Brown Butter Banana Bread + More Quick Bread Recipes

A delicious twist on banana bread, eggnog loaves and gingerbread are a cinch for homemade gifts or to enjoy throughout the season—plus fun with baking science
Brown Butter Banana Bread

PHOTOGRAPHY TERRY BRENNAN, FOOD STYLING LARA MIKLASEVICS

I have been watching The Great British Baking Show a lot lately. I had only seen a few episodes on PBS over the years so I started with the first season on Netflix and am working my way through. Oh my. There are many elaborate challenges these amateur bakers face. It makes me appreciate all the work that goes into producing delicious flaky pastries, fluffy cakes and delicate crusts. It also highlights the fact that baking is a science. Put in too much or too little of an ingredient, or mix something too much or too little and it could go all pear shaped as they say across the pond (which means go all wrong in Brit-speak).

But there is a simple yet delicious treat most anyone can make—quick bread. Mix the ingredients together, pour the batter in a pan, bake, and—voila! The all-time favorite banana bread and more fall into this category and we owe a big thanks to the guys who developed baking soda and baking powder.

Brothers-in-law Dr. Austin Church and John Dwight began packaging Arm & Hammer baking soda in Dwight’s New York City kitchen in 1846. In 1854, Harvard chemist Eben Horsford combined baking soda with monocalcium phosphate to create baking powder. Soon afterward, the quick bread was born, says baking expert and author of The Baking Answer Book, Lauren Chattman. Manufacturers of chemical leaveners distributed quick bread recipe booklets, advertising the virtues of a bread that didn’t require kneading or rising. They hoped that these leaveners would replace yeast entirely before the century was over.

Although baking with yeast has hardly become obsolete, both savory and sweet quick breads have remained popular because of their simplicity and versatility, notes Chattman. In the recipes here, which she developed for Real Food, brown butter lends a nutty undertone to banana bread and the seasonal flavors of eggnog and gingerbread make great treats for homemade gifts or to enjoy throughout the season.

You can make one large loaf or several smaller loaves with the same recipe. Baking times will have to be adjusted depending on the pan size you choose, says Chattman. Whatever size you choose, test your breads for doneness with a toothpick inserted into the center, removing them from the oven as soon as the tester comes out clean.

How long will quick breads stay fresh?
Breads with plenty of butter, oil, nuts and fruit will keep for several days in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic. If you want to plan ahead, you can bake your quick breads and then freeze them for up to one month before defrosting on the countertop. (For more Quick Bread FAQ from Lauren Chattman and tips for packaging the breads, scroll below the recipes.)

Brown Butter Banana Bread

Makes 1 8×4-inch loaf

Brown butter is made by cooking butter until the milk solids separate from the butterfat and become brown. The butter develops a concentrated taste that is like butter on steroids with a nutty undertone—after all, brown butter is called “beurre noisette” in French because its luxurious nuttiness is similar to the flavor of toasted hazelnuts. With this extra step, your banana bread will have a deep, dark buttery flavor that will balance the sweetness of the bananas, a balance reinforced by the toasted hazelnuts in this recipe.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and coarsely chopped (optional)
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
3 very ripe bananas, mashed (about 1½ cups)
¼ cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease the inside of an 8×4-inch loaf pan and dust with flour. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and chopped nuts in a large bowl.
  2. Heat butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat until the milk solids on the bottom are a dark chocolate brown, 6 to 9 minutes (see Cook’s Note). Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the mashed bananas, buttermilk, eggs, butter and vanilla with a fork. Lightly fold banana mixture into dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until just combined and the batter looks thick and chunky. Stir in the nuts if using. Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan and bake until loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Slice and serve.
  4. Alternatively, wrap the loaf in a double layer of plastic and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month and defrost on the countertop before serving.

Cook’s Note: A stainless steel skillet or saucepan is the key to accurately judging the butter’s progress. With a shiny pan bottom, you can see the color of the butter, which becomes a deep golden brown, and the color of the solids, which become the color of milk chocolate when properly cooked.

Eggnog Mini Loaves

PHOTOGRAPHY TERRY BRENNAN, FOOD STYLING LARA MIKLASEVICS

Eggnog Mini Loaves

Makes 8 4×2-inch loaves

A little rum mixed with some confectioners’ sugar makes a festive glaze for these little loaves. For a non-alcoholic glaze, use a little bit of un-spiked eggnog instead.

