Monday, January 2, 2012

Three quick breads

Quick breads are an easy way to make dinner special. If you’re new to cooking at home, learning one of these dishes will give you a flexible staple you can make your own: add chocolate chips or bacon grease to brownies, your favorite herbs or cheese to farinata, corn or bacon to plain cornbread, and it’s a whole new dish. Since each of the these three quick breads can be made without wheat flour, they’re especially welcome treats for people on gluten-free diets.

What’s a quick bread? Generally speaking, a quick bread is an American term for baked goods made with chemical leaveners instead of yeast. These are breads that are best served hot and fresh, and can be part of any meal, snack, or dessert. Common quick breads include buttermilk biscuits, scones, and cornbread. In addition to savory items, quick breads include sweet cakes, soda bread, banana bread, and the like, as well as brownies.

For this post, I’m using the term more broadly to include any baked goods that don’t use yeast or fermentation, and so can be turned out quickly.

Pro-tip: If you new to quick breads and working with wheat flour, don’t over beat your batter. This causes the gluten to develop, and will make your bread tough.

Quick breads are newbie-friendly. None of these breads require the binding action of gluten. This makes quick bread an ideal category to start with, if you’re learning to bake gluten-free.  

Brownies are a sweet quick bread.
Brownies. Usually made with eggs to leaven, especially the chewier varieties. My go-to gluten free brownie recipe uses coconut flour and a little rice flour. “Let’s Do... Organic” brand coconut flour features a recipe for “Alison’s Wheat Free Brownies” on the back, which I found here online. This post from the “Nourished Kitchen” blog is a general primer on subbing coconut flour in baking.

Cornbread. Although most gluten-free baking primers will suggest something other than a 1:1 ratio, substituting rice flour for the wheat flour in my regular recipe for cornbread, out of Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, turns out a good result. It’s a little paler in color, but has great flavor and texture, and only slightly more crumbly than regular cornbread made with wheat flour. I made it with blue cornmeal once and the resulting bread was sort of pink. A little weird-looking, but it tasted good.

Farinata. While not technically a quick bread, farinata’s texture and utility make this more like cornbread or polenta than the pancakes and crêpes it is compared with. Made with chickpea flour, this traditional Italian dish is a versatile starting point for a whole meal. You can make a thin, herbed farinata to accompany soup or stew, or you can make a thicker one and add vegetables and cheese. This could be a great vegan breakfast: chickpea flour, olive oil, garlic, fresh oregano, and some cooked vegetables, all cooked together in a skillet. Cold farinata is good, and can be creatively topped and broiled. Farinata topped with pepperoni slices and cheese and broiled until the cheese melts is a tasty grain-free pizza.