Some of the most delicious meals in the world’s repertoire–yes, the entire world–originate in cooks’ desires not to waste any precious bread. The recipes that follow all make use of day-old bread–and in fact they embrace the bread’s age. None of them are as tasty with fresh bread as they are with slightly stale baguette or country round.
Panzanella is a salad that places croutons front and center, instead of treating them like an afterthought. Long eaten by Italian peasants to prevent bread waste, our panzanella’s got all kinds of gourmet touches, from crispy-skinned chicken to fresh herbs.
Sometimes a name really does say it all. Quick breads are the faster sibling of yeast breads, which we dug into with our first bread post. While there’s no denying the satisfaction of a fresh baguette whose inception has been 72 hours in the making, quick breads promise their own delight. From sweet to savory, standalone breakfast items to dinner add-ons, these breads may come to life quickly, but they are undoubtedly worth savoring for a long, long time.
The difference between yeast and quick breads is the type of leavening agent used to make them rise. Whether you’re a master chef or you just figured out how to turn on a toaster oven yesterday, you can guess the leavener for yeast breads (hint: look up to the first sentence of this post). The answer for quick breads isn’t as easy, so let’s just skip to the punch line: baking soda or baking powder. Unlike yeast, both of these leaveners react immediately when exposed to a liquid, so there’s no need to let quick bread dough sit and rise. It’s actually advised to do just the opposite: bake your quick bread as soon as you’ve mixed all the ingredients together.
Just as we had Bien Cuit’s Zach Golpher help guide us through yeast breads, we have another expert to share some behind-the-scenes details of the quick bread world. Amy Scherber is the founder of Amy’s Bread, an award-winning New York City bakery that opened its doors in 1992. Before Amy got up the nerves to write the business plan for what began as a small storefront in Hell’s Kitchen, she did what any aspiring baker does: She found an incredible mentor and worked with him to build up her baking chops.
For Amy, that mentor was Tom Colicchio, and the restaurant was Mondrian. Under Tom’s wing, Amy created breads to support the restaurant’s stellar entrées. Amy describes her time at Mondrian as invaluable, but as soon as she built up enough expertise, she turned back to her real passion, making bread the star of the show. And, at her namesake company, there’s no arguing that it’s front and center.
To begin our exploration of quick breads, let’s look at one that may seem, to the untrained eye, like a yeast bread (you can consider your eyes trained at the end of this post!).
Irish Soda Bread
Similar in look, texture, and even taste to many yeast breads, Irish Soda Bread is one of the original* quick breads. Dating back to the 1840s, when sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda) was first introduced to Ireland, this bread was only a slight departure from yeast breads: Wheat flour (same), buttermilk (instead of water), baking soda (instead of yeast), and salt. In the years following its debut – which began in economically poor communities for whom the non-perishable and inexpensive baking soda was a choice ingredient – more luxurious ingredients like sugar and caraway seeds started making their way into the recipe. These additions are what many Americans associate with Irish Soda Bread today, making it a bread that straddles the line between sweet and savory. Which is exactly how it ended up on Amy’s menu. “Customers were asking for something they could eat for breakfast, that wasn’t too sweet,” says Amy. Lucky for her, one of her bakers had an Irish grandmother with a family recipe, who was generous enough to share with the bakery. This adaptation, which comes chock full of “voluptuous raisins” is the perfect way to satisfy a slight morning sweet tooth. The acidity of the buttermilk keeps it a bit tart, so a pat of silky soft butter ties the whole thing together: Sweet, sour, savory. Happy breakfast.
*For the trivia buffs amongst you: There are soda breads that pre-date the Irish version. As early as the 1700s, Native Americans were using pearl ash (an early baking soda predecessor) to leaven bread. And recipes for quick breads were first recorded in 1796 in the American Cookery book by Amelia Simons.
(Cherry Cream) Scones
Sticking with morning-appropriate quick breads, let’s talk about scones. While there is still a debate over their country of origin (England vs. Scotland), no one argues that they are delicious. The nuts and bolts of scones are rather simple: flour, sugar, baking soda and/or powder, butter, milk, and eggs. It’s their affinity for additional ingredients that makes them so special. Amy’s bakes a swath of different scones, but an all-time crowd favorite is the cherry cream scone, which nods to a more traditional British approach, in which heavy cream is used as both the liquid and the fat (instead of a combination of butter and milk). This two-in-one substitute ensures that the scone stays particularly tender and rich, which is why the tart cherry is such a perfect pairing. So whether you’re enjoying it with an afternoon tea – in true Brit form – or not, you’re in for a treat.
