Quickbreads and Muffins
for the Holidays
by Prof. Steve Holzinger
During the approaching holiday weeks, you may want to be able to whip up a quick and delicious accompaniment to the meal, something sweet to set it off. When I lived in Maryland it was not considered a meal without a hot bread, such as biscuits or cornbread, and festive meals had a sweet quickbread, such as a blueberry muffin, often a tiny one, for which there were special pans, or a sliced loaf of date nut bread. In this article I will cover sweet quickbreads such as fruited muffins or loaves.
Quickbreads, be they muffins or loaves, are made by the muffin method, which is perhaps the most quick and easy method in all baking. The muffin method is a two bowl method. The wet ingredients are mixed in one bowl. The dry ingredients are mixed in another, and the wet is stirred into the dry. You should not overmix, there should be some small lumps left in the batter. These will bake out. These breads, unlike yeast breads, need no time to ferment and rise—they are quick.
What is a quickbread? All breads are leavened by carbon dioxide. In yeast breads, the carbon dioxide is formed organically by the one celled yeast plants. They 'eat' the starch in flour, converting it by enzymatic action into simple sugars and ferment it into carbon dioxide (as long as there is plenty of oxygen). The yeast also uses the sugar added to the recipe. This is a slow process which can take hours.
Quickbreads leaven by using carbon dioxide produced by a chemical reaction of an acid and sodium bicarbonate. This reaction produces carbon dioxide and a salt, and proceeds rapidly. The salt often has an unpleasant flavor. When you make sour milk biscuits, you just add sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to the flour mixture and the lactic acid in the sour milk produces the gas and sodium lactate, which is not an unpleasant salt.
When baking powder was first made, it used as its acid ingredient sodium acid tartrate. This ingredient was called winestone, because when wine ages, it throws this chemical as a precipitate at the bottom of the bottle. Also known as cream of tartar, it is mixed with sodium bicarbonate and enough cornstarch so that 1 tablespoon will produce a standard measured volume of gas. It is called a single acting baking powder, and reacts when it comes in contact with liquid. For this reason, it requires a dense batter that is baked as soon as possible after mixing. Double acting powders, most popular today, consist of sodium bicarbonate and two acid ingredients, winestone and another chemical that reacts only at higher temperature. This creates one gas producing reaction as soon as you mix, and another when the product goes into the oven. The salts formed are somewhat unpleasant in flavor, but often masked by sugar.
Muffins and Quickbreads
© 1997, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.
Modified August 2007