Quick Breads

As a kid, I loved the shape of muffins; breaking the cap from the base was my version of twisting open an Oreo. These days, I prefer quick breads for one reason: the freezer. A stack of zucchini, pumpkin, banana, and cranberry breads takes up far less space than the same four batches of muffins. Besides, toasting is the only way to reheat; a microwave is just not the tool for defrosting baked treats. If you have a toaster oven (which I recommend for many reasons), there’s no bread vs. muffin argument. But if you’re a traditional toaster owner—well, you can imagine the mess of slicing a frozen muffin to fit.

Fortunately, you can easily convert your favorite muffin recipe to a loaf: They’re the same product, just in different pans. Even better, you can base them on a ratio and change the flavors to match your mood or the season.
Quick Cranberry Bread

Ratio Quick Bread

  • Servings: 2 loaves
  • Difficulty: 1
  • Print
This is a basic recipe, giving you the ratios that I’ve found to work best for a tasty quick bread. For ideas on which specific ingredients to use, read the Tips & Tricks that follow the recipe or check out the ingredient list for Quick Cranberry Bread farther down the page.

4 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
spices to taste (optional)
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup applesauce
1/4 cup butter
4 large eggs
1-1/2 cups liquid
1-3/4 cups fruits, nuts, or other flavors (optional)

In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and any spices; set aside. In a separate bowl, beat the sugar and applesauce until thoroughly combined. Melt the butter and then add it to the sugar mixture; beat in each egg before adding the other liquid to the wet ingredients.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and then mix until just combined, scraping all of the flour from the bottom of the bowl and into the batter. Add other flavors (see below) if desired, folding them gently into the batter.

Lightly grease two 9- by 5-inch loaf pans with butter, and then split the batter between the pans. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes, rotate the pans, and then bake an additional 30 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and slightly cracked and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool slightly, and then remove the loaves from the pans and let them cool on a wire rack as long as you can wait. Makes 2 loaves.

Tips & Tricks
  • Elsewhere on this blog I tout the indispensability of a kitchen scale, and using one here would be the best way to ensure a proper ratio. But most American quick bread recipes deal in cups rather than ounces, so I’ve followed that format here in the hopes it will be easier envision your favorite fillings. If you do convert to ounces, keep in mind that while liquids like milk are the expected 8 ounces per cup, flour is not.
  • In general, I prefer to cut down on the fat portion in my baked goods, and applesauce makes a fabulous substitute. You can entirely replace the butter or other oil with equal parts applesauce, but the loaves rise better if you leave a bit of butter in the recipe.
  • The beauty of a quick bread is not just in the speed at which it’s put together; it’s also in its versatility. Flour could be any combination of all-purpose, whole wheat, oat bran, cornmeal, or other grains. White or brown sugar works well; more liquid sweeteners such as maple syrup and honey are also options, but be aware that they will affect your dry-to-wet ingredient ratio.
  • Other flavors can be added to this recipe, as in Quick Cranberry Bread, but it also is a great bread to make plain and eat with a range of marmalades and jams.
  • For muffins, follow the same recipe but divide the batter among the 12 cups of a muffin tin and bake for just 30 minutes, until cooked through.

Twice as Tasty

I was a muffin kid, but these days, I prefer quick breads for one reason: how they stack in the freezer. Learn to make Ratio Quick Bread and Quick Cranberry Bread.Winter is one of my favorite times for quick breads. Not only does winter baking warm and scent the house, but these filling breads are great grab-and-go options on the way up the ski hill. They can also be made with anything on hand or stashed away from the summer harvest. For example, I grate and freeze zucchini in August and use it in quick breads—as well as pancakes—all year. Pumpkin and other winter squashes that are roasted, pureed, and frozen are easy to pull out and fold in. But as the holidays roll around, I can’t resist sales on cranberries, which I don’t grow, to add to the loaves. For all of these flavors, the ratios stay the same, but freezing the second loaf of each batch creates a bakery array for a quick meal or snack.

Quick Cranberry Bread

  • Servings: 2 loaves
  • Difficulty: 1
  • Print
4 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup Grandma Tiny’s Chunky Applesauce
1/4 cup butter
4 large eggs
zest and juice (1/2 cup) from 1 large orange
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup pecans or other nuts
1 cup frozen cranberries

Mix the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients separately as you would for Ratio Quick Bread. To add the orange, zest the peel into the wet ingredients, and then cut the fruit in half and squeeze out the juice; add 1/2 cup of juice to the wet ingredient bowl.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and then mix until just combined, scraping all of the flour from the bottom of the bowl and into the batter. Toast the nuts, and then chop them coarsely by hand or in a food processor. Chop the frozen cranberries briefly in the food processor as well, and then add both to the bowl, folding them gently into the batter.

Split the batter between two lightly greased 9- by 5-inch loaf pans. Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes, rotate the pans, and then bake an additional 30 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and slightly cracked and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool slightly, and then remove from the pan and place on a wire rack. Makes 2 loaves.

To freeze a loaf, let it cool completely and then cut it into thick slices. Push the slices back together into the loaf shape, and then lift the entire loaf into a gallon zip-close freezer bag, seal, and freeze. To eat, simply open the bag, pull out the desired number of slices, reseal the remainder, and return the bag to the freezer. Place the frozen slices in a toaster or toaster oven for twice as long as you would fresh bread.

Tips & Tricks
  • This recipe uses the same cup ratio as Ratio Quick Bread: for two loaves, 4 cups flour and 4 eggs to 1-1/2 cups liquid to 1 cup butter/applesauce. So halve the recipe to bake just one loaf or multiply it and fill the oven with as many pans as you can get your hands on.
  • I love the apple bites chunky applesauce adds to this recipe, but you can use a smooth version if desired. If your applesauce is sweetened, you may want to cut back on the batter’s sugar.
  • Using frozen fruit keeps the color from bleeding throughout the batter. But even frozen, cranberries and other berries tend to float to the surface as they cook. Briefly running them through the food processor helps to keep them settled.
  • Other berries work well with the orange flavor in this bread, including tart cherries, blueberries, and blackberries. And don’t forget the winning rhubarb and orange combination.
  • Slicing before freezing is key to using this bread from the freezer; once you defrost the entire loaf, you must eat it within a few days. For a preski meal to eat on the way up the hill, slather two or three slices with goat cheese; combined with a smoothie, this gets me through half of the day’s runs.

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