A Google search for “biscuit recipes” returns 9,370,000 results. There is a brand inspired by them (Bisquick) and they’ve been paired with other foods to make some of the most memorable food duos (biscuits and gravy, anyone?). So to say biscuits are a “popular quick bread” would be a severe understatement. But we all know that a flaky, tender, fall-apart-fluffy biscuit isn’t easily made. So how does Amy do it? For starters, shortening. Giving credit to the American south, Amy says this is the only fat you can use for good biscuits. Her other tip? Don’t over-mix the dough. That flakiness comes from a gentle handling. Amy can vouch for the popularity of the biscuit: to keep up with customer demand, the bakers at Amy’s often find themselves staring at an entire industrial-size countertop covered corner to corner in biscuit dough, just begging to be cut in to perfect, oven-bound rounds.
Like biscuits, cornbread is another quick bread often associated with the American South. While its origins date back hundreds of years, to when Native Americans first ground corn to make a cook-able meal (literally), cornbread has a prominent place in modern cuisine. From classic BBQ or chili side, to Thanksgiving stuffing star, one of cornbread’s most standout traits is its texture. This grainy and toothsome feel comes from a combination of cornmeal and regular white flour, and helps cornbread stand up to spreads and sauces alike. (Some recipes use cornmeal entirely, which yields an even grainier, rustic outcome.) At Amy’s, cornbread texture gets taken to the next level with creamed corn that’s full of big, sweet kernels. Amy explains: “Cornmeal is so absorbent that is can take a lot of liquid,” which is why they add this alongside the traditional buttermilk. While purists may appreciate their cornbread best as is, it’s a quick bread that’s open to adaptation, from ingredient addition to form and presentation: Add dried cranberries to make it holiday appropriate. Cheddar cheese and jalapeño give it a southwestern flare. Make it into snack-able muffins (like Amy does), spread it flat on a sheet pan for perfect square cuts, or get very house-on-the-prairie and bake it in a cast iron skillet.
Banana Bran and Walnut Muffin
Some consider them breakfast. Others, dessert. But no matter what time of day you chose to eat a muffin, it’s hard to not be satisfied. One of the more indulgent quick breads (there’s a quite a bit of sugar, butter or oil, and often vanilla extract), muffins may also be one of the most creative. Think of a muffin recipe as a blank canvas, ready for the artful addition of your favorite ingredients. After plenty of her own experimentation, one of the most popular muffins on Amy’s menu (and Amy’s personal favorite) is the banana bran and walnut muffin. “I created this muffin for myself because I love the coarse texture of the bran with the sweetness of the ripe bananas, and the toasty flavor of the walnuts,” says Amy. When it comes to getting a crunchy muffin top – a characteristic so crucial to a successful muffin that an entire episode of Seinfeld was based on it – Amy has a tip: “There’s a lot of cold, dense batter when the muffin tin goes in to the oven, so you need a higher temperature to start.” Give the muffins 10 minutes at higher heat (~450°F) before turning it down to a more moderate 375°F for the rest of the bake time. Then invite friends over so you can show off!
Quick breads are perfectly friendly for new cooks and plenty challenging for seasoned ones. So whether you’re just dipping your toe in to the bread-baking world or are ready to try your 18th biscuit recipe, there’s a quick bread out there for you. Because, despite their name, these breads are worth slowing down for, so you can enjoy every bite, as leisurely as you like.
Up Next: Flatbreads and a trip around the world.
This piece is by Veronica Wilson. Among her former colleagues, Veronica is known as “the girl who started a breakfast club at the office.” From first-time canning to weeknight experiments, Veronica is a food lover but not necessarily a food “professional,” an eater who enjoys finding ways to delight in food every day.
There’s so much you can do with a couple cloves of garlic–take garlic confitand garlic bread, for two delicious examples. The cloves pack so much flavor (and health benefits) that most of the time you don’t need too many other ingredients to create a delicious meal or snack. We send out a whole head of garlic every week, and so it’s possible you might have some leftover cloves. Don’t despair–and definitely don’t waste this kitchen gold. Here’s our third easy suggestion for a way to use up all that leftover garlic.
Spanish pan con tomate is a brilliantly simple preparation that involves grilling bread and topping it with tomatoes, garlic, salt, and olive oil. Since flavorful tomatoes aren’t in season, we scaled this preparation down to pan con ajo--no tomato needed.
