Cheesy Quickbread

For the past month, this house (well, just me really) has sort of been caught up in quickbread-making madness: dark spicy molasses, moist banana, cherry almond, blueberry, chocolate... And now with Autumn full upon us, how else am I to combat my longing for the return of more sweltering days but to embrace the season with a happy favorite: pumpkin?

Quickbreads/muffins are really just a rougher cousin of the cake and thus deplorable breakfast food--my deplorable breakfast food of late. But they're sturdy and survive freezing nicely; thus, if you're someone like myself, who doesn't live with a big family but likes baking, you won't have to eat an entire loaf of banana chocolate chip bread in two days. Although of course you can if you want to. Hmmm, banana chocolate chip, fragrant golden cake with glistening dots of melted bitter chocolate...

Ah...right. Anyhow, my recent quickbread frenzy was born of three factors: (a) I kept finding new tempting recipes; (b) quickbreads are, without contest, the easiest thing to whip up when you're craving something comforting and hot out of the oven; and (c) I had a lot of excess sourdough starter.

To expound on (c), feeding a sourdough starter means mixing in enough flour and water that the original volume is doubled, and I have to do this a couple of times to really wake up my starter after it's been all quiet and dozy in the fridge. This may lead to excess starter on my hands. If I'm lazy busy, I might flush excess starter down the toilet--don't want to choke up the sink and give my husband one more reason to hate my starter--though it pains me to subject even part of my starter to such an ignoble end. I'm also a frugal girl at heart, and flour in Japan is NOT cheap. Thus my extra starter usually ends up in a pancake or quickbread recipe that requires baking soda--the baking soda reacts with the acid in the starter and you get nice, airy baked goods with minimal messing about. After all, I'm supposed to be conserving my energies for making bread, the reason I pull out my starter in the first place.

But more compelling than practical or miserly motives, quickbreads made with sourdough starter are incomparable. I don't want to get all rhapsodic about the subject, but truly I don't feel any real craving for the regular store-bought stuff now that I've had homemade sourdough quickbread. For one thing, although I don't know the scientific whys behind this, I can get away with using very little fat and sugar. To me, there is nothing worse than store-bought muffins that are so syrupy the surface is gummy, and your fingers get all tacky from the briefest contact. Yet what is more pleasurable than tearing into a warm, fluffy muffin with your bare hands? Using sourdough starter, I always get an extremely moist crumb and the most gorgeous, thin but crunchy crust. Roooooo (that is the sound of happy sensual recollection).

For anyone who is worried, I've never been aware of any discernible "sourdough taste." However, if you do want that tang, you can mix the ingredients together minus the baking soda, and let the batter sit overnight; then add the soda just before cooking. One example of this, which I myself am dying to try if only I were to come into the happy possession of a waffle iron, is Nancy Silverton's recipe for crispy sourdough waffles, attempted and reported upon by Alberto of the really nice food blog Il Forno.

Back to my account, and to finally get to the recipe part for the love of god. I was beginning to get a little quickbreaded-out however, when I came across a recipe for a bacon and cheese muffin. Having never had a savory muffin, to my recollection, but with yet again excess starter on my hands, I decided to give it a go.

...with moderate variations, of course:
-made a quickbread because the only pan I own is a loaf pan
-omitted the bacon
-used larger cubes of cheese (not just shredded)
-altered amounts of certain ingredients, and added new ones, to suit my taste

This quickbread was totally gratifying fresh out of the oven, very moist (due in part to the shredded cheese, which completely melts away) but light in texture, each bite accompanied by a little wreath of thyme-infused steam. Even for people who are not ordinarily sweet-muffin fans, this is a fun change from dry toast for breakfast.

The only "problem" for me was that I wish the cheese hadn't melted so completely as to be indistinguishable. Often where the larger gouda chunks had been, only little holes and vaguely cheesy-ish bits remained. I am guessing that gouda has a low melting point. Sorry, not a cheese expert.

One last, rather big lightbulb that popped over my head this morning: I think flecks of olives would be marvelous in this quickbread. I once had an olive cake at a Greek buffet that had potential, but the cake was really too sweet, clashing with the briny black olives. My mouth didn't know whether it was eating dessert or what. But here, the aroma and bite of maybe a 1/4 to 1/3 cup of chopped olives would be perfect.

