Manipulating ingredients in recipes to adhere to current recommendations to reduce fat, cholesterol and sodium in the diet can present a problem for cooks. With quick breads, for example, changing the fat and calories in recipes may produce considerably different results than the average cook expects.
Even for those with a working knowledge of food chemistry--the how and why of combining ingredients to achieve desired results, such as the specific reasons for folding, creaming, beating ingredients in well or one at a time and the proper ratio of fat, liquid, dry and leavening ingredients--the desire to have one's cake and eat it too presents quite a problem, indeed.
Today's cook wants to make muffins and quick breads that are light and airy while wholesome and still delicious: This is a scientific accomplishment, at best.
For the purposes of this column, quick breads will be defined as those sweet batters that usually wind up as muffins or in 9x5-inch loaf pans and typically include some kind of vegetable or fruit (such as pureed bananas). Technically, however, the term quick bread can be used to describe popovers, cream puffs, biscuits and waffles--those breads or bread products that are made without yeast.
Forming a Workable Batter
In muffin-type quick breads, flour and liquid are combined in a ratio of 2 to 1 that forms a workable batter. It is based on the following formula: 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 cup liquid, 2 tablespoons fat, 1 egg and 2 tablespoons sugar. The average recipe adheres to this precisely, varying only the type of flour and amounts of butter, sugar and salt--the trouble makers from a nutritional standpoint.
The flour is essential, but the type selected--whole wheat, all-purpose, cake, self-rising, rice, rye, corn, bran, oat or others--determines the texture of the final product. All-purpose, cake and pastry flours give the lightest texture, whole wheat, bran (and other grains with the bran layer still intact) usually result in more coarsely textured products.
Water or milk provides moisture (in the form of steam) to the batter and although whole milk is usually called for, skim or buttermilk made from skim milk can be substituted without changes in the bread.
The salt and sugar too can be adjusted in recipes. They are provided to enhance the other ingredients. But the fat, which also contributes a great deal to the light texture of the end product, is generally the one health advocates want to cut back on, if not eliminate entirely.
The problem begins when, for health reasons, a combination of whole-grain cereals and flours substitute for all-purpose flour in diet recipes. Add to this a decrease in the eggs, less oil or butter and sugar--all of which are tenderizers. The result: adapted recipes for quick breads that are significantly more sturdy than those that follow the standard formula. They also tend to be drier and more crumbly.
Elasticity in Batter
Sugar also has a tenderizing effect. It aids in the incorporation of air into the batter. Eggs, which contain protein, contribute elasticity to the batter as well.
To accommodate healthy additions or reductions in these tenderizing ingredients, one suggestion is to substitute oil for the butter. Another is to replace one whole egg with two egg whites. It is easy to omit or use only half the required amount of nuts called for in a recipe and substitute raisins and other dried fruits that are good sources of iron. Unsweetened fruit juice can replace some water called for and simultaneously lend sweetness, thus reducing the need for extra sugar. Instead of substituting the entire amount of white flour with brown, start with a gradual substitution--half white, half brown, for instance--this will produce a product that is quite similar to the original. Substitute much more than that and the taste and texture begin to change.
Keep in mind that a quick bread, even one that offers as much as 250 to 300 calories per slice, which it derives from fiber-rich whole grains and fresh or dried fruit, is still a better nutritional choice than prepared snack cakes, candies and cookies that exchange virtually nothing for their high fat and sugar calories.
THREE GRAIN BANANA BREAD
2 large ripe bananas
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Slice bananas into blender and process until pureed. Combine flours, cornmeal, baking soda and salt. Cream honey and brown sugar with butter until light, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs until blended. Beat in 1/3 flour mixture alternately with bananas and buttermilk. Continue folding ingredients together, ending with flour mixture. Fold in raisins and nuts.