Here’s all you do: toast thick slices of good country bread under the broiler (or, if you happen to be outdoors, on a grill for optimally delicious charred flavor). Cut a clove of garlic in half and rub the cut sides across the surface of each slice, really pressing the cloves in to transfer flavors. Drizzle good-quality olive oil across the surface, then sprinkle with salt.
Bread. It’s played the villain in certain culinary tales (remember the Atkins diet?). It’s played the hero in a number of non-so-culinary stories (Stomach flu? Eat toast!). No matter what relationships you’ve had with bread in the past, the fact remains that bread is one of the world’s most ancient foods – dating back to 4,000 B.C. – and is now one of its most diverse. Bread is found on every continent, has been adapted by nearly every culture, and is one of the universal staples of our collective diets.
In this three-part series on bread (it deserves at least that). we’ll explore some of bread’s most delectable incarnations. We’ll honor its rich history, go behind-the-scenes of how it’s made, and get ready to feast. For the purposes of organization, we’ll break bread in to three primary categories:
1. Yeast breads; 2. Quick breads; 3. Flatbreads
To get started, a definition: At its most basic, bread is a milled grain and water. But that doesn’t mean bread is simple. As we’ll see, thousands of years of ecological evolution and baking innovation have turned bread in to so much more than commonplace.
On to part one, yeast breads. Likely the most familiar to you – 99% of the bread sold in America falls in to this category – these are breads that contain a leavening agent (yeast!) and have risen.
To help guide us through both the predictable and the more surprising yeast breads, we’ve spoken to master baker Zachary Golper of Brooklyn’s Bien Cuit. Zach started baking about 15 years ago, when the scent of fresh bread literally dragged him out of bed. During a farm apprenticeship in Oregon, Zach recalls, “My room was upwind from the bakery, and every morning around 3 or 4am, the aromas that wafted in to my bed drew me in.”
The rest is pretty much history, just like his philosophy on baking bread. “It’s an ancient thing to do,” he said. “It feels natural. While it may not be easy, it brings pleasure.” It is with this credo that he bakes traditional – and delicious – bread every day.
Let’s dig into a few main types of yeast bread:
Known to many Americans as “French bread,” this elongated oval is arguably one of the most recognizable breads in the western world. By definition, a baguette is four simple ingredients: Yeast, water, flour, salt. So the facts that bakers are often judged solely on the quality of their baguette and that there is an annual competition called the Grand Prix de la Baguette in Paris makes it clear that even within the constraints of four ingredients, there’s potential for magic. You’ll taste this magic the moment you bite into a warm, crusty baguette whose middle is still chewy and soft. And you’ll get close to nirvana if you spread a little fat on top (butter is classic, but good olive oil won’t disappoint you, either). As Zach poignantly notes, “with bread, if you made it well from the get go, the only way you could screw it up is by adding to much to it.” With a good baguette, you’re best off keeping it simple. Try it with:Provencal Fish Stew, Banh Mi
While some of us might think of this as a singular type of bread, rye is actually a category quite vast in its own right. Made from varying proportions of rye and wheat flour, rye can range from dark (black bread rye) to light (buttermilk rye). Rye is a favorite of many Eastern European and Nordic countries. In Finland they actually hang “rye rings” on rafters, and spray them with water before they eat them. Because of its dense texture and strong, almost sour flavor, rye is great for sandwiches or even toasted with a creamy cheese, smoked salmon, or a sweet jam. Try it with:Salmon Pastrami, Tempeh Rachel on Rye
Miche is a bread with a story. Sometimes referred to as pain de campagne (“country bread” in French), this bread originated centuries ago in Western Europe when families used to bring all the grain they’d been able to harvest (mostly wheat, at that time) to the village baker. Over a large fire, with all gathered around, the baker would work his magic, and families would leave with large, round loaves that could last an entire week. So it seems appropriate that the signature shape of a miche be perfectly round and hearth-like. It’s about as communal a bread as they come.
