Don't be fooled. As easy as quick bread is to make, there are a few rules that will ensure success.
Quick breads are in the same family as muffins and scones and rely on baking powder and baking soda for rising. The chemicals in the soda or powder react with acids to produce carbon dioxide, the gas that gives baked goods their lift, called leavening.
It's important to remember, though, that baking powder and baking soda can't be swapped out for one another.
Before you begin baking, check your supplies, especially the "best by" dates found on baking soda and baking powder. If you're worried about whether the can of baking powder in your cabinet is old, here's a way to check to see if it's still useable: Mix 2 teaspoons in 1 cup hot water. If the foaming reaction is weak, go buy another can.
Thick as a brick?
A close, dense textured quick bread can mean several things: the batter was overmixed, the dough was too wet or dry, the oven was too hot, or the bread wasn't baked long enough.
Typically, the first and most major mistake is overmixing, which can result in loaves not properly rising, turning out tough and possibly with tunnels through them.
The solution: Mix the ingredients only until combined and the flour is just incorporated. Bakers often refer to the texture of the dough as "shaggy."
Measure carefully: Loaves that are too compact also can be the result of too much flour or too much leavening. Always stir flour before measuring. Level flour off in a measuring cup, but never pack it down or shake the cup to settle the flour.
Make sure you place your quick breads in the center of the oven where there is the most even heating.
Remember that all ovens tend to be a bit hotter towards the back and cooler towards the front. Rotate the loaf to ensure even rising.
Check the temperature in your oven and your recipe. A too-hot oven will produce an overdone, denser loaf.
Tips for perfect loaves
Preheat the oven.
Prepare the nuts and fruit ahead of time.
Don't overmix the batter, as mentioned above.
Tent the loaves with aluminum foil once they begin to brown to prevent overbrowning.
Use a knife -- a toothpick is too short -- to check for doneness by sticking the blade in the center of the loaf. If the knife blade comes out clean, or with a few crumbs attached, it's done.
Shiny pans reflect heat, but dark pans absorb heat so baked goods brown more quickly. If using dark pans, lower the heat by 25 degrees.
Store loaves for 24 hours before slicing. Or freeze and slice with a serrated-edge knife.
-- Sharon K. Ghag, food writer, The Modesto Bee