An Apple a Day

Whole Wheat Apple & Pumpkin Butter Quick Bread

[Insert “I love autumn weather/colors/food” monologue here]
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There, now that we got that obligatory rhapsody out of the way, let’s talk quick breads!  Quick breads are suchly called because there is no kneading, resting, or rising involved — they take next-to-no-time to throw together!  Unlike yeast breads, which get their feathery textures and puffy airholes from thousands of farting microorganisms and hours of waiting time, quick breads rely on chemical leaveners for their loft — btw, I’m talking baking powder/soda, not scary chemicals.
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Common quick breads include banana bread, pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, etc.  They tend to be denser than your average yeast bread, owing to a moister, cakier texture, and they can translate easily from wholesome breakfast, to teatime snack, to full-on dessert (especially if frosted or glazed).  They travel in many food circles.

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My three biggest tips for successful quick breads are:
  1.  Do NOT over-mix.  When adding the dry ingredients, the utmost care should be taken to gently fold the batter together, still leaving some floury streaks.  This part can be very difficult for OCDers (speaking for a friend), but every bit of self restraint that you can muster is well worth it!  Heavy-handed mixing makes the bread tough and dense, instead of light and fluffy.  After adding the last of the dry and wet ingredients to the bowl.  Combine only minimally, then use a rubber spatula to fold in whatever fruit/nuts/chocolate you are adding to the loaf, using as few strokes as possible.
  2. Be careful when adding things that contain moisture — especiallly fresh fruit.  While fruits like berries are pretty obviously juicy, apples, too, have a high water content, and all of the water will leech into the batter as the loaf bakes.  The result?  If not handled properly, the excess moisture can result in a loaf with a fully baked exterior with a totally raw interior.  The best way to mitigate moisture mishaps is to control the amount of added liquid.  After washing your fruit, dry it thoroughly.  After cutting your fruit, or before adding whole berries, toss them with a tablespoon or so of your dry ingredient mixture +/- some oatmeal, and set aside while you mix the batter to allow some of the moisture to be absorbed.
  3. Bake until fully baked (but be careful to not OVERbake).  This sounds tricky, I know, but just keep an eye on your bake, and you’ll be fine!  Fully preheat your oven, and bake the loaf on the middlemost rack, erring towards the lower portion of the oven if you don’t have a middle rack.  Quick breads typically take quite a while to bake since the mixture is so dense and the pans are so deep.  Resist the urge to keep opening and closing the oven, because each time you do, you’re releasing heat and decreasing baking efficiency.  Pay close attention to the measurements and material of your loaf pan — glass bakewear tends to cook faster than metal and shallow pans will bake faster than deep ones.  Rotate your loaf halfway through baking to ensure an even bake, and start checking for doneness at the shortest bake time listed in the recipe.  To see if the loaf is fully cooked, you should invest in a pack of long bamboo skewers (these loaves are simply too deep to check for doneness with a toothpick).  When you insert the wooden skewer into the very center of a fully baked loaf, you should pull out a skewer with only a few dry crumbs on it and absolutely no wet batter.  Exception:  if your loaf contains a swirl of melted chocolate, or peanut butter, or jam, or pumpkin butter, you may inadvertently test this part of the loaf and that can give a false negative “done” test — try to find a purely bread region to sample and retest if results are inconclusive!

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Though I flippantly breezed through an Ode to Fall at the beginning of this post, as a Northeast gal, I really am a huge fall-o-phile!  Warm-toned scenery and seasonal flavors are just two of the reasons I love autumn.  This quick bread really embraces all of those quintessential fall flavors:  orchard-picked apple, nutty brown butter, toasted oatmeal, spicy cinnamon, and sweet pumpkin butter (sub apple butter if you can’t find pumpkin butter — apple butter is a bit more widely-available).  Plus, boasting wholely whole wheat flour, this bread makes you feel as good as it tastes!

Whole Wheat Apple & Pumpkin Butter Quick Bread

Proportions based on:  Brita Larson’s Spiced Apple Bread recipe
YIELD:  1 standard loaf
*Note:  Every Sunday, I make 5 cups of spiced & toasted oats for use during the week in overnight oatmeal and/or baked goods.  The toasty flavor is AMAZING, and they’re so simple to make! Preheat your oven to 350, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Spread 5 cups of old-fashioned oats in a single layer over the parchment.  Sprinkle with Saigon cinnamon & nutmeg (sometimes I add sesame seeds, too).  Toast for 5 minutes, stir and redistribute into a single layer, and bake for an additional 5-8 minutes — you should smell a beautiful, oaty aroma, and the oats should just be starting to brown slightly.  Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet.  Once totally cool, transfer to a clean jar or other airtight glass container for storage, and use, prn, throughout the week.
1/2 cup unsalted butter, browned & cooled to room temp
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temp
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large apple [I used an enormous Jonagold]
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup spiced & toasted oatmeal [see *Note, above]
Pinch cinnamon
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground Saigon cinnamon [it’s an extra spicy type of cinnamon!]
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup whole milk or cream
1/2 cup pumpkin butter [you can use apple butter if you can’t find pumpkin butter]
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, spray a standard, 1.5 quart loaf pan with non-stick spray, and dust with granulated sugar all the way up the sides, ensuring an even sugar-coating throughout the entire pan.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the browned butter and granulated sugar until pale and fluffy, 4-5 minutes on medium-high speed.  As the mixer is working, in a large measuring cup, use a fork to fluff and aerate the flour, baking soda, baking powder, Saigon cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, & salt.  In a separate bowl, toss together the chopped apple, ~1 tablespoon of the dry ingredients, the brown sugar, toasted oats (reserve 1 tablespoon of the oats for topping), & pinch of cinnamon, and set aside
Returning to your mixer, add eggs, one at a time, then vanilla extract.  Switch mixer to low, and gradually add half of the dry ingredients.  Then, pour in half of the cream, followed by the second half of the dry ingredients.  Pour in the last of the cream, and immediately switch the mixer off (mixture should NOT be totally smooth and combined yet!).  Dump in the apple mixture, and use a rubber spatula to fold together, using only 3-4 brisk strokes — DO NOT OVERMIX!  Scrape half of the batter into your sugared pan, smooth with the rubber spatula, and dollop with half of the pumpkin butter.  Swirl together with a toothpick or butter knife.  Add the rest of the batter to the pan, and smooth.  Plop the remaining pumpkin butter over the surface, and swirl together.  Top with the reserved tablespoon of toasted oats.  Bake for 60-70 minutes (my glass loaf pan took 60 minutes exactly), until a wooden skewer inserted in the very middle comes out clean — if your tester comes out covered in pumpkin butter, wipe it and test a different area.  Place pan on a cooling rack, with a fan blowing on it to cool.  Top with a thin smear of Quick Brown Butter Frosting and a generous sprinkling of kosher salt, if desired!

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Quick Brown Butter Frosting or Glaze

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, browned and cooled to room temp [it’s easiest to brown this butter with the butter for the loaf batter, then, just reserve 2 tablespoons for this frosting — small-batch browning is super finicky]
1/3 cup powdered sugar
Splash of vanilla extract
Large splash of whole milk or cream
Sift the powdered sugar into the butter, and stir until super thick and pasty, add the vanilla, and stir.  Add only as much cream as you need to thin to a spreadable consistency.  If you are aiming for a glaze rather than a frosting, add more cream, and whisk until totally smooth and viscously runny.

 

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