In November and December we bake cookies and pie, and for birthdays we make cakes. But quick breads, laden with fruits and nuts, are good any time of year.
I am a fan of cranberry nut bread and freeze enough berries to make it year-round. In spring I make strawberry bread, pear bread in the fall and lemon bread in winter. But all year long I make date-nut bread, banana bread, zucchini bread and pumpkin bread.
Quick breads fall into a category of sweet loaves that are quick to bake; they use baking powder and/or soda for leavening, as opposed to breads that use yeast and need time to rise more than once.
Firmer quick breads such as zucchini and banana are great for making tea sandwiches that can be filled with lightly sweetened or plain cream cheese. Other quick breads are perfect for glazing with simple toppings of confectioners’ sugar mixed with lemon juice or chocolate frosting. A dusting of confectioners’ sugar is also nice.
Quick breads can be savory rather than sweet; among these are Irish soda bread, cornbread and beer bread. But the sweet ones freeze well and are perfect when you have company and want to offer something with coffee and tea.
Most quick breads are baked in loaf pans, although they also can be made in cast-iron skillets or a sheet pan.
One old-fashioned favorite is date-nut bread; this recipe comes from kingarthurbaking.com.
2 cups chopped dates
4 tablespoons softened butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2/3 to ¾ cup light or dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup brewed coffee, hot
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon vodka or brandy, optional; to enhance flavor
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 ½ x 4 ½ -inch loaf pan.
2. Place the dates, butter, baking soda, salt and brown sugar in a mixing bowl. Pour the hot coffee into the bowl, stirring to combine. Allow the mixture to cool for 15 minutes.
3. Add the egg, vanilla, liquor, baking powder and flour, beating gently until smooth. Stir in the walnuts.
4. Pour the batter into the pan, gently tapping the pan on the counter to settle the batter.
5. Bake the bread for 45 to 55 minutes, tenting the loaf gently with foil after 30 minutes, to prevent over-browning. Remove the bread from the oven; a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean, and an instant-read thermometer should read about 200 degrees.
6. After 10 minutes, gently turn the bread out of the pan onto a rack to cool. Cool completely before slicing. Wrap airtight, and store at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.