Saturday, November 17, 2012

Recipe: Apple Cinnamon Quick Bread

If you see someone in the kitchen that has good hands and a quick brain, then you need that person to be in the front of everything. – Rene Redzepi 

Sweet, tender  cake with chunks of soft apple, plus "veins" of cinnamon sugar. Mmmmm...

Have you ever wondered about what makes a cake rise? There are three basic ways: via yeast, air or baking powder/soda. Yeast makes carbon dioxide, egg whites hold air, and baking powder/soda make carbon dioxide but much faster than rising via yeast.

Cakes – as we would identify them today – only came into existence in the 1700s. Before then we would probably classify what was produced as sweet bread. Beaten eggs is what made the difference.

But even before the late 1700s if you wanted light baked goods you only had two choices – yeast or eggs. Both took some time. Therefore there were no “quick” breads.

The time problem was solved when baking soda and baking powder, and their forerunners, came onto the baking scene.

The first US cook book, 1796.
Photo: Wiki CCL
Origin of “quick breads”
Quick breads aren’t really breads at all but cakes.

There is quite a lot of information on the web that quick breads were invented in the United States and have something to do with the American Civil War (you can see the plagiarized “copy and paste” from site to site to site), but I doubt it’s true. 

I believe someone typed something in erroneously, and like a virus, it is popping up everywhere. If quick bread was invented in the USA the original source may have meant the American War of Independence. The Civil War was in 1860 – a little later than the 1700s.

I’ll tell you why I think that way. There are three indisputable facts. 
The first fact is that one of the first chemical leavening agents listed in many printed recipe books was pearlash (from potash). 

The second is that the first printed American cookbook “American Cookery” (Amelia Simmons, pub. 1796) had recipes using pearlash. That puts its use before that date.

The third is that the first U.S. patent (No. X1) was issued July 31, 1790 to Samuel Hopkins for an improvement "in the making Pot ash [sic] and Pearl ash [sic] by a new Apparatus and Process.”  In 1792 alone 8,000 tons of pearlash were exported to Europe. It had to be available as an ingredient before the patent for a new, improved method.

It’s hard to believe that quick breads came into being in the 1860s when recipes using pearlash were in cookbooks – and it was being commercially exported – in the 1790s. Pearlash was the forerunner of baking soda and baking powder.

Lookin' good. The mixer paddle was extremely "lickable."
Chemical leavening
Crude potash (potassium carbonate), when purified, becomes pearlash. Pearlash  was replaced by another product, saleratus (potassium bicarbonate) later on.

As saleratus became more popular and the use of pearlash waned, people switched to calling saleratus baking “soda.”

Today baking soda is 100% soduim bicarbonate. It adds an instant “lift” to anything that is slightly acidic (that's why you often use soured milk in quick breads). The carbon dioxide is released by moisture in an acidic environment. So it starts to work the second you add it.

Baking powder is a little different. Some gas is made immediately when the powder is added, but the majority of the gas is released after the temperature of the dough increases in the oven. So it causes a longer slower lift. Baking powder contains baking soda, cream of tartar and usually an additional starch.

Don’t have baking powder in your cupboard?
To make your own baking powder at home mix 2 parts cream of tartar to 1 part baking soda. That presupposes you have cream of tartar...  Use as the recipe directs. Baking powder loses its action after 6 months, so unless you bake a lot, never buy a large can.

But back to the cake. This is a good one. Just make sure it's cooked the whole way through. It's a little tricky because of the sugar top and the apple chunks in the dough. But well worth the extra time it may take to bake! I'm having some for breakfast!

Cinnamon sugar is layered in the dough and on top.
Apple Cinnamon Quick Bread
Prep: 12 min  |  Cook: 1 hr to 1 hr 15 min  |  Yield 1 loaf
2 Granny Smith apple, pared and cubed small
1/2 cup + 1/4 cup butter, divided
1-1/4 cups
2 eggs
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp extract of vanilla
5 tsp ground cinnamon, mixed with 1/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and sugar a 9x5 loaf pan. (Neither amount for doing this is in the ingredients list.)

Pare, core and dice the apple. Don’t make the pieces too small or they’ll disappear into the cake. Melt 1/4 cup of butter in a small pan. Sauté the apple with 1 tbsp sugar until the pieces begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Beat together the remaining 1/2 cup butter with the sugar until light. Add the two eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla extract.

This is a hard one to tell when it's done. Check
several places, including down the centre.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix the milk and vinegar together.

Add the flour to the eggs and butter, 1/3 at a time with half of the milk in between additions (1/3 flour, 1/2 milk, 1/3 flour, 1/2 milk, 1/3 flour).

Gently stir in the sautéed apple pieces.

Mix together the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl.

Pour 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cinnamon sugar; then add 1/3 more of the batter and 1/3 more of the sugar.

Pour the remaining batter into the pan and sprinkle the remaining sugar on top.

Bake for between 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean. 

Check all four corners, plus a few spots down the centre. It’s difficult to tell visually if the cake is done because of all the cinnamon sugar on top.

Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack.


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