For the Bread
1¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons rum extract
¾ cup eggnog

For the Glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons eggnog or dark rum
pinch nutmeg

  1. Heat the oven to 325°F. Grease the inside of an 8-cavity mini-loaf pan. Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl.
  2. Combine the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice as necessary. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Mix in the vanilla and rum extracts.
  3. With the mixer on low speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture and mix until incorporated. Add ½ of the eggnog and mix until incorporated. Repeat with the remaining flour and eggnog, ending with the flour. After the last addition, mix for 30 seconds on medium speed.
  4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake until the loaves are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let the loaves cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, invert onto a wire rack, and then turn right side up on a rack to cool completely. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month and defrost on the countertop.
  5. Make the glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, eggnog or rum, and nutmeg until smooth and pourable but not runny. Spread some icing over the top of each loaf. Let stand until the icing is firm, about 30 minutes, before serving.
Gingerbread with Cranberries

PHOTOGRAPHY TERRY BRENNAN, FOOD STYLING LARA MIKLASEVICS

Gingerbread with Cranberries

Makes 4 5½X3-inch loaves or 1 8×4-inch loaf

Fresh ginger gives this gingerbread some extra spice. Chopping the cranberries (you can do this with a few pulses in a food processor) will ensure that there is some tart cranberry flavor in every bite. You can chop frozen berries straight from the freezer and stir them into the batter. Baking time will be a few minutes longer (to account for the lower temperature of the batter) in this case.

For the Bread
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¾ cup dark molasses
¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
¼ cup plain Greek yogurt or buttermilk
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1½ cups fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped

For the Glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons heavy cream
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch salt

  1. Make the bread: Heat the oven to 325°F. Grease one 8×4-inch or four 5½ x3-inch mini loaf pans and dust with flour.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the molasses, brown sugar, egg, yogurt and ginger. Whisk in the butter.
  4. With a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Stir in the cranberries.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan or pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes for small loaves, 55 to 60 minutes for 1 large loaf. Let the gingerbread cool in the pan or pans for 5 or 10 minutes, invert onto a wire rack, and then turn right side up on a rack to cool completely. Wrap in a double layer of plastic and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month before glazing.
  6. Make the glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, cream, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and salt until smooth. Spread over each loaf. Let stand until the icing is firm, about 30 minutes, before slicing and serving.

 

Quick Bread FAQs

From Lauren Chattman

What is the difference between baking soda and baking powder?

When baking soda comes in contact with an acidic ingredient like lemon juice or yogurt, the reaction produces carbon dioxide, a bubbly gas that causes baked goods to rise. To get a similar reaction in batters that don’t have acidic ingredients, bakers use baking powder, which is baking soda combined with a little acid and some cornstarch to keep the two ingredients dry and non-reactive until moistened. Some recipes call for both baking soda and baking powder. The baking soda neutralizes the acid in the batter, while the baking powder provides powerful lift.

Is there a difference between quick breads made with butter and those made with oil?

Both butter and oil will moisten and enrich a quick bread. Butter will add wonderful flavor. Oil will give it a longer shelf life. If your recipe calls for solid butter creamed with sugar, then it will get some extra lift from the air bubbles created during the process—lift that it won’t get if you use liquid fat. If your recipe calls for melted butter, you can use an equal amount of oil instead if you prefer.

What’s the difference between a cake and a quick bread?

It’s true that some cakes—think angel food or old-fashioned pound cake—rely on whipped egg whites or air beaten into butter for their rise. But most cake batters are very similar to the quick bread batters here. The biggest difference is that quick breads are simply constructed and minimally decorated—no layers, no fillings, and they may have a dusting of confectioners’ sugar or an easy glaze rather than a fancier frosting.

Sweet Gifts Wrapped Up

Homemade quick bread makes a wonderful gift. There are several ways to wrap them for the holidays, suggest Chattman:

UNGLAZED LOAVES:
Wrap like a package in baking parchment and decorate with ribbons and bows or baker’s twine rather than ribbon. Attach frills such as jingle bells and holly sprigs. Or, wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper and pack in a holiday gift bag or pretty burlap sack.

GLAZED LOAVES:
Consider baking it in a decorative paper loaf mold. Once your loaf is cool, apply the glaze to the top and let it set. Then place the loaf, still in the mold, on top of a piece of cellophane, gathering the cellophane edges together over the bread and cinching with a ribbon. This wrapping will cover the loaf without marring the glaze.

GIFT FOR A BAKER:
Wrap the loaf in parchment and place in a new loaf pan. Wrap a pretty ribbon around the pan and loaf, along with a recipe card and wooden spoon or spatula.

Nutrition info (per serving)
• Brown Butter Banana Bread (without nuts): Calories 402 (168 From Fat); Fat 19g (Sat. 11g); Chol 93mg; Sodium 299mg; Carb 53g; Fiber 2g; Protein 6g
• Brown Butter Banana Bread (with nuts): Calories 508 (254 From Fat); Fat 29g (Sat. 12g); Chol 93mg; Sodium 299mg; Carb 56g; Fiber 4g; Protein 8g
• Eggnog Mini Loaves: Calories 423 (135 From Fat); Fat 15g (Sat. 9g); Chol 90mg; Sodium 212mg; Carb 66g; Fiber 1g; Protein 5g
• Gingerbread with Cranberries: Calories 496 (133 From Fat); Fat 15g (Sat. 9g); Chol 62mg; Sodium 405mg; Carb 88g; Fiber 2g; Protein 5g

Looking for Gluten-Free?

Try this Gluten-Free Banana Nut Bread Recipe
Banana bread fans can whip up this easy gluten-free loaf that rivals the traditional versions.

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Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her school-age son, who used to eat beets and Indian food, will one day again think of real food as more than a means to a treat—and later share this with his younger brother.