Monday, October 15, 2007

Quick Bread Week: A Masterful Recipe for World Bread Day 2007

Today is the second annual World Bread Day as hosted by Zorra over at 1x umruhren bitte.

Last year there were over 100 bread bakers who participated in the event and breads ranged from classic baguettes and boules to local specialties. Yours truly here made a crusty boule after a visit to the King Arthur Flour mothership in Norwich, VT.

This year in honor of World Bread Day and continuing with this week's theme at The Sour Dough, Quick Bread Week, I'm going to share with you my master quick bread recipe in the form of Chocolate and Michigan Cherry Quick Bread.

All good home bakers have master recipes they use time and time again as the starting point for various baked goodies. What sets "master recipes" apart from normal recipes are master recipes are basic foundation recipes. For example, the basic sugar cookie recipe to which you can add chocolates, fruit and nuts to equal yummy variants of cookies. Typical baking master recipes include the aforementioned sugar cookie recipe, a good recipe for a basic yeast roll to which you can add seeds or savories to create variety, and a basic muffin/quick bread recipe.

One of the very first recipes I learned by heart was my grandmother's master muffin recipe. It was easy to remember because everything in was divisible by 2; 2 eggs, 2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup of oil, 1/2 tsp of baking powder, 1/2 tsp of baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 brown sugar, and a 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup heavy cream. To this master recipe she added wild blueberries picked in the back yard during the late summer and raisins and spice during Thanksgiving and Christmas time. I remember waking up to the smell of her muffins baking in the early morning before we would leave to go back home and then sitting in the back seat of the car with them in my lap until we saw the last light of Cadillac fade in the rear view mirror and then my brother and I would dig into the still warm muffins.

My mother's master muffin/quick bread recipe was from the Betty Crocker Cookbook released in the late 1960's. This recipe called for 1 egg, 3/4 cup milk, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2 cups flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 3 tsp baking powder, and 1 tsp salt. From this recipe you could make everything from super sweet Apple Nut Muffins to the savory Rye Muffins. My favourite variety my mom would make was the "French Puff", which called for rolling the top of the just out of the oven muffins in melted butter or margarine and then dipping them in a cinnamon and sugar mixture. My mom's twist on these muffins was to add a bit of nutmeg to the batter. Every time I'm home for a long weekend, I ask her to make these for me (along with her chocolate waffles!)

The first "celebrity chef" cookbook I purchased was Christopher Kimball's The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook. I love how this cookbook is a combination of the well tested America's Test Kitchen recipes and Kimball's monthly Cook's Illustrated editor's columns with plenty of crusty New Englander tales alongside the solid recipes for basic country fare. The master recipe published is closer to my grandmother's recipe than the recipe my mother uses but calls for buttermilk; resulting in a zippy bread or muffin that needs "strong ingredients" according to Kimball to stand up to the buttermilk. What I like about this recipe versus both the recipe my mother uses and my grandmother taught me is it calls for less leavening agent than my mother's recipe; sometimes her recipe can leave a metallic taste when combined with some ingredients, a by product of the 3 tsp of baking powder, and less oil than my grandmother's meaning a lighter texture. But, I have to admit to not caring for the buttermilk unless I'm making a savory bread or muffin. I like the things I add to my master muffin/quick bread recipe to shine and not the base batter.

So, a few years ago, I took all three recipes and borrowed what I liked in each and came up with my own master muffin/quick bread recipe.

Breadchick's Muffin/Quick Bread Master Recipe

Makes 12 muffins or one (1) 9 x 5 loaf of bread

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick (8 tsp) unsalted butter, softened
1 egg plus 1 egg white
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup milk (2% or whole)
1/2 tsp vanilla

Sift dry ingredients together and set aside. Combine butter, eggs and sugars and mix well until fluffy. Add milk and vanilla and combine. Stir in flour mixture until just combined. To this recipe you can add any dried, frozen or fresh fruit/vegetable, nut or chocolate you wish, as long as the combination doesn't exceed 1 cup. If you want to add bananas, applesauce, zucchini, carrots or any frozen fruit, decrease the milk to 2/3 cup. Bake in a pre heated 400 degree oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean; about 20 minutes for muffins and 50 - 60 minutes for bread. Prepare the muffin tin or loaf pan with butter or cooking spray.

Breadchick's Chocolate and Michigan Cherry Quick Bread

To Breadchick's Master Muffin Quick Bread Recipe (see above), add 1/2 cup of dried cherries and 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips (60% or more). Bake for 60 - 65 minutes until the top springs back and a toothpick inserted comes out completely clean. Remove from pan and let cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

What I love about this version of my master recipe is the dried cherries and chocolate chips sink to the bottom and form a delicious base layer. I like to serve this bread inverted sometimes so this layer of melted chocolate and cherries becomes the frosting. Great as a late afternoon "pick me up" with coffee or hot cocoa on a cold winter day.

Side note about Michigan Cherries: About 85% of the dried cherries sold in the US are tart cherries and these are primarily from Michigan, my home state and largest producer of tart cherries in the US. Every year around the 4th of July, the National Cherry Festival is held in Traverse City, MI; a city about 2 1/2 hours south of my home town. When you buy a frozen cherry pie or can of pie cherries in the store or a fresh cherry pie at a bakery in the US, chances are you are eating a Michigan Cherry!