Gouda Thyme Quickbread
[1 loaf, using 9-inch loaf pan]

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup shredded gouda cheese
1/4 cup gouda cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 egg
200ml sourdough starter*
1/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tsp fresh thyme
1/4-1/3 cup finely chopped olives**

*For this recipe, I fed the starter oatmeal before using it. I've never encountered anyone else feeding their starter oatmeal, but I do this for quickbreads because I feel the oatmeal contributes toward a moister and tastier quickbread, and feeding it to the starter a few hours before baking gives the oats a chance to soak up some moisture and fully expand. Feel free to feed your starter regular flour however.
**As I wrote earlier, I did not actually use olives but I will the next time I make this and I'm positive it will be good.

1. Get your loaf tin ready: grease it, line it, whatever. (For this recipe, I wasn't in a greasing mood, so I just kind of sloppily pressed a rectangle of tin foil into the bottom of the pan. Surprisingly, my quickbread popped out cooperatively after baking.)
2. Preheat oven to 200C/400F.
3. Dump into bowl: cheese, sugar, salt. Sift on top: flour, baking powder, baking soda.
4. In separate bowl, beat together: egg, sourdough starter, milk, oil, thyme, olives.
5. Gently add flour mixture to egg mixture.
6. With a whisk, stir gently just a few times. Then, holding bowl in one hand, steadily turn it one way while making a "scoop and fold over" motion with the whisk in the other direction to get to any unmixed areas at the bottom and sides of the bowl. Don't go overboard, but make sure there aren't wide stretches of dry flour visible. You can use the flecks of olive as a guide to see if things have been adequately mixed.
7. Pour into pan. (If you are reading this through once before jumping into actually making the quickbread, you can save a few tablespoons of shredded cheese to sprinkle over top, or you can shred a few extra tablespoons. If your batter's already waiting in the pan as you read this, forget the cheese topping, try a generous smattering of ground black pepper.)
8. Bake in oven about 50 minutes or until skewer inserted into middle comes out clean. (I noticed my cheese was getting quite brown, so I covered the whole thing with tin foil 15 minutes before it was done.)
9. Let rest on wire rack 10 minutes before unmolding.
10. Devour completely while it's hot, fluffy, and delicious; or if you insist on pacing yourself, allow to cool, slice up, and freeze.

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Hey, you know what would be a good thing to try to make next? Remember that rosemary olive cake at Cicada? Well, last time I went (about two months ago) they don't have it any more. Now it's some thyme cake, which for me is kind of weird.

I think combined with your sourdough starter, you can make a very fluffy and flavorful rosemary cake!

10/19/2004 12:41:00 PM  

Hey Lynn,

I wasn't kidding about the "quickbread-making madness" overtaking the house. The quickbreads mentioned at the beginning of this post were only a partial list.

Yup, made rosemary bread. Rosemary banana bread to be precise. And twice because of an initial disaster. I got pictures and everything. Maybe will write about it some day. I think I even told you about it. It was good, but the rosemary had a very strong, almost astringent aroma that wasn't there in the Cicada cake. I don't know what I did wrong.

I guess I could try a savory rosemary bread, but I really loved the taste of rosemary in something sweet. Maybe I will write to the eGullet forum and ask if anyone knows.

10/19/2004 03:03:00 PM  

I also tried a chocolate gingerbread that was a definite failure. The chocolate seemed to muffle the spicyness and the spices did the same to the chocolate. Two strong flavors battling it out. But I've heard of pairing chocolate and ginger before. It is not unusual. Again I wonder what went wrong.

10/19/2004 03:06:00 PM  

Looked what turned up in my mailbox today! A recipe combining chocolate and ginger


Although the picture looks more like a muffin than a cobbler. but a hot cobbler with vanilla icecream is so yummy.

Urrrgh, I should just quit my job now so I have enough time to fulfill my every baking fantasy!

10/21/2004 01:44:00 PM  

Oh, please please try this recipe. I really want to know if there is something wrong with my recipe or if perhaps chocolate and ginger shouldn't be baked together (for those who like strong flavors). Perhaps it's just because I like my ginger to be really spicy.  

Posted by Rachel

10/22/2004 04:05:00 PM  

Hi, I live in Japan... two and half years now. I love it. I was looking for recipes and new ways to use my sourdough starter for muffins and quickbreads... you mentioned chocolate chip and my mouth watered... how do you do it?

from Cara Koehler

3/22/2007 04:04:00 PM  

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