Quick bread options

I made a batch of my Banana Nut Bread the other day, which is a relatively simple recipe. It's basically a cake, as it's assembled via the creaming method. It has some additional lift via baking powder, but primarily the lift is derived from the sugar making little pockets of air in the butter, which turns into slightly larger bubbles when heat hits the batter. If it were via the muffin method, then all of the lift would be chemical in nature.

Whichwhowhaaa? Okay, with baked goods, there are several ways of assembling ingredients, and their ending texture is determined by, among other things, which method. All of the methods are intended to get air molecules to form bubbles in the batter or dough, which will harden around those bubbles, leaving something that is anywhere from fruitcake dense to angel food cake light. Bread uses yeast to make the bubbles, muffins use baking soda and/or baking powder mixed with acid or water respectively, and the creaming method has sugar puncture little holes in the solid fat (such as butter or shortening).

In any case, there are more ways to affect the texture. My concern this weekend was with gluten development. With bread, you want a lot of gluten, because yeast are active critters that can generate a tremendous amount of gasses for leavening, so strong gluten development helps trap in those gasses. With muffins, you want very little gluten, because chemical leavening isn't so strong, and it wouldn't be able to push apart the gluten as easily. Of course, with years of eating breads and muffins, you'll want to match the texture of a tasty bread or muffin. If you over-develop the muffin's gluten, for example, you get tough muffins, which is not what people are really expecting.

With the banana bread, there's a certain amount of gluten development that has to happen. Generally, the trick is in incorporating the wet and dry ingredients into the batter in such a way as to keep from either over-soaking the batter or over-drying it. So you mix in a few batches, alternating wet and dry, which means that gluten is going to be formed more than in a muffin, which you just barely bring together.

If you want a lighter bread, something more cake-like, then your best bet is to use cake flour. It's nice and low-protein, so it won't develop a lot of gluten. If you want something more dense, use AP (All Purpose) flour. I was fresh out of AP flour, but I wanted something a bit more dense, so I mixed some cake flour with some bread flour. Not quite the same, but close enough for my purposes. I also worked the dough a bit more than was strictly necessary at the end, and I got a nice, dense bread.

Mind you, I think Melanie would have preferred a lighter bread, so next time I probably won't work it so much, but it's nice to play around with recipes a bit.