This is the bread that most often makes it home with Zach and in to the stomachs of his family. His version is made from a simple sourdough starter and a combination of wheat and rye (miche can be made from many grains; its defining characteristic remains its large, round shape). The long bake time that roasts the outside actually produces a smoke that permeates the entire loaf, enhancing the flavor throughout. Zach’s favorite way to eat miche? With just a little bit of butter. Try it with: Tuscan Ribollita
Pronounced “pool-yee-AY-zee,” this bread was born of economic resourcefulness. In the southeast region of Italy, Puglia, the wheat source was primarily durum, is a hard grain that doesn’t make the most pleasant bread when used all alone. Hundreds of years ago, the enterprising community discovered that using mashed potatoes as a supplement to the durum flour was the perfect solution. The potato addition literally stretched the bread, making the crumb chewy and tasty, which is why we can still find it in artisanal bakeries today. Some pugliese now include potato flour, but Zach of Bien Cuitroasts Yukon golds – with a little olive oil and salt – and then folds these, cooled and skin still on, into a wheat-based bread dough. The result? A chewy, slightly chunky, bread that’s goes perfectly with meat or a sharp cheese. Try it with: Fontina Grilled Cheese, Mushroom and Tomato Toasts
Best known for its role in the Jewish faith, challah is a bread that has climbed far beyond religious boundaries. The addition of eggs and fat (sometimes oil, other times butter) gives challah a richness and sweetness that delivers on the indulgence its braided look suggests. Despite its religious associations, challah isn’t beholden to rigid baking laws. Unlike most challahs that are made with water and oil, Zach uses a milk-based preferment (the mixture gets the yeast and flour going, before you start making dough), and butter is his fat of choice–it is added at the end. That exterior sheen that takes challah to the next level of eye pleasing is a product of an egg wash that’s painted on the dough just before it goes in the oven. Challah often comes in rolls, which are a great replacement for brioche when serving burgers. Try it with:Turkey Burger Sliders
“If you’re going to put s&*$ in bread, put the right s&*$ in bread,” Zach quoted from mentor and baking connoisseur William Leaman. It’s an intuitive – albeit blunt – statement, which reminds us that good food likes other good food. And, in truth, there are some add-ins that are better suited for bread than others. Raisins and walnuts are classic examples of good add-ins. If you’re making your own bread – which is an ambitious undertaking in its own right, so congrats – and want to add some bells and whistles, do so after the dough is made, and before it goes through its second fermentation process. This way, the accoutrements have a chance to take on the texture of the rest of the dough, meaning you’ll have consistent bread in the end. Dried fruits that can absorb moisture, rather then give it off, are usually a good place to start if you’re feeling adventurous. Try it with:Goat Cheese Toasts
These six yeast breads are just a slice of all that’s out there. From your local bakery to your Blue Apron box, there is an abundance of bread waiting to be found. So whether you’re a die-hard sourdough fan from San Francisco, or a loyal follower of focaccia, the next time you’re in the market for bread, try something new. You never know what you may end up loving.
When people ask what we get most excited about, ingredient-wise, we’re tempted to talk their ears off about our favorite pasta shapes, the scent of summer tomatoes, or the irresistible herbiness of za’atar. We love food, all food.
Yet food is about making connections and starting conversations, too. And when we want to bond with the guy across from us, our answer is always avocado.
In this Avocado Tartine recipe, we pair dark pumpernickel toast with creamy goat cheese, creamier avocado, and a chive garnish. This is the kind of meal we could eat at any time of day–every day. And if you talk to us at a party, you can bet we’ll mention it. Maybe twice.
We’re happy to be participating in Food Network’s Summer Fest, a weekly blog tour of all the incredible produce we’ll be enjoying this summer. This week, the topic is avocados! You can see the other bloggers’ delicious cucumber creations by following the links below.
What do cereal, ribollita and panzanella have in common? All three were invented by the Italians as ways to use up any bread leftover from previous meals. Repurposing extra bread is not just about monetary thrift, though. We hold it as a worthy kitchen philosophy to use up every ingredient you own, letting as little go to waste as possible.
This mantra easily becomes reality when panzanella is on the table. If you like the croutons on salad, you’ll adore bread salad, or panzanella, which contains at least double the quantity of croutons in a normal salad. It’s like the croutons migrated from side dish to main course, from a movie extra to center stage.
In panzanella, the bread cubes, crisped up in the oven, get seasoned by their summery tomato salad partner: sweet tomato, rich olive oil, sharp garlic, and a good pinch of salt saturate the crumb. We pair this irresistible salad with crispy chicken, flavored with marjoram, an oregano-like herb that makes us feel like we’re in the Italian countryside, eating panzanella and enjoying summer.
We’re happy to be participating in Food Network’s Summer Fest, a weekly blog tour of all the incredible produce we’ll be enjoying this summer. This week, the topic is tomatoes. You can see the other bloggers’ delicious creations by following the links below.