Week Four: Savory Quick Breads
For the last three months, the wonderful Dorie Greenspan, a longtime contributor to Bon Appétit Magazine, has been running a series of articles, collectively titled “The Baker”. I’ve ripped out and saved all three recipes, but the first one piqued the most interest. A dried fruit tart and a spiced bundt cake just don’t have the same thrill as “Bacon Cheddar Quick Bread with Dried Pears”, now do they? I held on to this recipe, occasionally remembering it in the back of my mind, as I will; and this week was finally the perfect time to make it.
As a side note, I keep printed-out recipes in those clear plastic sheet protectors, an old culinary school trick. Sometimes, I’ll stack several pages in one holder, to remind myself to soon make something that sounds intriguing, or out of laziness in putting them away properly. This quick bread recipe was on the back side of another recipe I was making a few nights ago. As another side note, there is an unfortunate but small gap between the backsplash of the kitchen counter and the wall, from where the old building has settled. I tend to lean my recipes up against the wall, held precariously in place with the magnetic-racked-knives. You may see where this is going; but for those who don’t, I lost my recipe behind the kitchen cabinets. It’s there, stuck behind the dishwasher, probably to be found only when they renovate in thirty years. Luckily, the internet comes to the rescue! I found the recipe easily at Epicurious.com, Bon Appétit’s online recipe repository.
Then, oh, and then, I found them: the Reviews. (dum dum dummm!) As it turns out, people found this bread to be dry, lacking in flavor, and all in all not really worth the effort. Horror! But it’s got bacon! And cheese! And pear! How could it possibly go wrong? I decided to play around with this recipe, and if it turned out badly, I could just blame the recipe. If it turned out well, of course, then I would get all the credit. I can’t lose!
The two most common complaints were that the bread was dry and bland. Many reviewers found that it cooked about ten minutes (!) faster than the recipe indicated, and one said that the crusty outside was the best part. Most increased or substituted the flavoring ingredients (cheese, bacon, herbs), and one switched olive oil for butter. That’s not quite my style, though; I’d much rather make healthier food that tastes good, than just load everything up with butter and bacon. I feel better when I eat that way, and I’m not going to advise anyone to do any different, especially not for the sake of a quick blog post. So my mission became this: to make this bread work, without making it any more fat- or calorie-laden.
Thinking to kill two birds with one stone, I replaced the original dried pears with a diced fresh pear. The fresh one would obviously impart more liquid into the batter, helping with the dryness, and adding flavor along the way. The bacon, I left alone, because bacon is meat candy and it is delicious. But I didn’t add any more, either. I actually decreased the amount of cheese, but that was because I bought one nice block of cheddar for two recipes, and that was all I could safely allot without affecting the other recipe. I also decreased the amount of olive oil, since I feel that adding a lot of fat is a bit of a crutch for many recipes. I made up for the lost liquid by adding more milk, to which I added white vinegar, to make buttermilk; which gave it another layer of flavor. And lastly, I included two tablespoons of ground flaxseed, because it actually adds moisture in addition to a nice nutty flavor. I baked the very sticky and very chunky dough in muffin cups, hoping to get more of the lovely crust spoken so highly of. I had done my best, and there was nothing to do now but wait.
One other thing the reviewers noted was the heavenly smell given off by this bread. Well, duh; it’s got bacon in it. Of course it’s going to smell great. But behind the bacony smell was melting cheese, sweet pears dissolving into the batter, crisp nuts, and fragrant sage. It really was a gorgeous combination of scents. Surely something that smelled so good had to taste good, too! But remembering the warnings of those who had reviewed before me, I held my optimism in check.
Thirty-five minutes later, I pulled the lumpy little things out of their tins, snapped a few quick pictures, and gave one a less-than-hopeful taste. Hmm, lovely crusty outside, check; but what of the taste? The meaty flavor of bacon gave way to sweet pear, all flavor, the texture having cooked away into the bread. The cheddar might have been a little sharper, but I liked that it didn’t overwhelm. It was just a little dry, if I’m honest, but I think that wouldn’t have been a problem if I had replaced the decrease in oil with applesauce, or a mashed overripe pear. These were definitely savory, but also had a surprising sweetness from the fresh pear. While they would be fine for breakfast, they would make a perfect little snack, or accompaniment for tea. You know, for those of you who have tea parties.
Dorie Greenspan suggests playing around with the flavorings, replacing any and all with your favorites. Many online reviewers had success with stronger flavors, like kalamata olives, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, apples, gruyere, rosemary, even sautéed onions and garlic. If you make it into a loaf, you can take Ms. Greenspan’s excellent suggestion of cubing it, toasting it, and using as croutons in a salad, or to top a bowl of soup. Depending on the ingredients, it would be a lovely pair with wine. Try a blue cheese instead of cheddar, sticking with fresh pear and walnuts, and serve with port!
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan
Makes 1 loaf or about 20 muffins
5 bacon slices, chopped
5 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, divided: 3 1/2 ounces shredded, 1 1/2 ounces diced into small quarter-inch cubes
1 pear, diced into small pieces, or about 3/4 cup
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 large eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice
About 1/3 cup milk
1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Generously butter 8×4 inch metal loaf pan, or use nonstick muffin tins.
2. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain.
3. Measure olive oil in glass measuring cup, add vinegar, and enough milk to measure up to 2/3 cup total liquid. Let sit about five minutes, then whisk in eggs to blend.
4. Combine bacon, all cheese, diced pear, walnuts, and sage in medium bowl. Whisk flour, flaxseed, baking powder, salt, and black pepper in large bowl to blend.
5. Pour egg mixture over flour mixture and stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Add bacon-cheese mixture and stir until incorporated (dough will be very sticky). Distribute dough evenly among muffin tins; or transfer to prepared loaf pan and spread evenly.
6. Bake bread until golden on top and slender knife inserted into center of bread comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes for muffins, or 40-45 minutes for loaf. Remove muffins as soon as possible to a cooling rack. If using loaf pan, cool bread in pan 5 minutes, then turn out onto rack and cool completely.
1. This bread can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap in plastic, then foil, and store at room temperature.
2. Be sure not to overmix the dough when adding the cheese, pears, and etc.! It is very easy to do, since it’s so thick and sticky.
3. Again, it’s best if all your ingredients are at room temperature. They’ll mix more easily, and produce a better result. Eggs and milk, I’m looking at you!