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Preparing a quick bread generally involves two mixing bowls. One contains all dry ingredients (including chemical leavening agents or agent) and one contains all wet ingredients (possibly including liquid ingredients that are slightly acidic in order to initiate the leavening process). In some variations, the dry ingredients are in a bowl and the wet ingredients are in a saucepan off-heat.
"Quick bread" most probably originated in the United States of America at the end of the eighteenth century. Before the creation of quick bread, baked goods were leavened with either yeast or by mixing dough with eggs. During the American Civil War (1861-1865), the demand for food was high. Thus, bread was rapidly made and leavened with baking soda, instead of yeast. Hence the name "quick bread". The "discovery", or "rediscovery", of chemical leavening agents and their widespread military, commercial and home utilization dates back to at least 1846 in the United States with the introduction of commercial baking soda (one component), in New York, and in 1856 with the introduction of commercial baking powder (two components), in Indiana.
The unavailability of these chemical leaveners in the American South, during the Civil War, contributed to a food crisis therein. Indeed, even an essential ingredient in baking and food preservation, salt, was in short supply.
During the chemical leavening process, agents (one or more food-grade chemicals—usually a weak acid and a weak base) are added into the dough during mixing. These agents undergo a chemical reaction to produce carbon dioxide, hence increasing the baked good's volume and producing shape and texture. Yeast breads often take hours to rise. The baked good's outcome texture can vary greatly based on external factors such as temperature. However, breads made with chemical leavening agents are relatively uniform, reliable, and quick. Usually, the resulting baked good is softer and lighter.
Examples of such agents include baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) plus a weak acid, such as cream of tartar, lemon juice or cultured buttermilk, to elicit an acid—base reaction that releases carbon dioxide. (Quick Bread leavened specifically with sodium bicarbonate is called soda bread). Baking powder can also be used as it contains an acid and a base and simply needs a liquid medium in which to react. Other leavening agents are egg whites beaten to form stiff peaks as in the case of many waffle recipes, and steam, in the case of cream puffs. Nevertheless, in a commercial process, designated chemical leavening acids and bases are used to make gas production consistent and controlled. Examples of acid—base combinations include:
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Almost all quick breads have the same basic ingredients: flour, leavening, eggs, fat (butter, margarine, shortening, or oil), and liquid such as milk. Ingredients beyond these basic ingredients are included for variation in flavor and texture. The type of bread produced is variable based predominantly on the method of mixing, the major flavoring, and the ratio of liquid in the batter. Some batters are thin enough to pour, and others thick enough to mold into lumps.
There are three basic methods for quick breads: the stirring method, the creaming method, and the shortening method. These three methods combine the rise of the chemical leavener with advantageous lift from other ingredients.
- The stirring method, also known as the quick-bread method, blending method and muffin method. This method is for pancakes, muffins, corn bread, dumplings, and fritters. It calls for measurement of dry and wet ingredients separately, then quickly mixing the two. Often wet ingredients include beaten eggs, which have trapped air that makes the product rise. In these recipes, the fats are liquid, such as cooking oil. Usually mixing is done using a tool with a wide head such as a spoon or spatula to prevent the dough from becoming over beaten and deflating the egg's lift.
- The creaming method is frequently used for cake batters. The butter and sugar are creamed, or beaten together, until smooth and fluffy. Eggs and liquid flavoring are mixed in, and finally dry and liquid ingredients are added in. The creaming method combines rise gained from air pockets in the creamed butter with the rise from the chemical leaveners. Gentle folding of the final ingredients prevents destroying these pockets.
- The shortening method, also known as the biscuit method, is used for biscuits and scones. This method cuts solid fat (whether lard, butter, or vegetable shortening) into flour and other dry ingredients using a food processor, pastry blender, or two forks. The layering from this process gives rise and adds flakiness as the folds of fat melt during baking. Confusingly, while this technique produces "shortened" cakes and breads (regardless of whether the chosen fat is vegetable shortening), unleavened shortbread cookies are made with the creaming method, and strawberry shortcake recipes may use any of these three methods.
Quick breads also vary widely in the consistency of their dough or batter. There are four main types of quick bread batter: pour batter, drop batter, soft dough and stiff dough.
- Pour batters, such as pancake batter, have a liquid to dry ratio of about 1:1 and so pours in a steady stream. Also called a "low-ratio" baked good.
- Drop batters, such as cornbread and muffin batters, have a liquid to dry ratio of about 1:2.
- Soft doughs, such as many chocolate chip cookie doughs, have a liquid to dry ratio of about 1:3. Soft doughs stick significantly to work surfaces.
- Stiff doughs, such as pie crust and sugar cookie doughs, have a liquid to dry ratio of about 1:8. Stiff doughs are easy to work in that they only minimally stick to work surfaces, including tools and hands. Also called "high-ratio" baked good.
- "Chemical levening" (PDF). Retrieved March 16, 2012.
- "Quick Breads". Retrieved March 12, 2012.
- "Quick Breads" (PDF). Archived from the original on December 21, 2011.
- Lai, H. M., & Lim, T. C. (2005). Bakery products. In Y. Hui (Ed.), Handbook of food science, technology, and engineering (pp. 9-11). Boca Raton: CRC Press
- Gillespie, Gregg R. (1998). 1001 Muffins, Biscuits, Doughnuts, Pancakes, Waffles, Popovers, Fritters, Scones, and other Quick Breads. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. p. 9. ISBN 1-57912-042-3.
- Brown, A. (2011). Understanding food: Principles and preparation. (p. 408). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
- Cook's Illustrated (2004). The quick breads Recipe. America's Test Kitchen. ISBN 0-936184-74-4
- Professional Cooking, 6th Edition. (2007) Chapter 31, Quick Breads. ISBN 978-0-471-66374-4
- The Art of Quick Breads, 1st Edition. ISBN 0-8118-0540-9 (San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1994, hardcover; trade paperbound is ISBN 0-8118-0353-8)