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
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
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.