it provides less structure, and so less density. Creating this much air in a batter is responsible for the delicate crumb of the final product.
Cutting Method aka Shortening Method
This final method is a holiday standard, especially around Thanksgiving, when pie making is in abundance. I’ve heard it referred to as the shortening method…but since I use butter a lot of the time, I call it the cutting method in my own kitchen. It’s the process of adding chilled fat into the dry ingredients. Biscuits, scones, and pie doughs are three major, and common, types of quick bread that utilize this method.
It begins with dry ingredients, whisked to mix them uniformly. Then small chunks of cold fat are cut into the dry ingredients. This is often done with a pastry cutter (also called pastry blender), a fork, or even your fingers. I use this Mrs. Anderson’s pastry cutter, and it was well worth the 6 dollars I spent on it, especially this this time of year.
Once the fat has been incorporated into the dry ingredients, the wet ingredients are streamed into the mixture until a dough is formed. How well the fat is cut into the dry ingredients, and how loose your final dough is, depends on what you’re making. For biscuits and scones, the fat is left in bigger chunks, and the final dough is a looser mixture. For pie dough, the mixture is a coarse crumb and the liquid is mixed in until the dough forms well enough to be rolled out.
Types of Quick Bread: Thin or Thick
Each of the mixing methods can produce a few different types of quick bread. Understanding how you want your batter to look can help to ensure a consistent baked good. Too thin and your muffins will have a different texture. Too thick, and your pancakes are more like bread. There are many ratios you can follow to learn how to build recipes for each of these batters from scratch depending on your desired results, but many have a basic ratio of flour to liquid to help achieve the appropriate thickness.
Explaining all the ways eggs, fats, sugars, and the different leavening agents can affect the basic ratio is enough to fill many separate posts. But, understanding the flour to liquid ratio can definitely help you understand the density that you’re searching for in each type of batter or dough.
A pour batter is exactly how it sounds, a thin, pour-able batter. The types of quick breads you’d likely be making with this kind of batter are pancakes, waffles or crepes. For each of these types of quick bread, you can pour the batter from a ladle or pitcher into the cooking vessel. These types of batters usually consist of a 1:1 ratio of flour to liquid, in addition to the leavening agents, fat, eggs, and flavors.
Most pour batters, even all I’d venture to say (if you know of exceptions, I’d love to hear about them!), are mixed using the straight mixing method. Due to the consistency you’re aiming for with a pour batter, both the creaming and the shortening method would produce too thick of a batter.
Of course, there are exceptions, such as waffle doughs, or thick whipped egg white batters. But, if you’re looking to whip up a batch of pancakes or waffles, start with equal parts flour and liquid.
Drop batters are the thicker cousins of a pour batter, with a 2:1 ratio of flour to liquid. By drop batter we’re talking about a thick, but still liquid-like batter that needs a little push from a spatula to leave the bowl. These types of batters produce your muffins, cornbreads, coffee cakes, and other loaf breads.
The types of quick bread made with drop batters are some of my favorite on the simple principle of variety. From sweet to savory or a combo of both, you can really let your imagination run wild here. Try using herbs and spices, different types of sugars, nuts, chocolate, or anything else you can think of to play with flavor. Also, experimenting with types of fats, such as butter or oil, adding more eggs or less, and changing the type of liquid can all affect the outcome, texturally and flavor wise. For a yummy holiday example, check out my Chocolate Gingerbread Loaf Recipe!
For most drop batters, the straight mixing method is going to work for you. But for cakes, and some breads, the creaming or foaming method are utilized for some really delicious results. If you’re up for some fun experimenting, try testing different mixing methods and see how different your results can be!
Doughs, much like drop batters, are varied in what they produce. A cookie, biscuit, and scone are all types of quick bread made with dough. But, we know how different the doughs for each can be. Unlike the pour and drop batters, the dough is distinctly thicker, and the ratios can range as well, beginning with a 3:1 flour to liquid ratio, and increasing from there.
Some doughs are softer than others, and those are often begun with the creaming method. You’re chocolate chip cookies for example are a type of wetter quick bread dough. These types are scooped out with a spoon or cookie scoop, rather than rolled out and cut like sugar cookie or shortbread dough.
Still others are made with the shortening method. Pie doughs, biscuits, and scones are all types of quick breads that utilize the shortening method to great success. Some are rolled and some are shaped loosely and cut, depending on the product.
These are going to have a different ratio of flour to liquid, and that ratio is often affected by the fat involved. Pie dough, for example, is a 3:1:2 ratio of flour, liquid, and fat. Biscuit dough, however, begins with a 3:2:1 ratio of flour, liquid, and fat. Much like the others, this is worth experimenting with to discover what textures and flavors you most enjoy.
Why We Love All Types of Quick Bread
I’m going to state from experience that quick breads are exponentially more common among home cooks for their simplicity and diversity. While I think learning the art of yeast baking, while time consuming, is incredibly worth it, I cannot deny the ease at which the many types of quick breads give us satisfying, delicious results.
I for one, am so glad I delved deeper into this subject. I hope you’ve learned as much as I have. Understanding the mixing methods and the types of batters will help anyone understand what their results might be, and how to change them if desired. All the types of quick bread are incredible for an at home treat, potlucks, parties, and gift giving. They’re easy to assemble and reliable, and the flavor combinations can be as varied as your imagination will allow! Enjoy the holiday aka quick bread baking season, and please, let me know anything you learn along the way!