The ultimate comfort bake: How to make perfect quick breads at home, according to a pastry chef

Plus, four one-bowl recipes for easy, breezy clean up and smart substitutions to please any crowd

By Joseph Neese

Executive Editor

Published January 30, 2021 6:05PM (EST)

Cinnamon Swirl Quick Loaf (Meghan McGarry/Buttercream Blondie)
Cinnamon Swirl Quick Loaf (Meghan McGarry/Buttercream Blondie)

There's no bake more comforting than a quick breadClean-up is a breeze with these one-bowl recipes, which you can prepare in 15 minutes or less. After you exert minimal effort, all that's left for you to do is pop your mixture into a loaf pan before putting your feet up and letting your oven do all of the hard work for you.

We need no further explanation for why quick breads are exactly what we need in our lives right now. That's why we've turned to  Salon Food resident pastry chef Meghan McGarry of Buttercream Blondie for a master class in one of our favorite bakes. 

"These are the bakes that I keep going back to right now in my own kitchen, because they're cozy, they're homey and they're no-fuss," McGarry tells Salon.

What makes them even more versatile is that you can have a bite of a quick loaf for breakfast or brunch, a snack or even an easy after-dinner dessert (pass the ice cream, please). These bakes work for any and every occasion — and that includes sharing.

"I really love the idea of gifting a quick loaf to a neighbor or a friend right now to make a human connection," McGarry says. "I'll make two and drop the second in the mail for a friend or leave it on a neighbor's porch."

How to ensure quick bread success, every single time

1. Read through your recipe before you start to bake. 

Baking is chemistry, so accurately measuring or weighing your ingredients is key to success. Double-check temperatures and times, too. 

2. Bring your ingredients to room temperature.

As with all other bakes, temperature matters. For example, yolks break up easier and mix better if eggs aren't cold. 

3. These are fuss-free bakes, so substitutions are welcome. 

If you can't find an ingredient, use your creativity. Substitute ingredients using what you already have on hand in your pantry — or just because. 

Four quick bread recipes guaranteed to please a crowd

1. Apple Spice Loaf Cake

Recommended swap: Instead of walnuts, use another popular tree nuts: pecans. 

"You don't need a mixer or a stand mixer. You can whisk the eggs and sugar together by hand," McGarry says of this cake. "Then you bake it a loaf pan just like a quick loaf."

The star of this loaf cake is the Granny Smith apple, which McGarry prefers to use because of its crispness. The remainder of the ingredients enhance the flavor of this fresh fall fruit. Spices, including cinnamon and cloves, provide a hint of coziness. Walnuts lend a nice crunch to every bite. And a splash of bourbon cuts the sweetness while adding a sophisticated layer of warmth. 

Within ten minutes of turning on your oven, your entire house is guaranteed to smell like a trip to your local apple orchard. That's why this is one of those cozy bakes that will become a staple in your recipe wardrobe for years to come.

2. Cinnamon Swirl Quick Bread

Recommended swap: Instead of whiskey, pour an orange liquor (or simply leave the alcohol out).

In her makeover of this retro bake, brown sugar, vanilla, and a hint of whisky combine together like a welcoming hug. The secret weapon is one you may not expect: buttermilk. The addition of dairy yields a bread with robust moisture. At the same time, it balances the flavors and keeps the bake light air. 

But the true star of the show is cinnamon. There's not only a cinnamon swirl running through the center of this beautiful loaf that melts in your mouth but also a cinnamon sugar topping that adds cheer to every bite. The cinnamon sugar swirl looks like a work of art, but you don't have to be a professional pastry chef like McGarry to knock it out of the park. All you do is add a layer of cinnamon sugar mixture halfway through adding the mixture to your loaf pan. Once you slice open the freshly-baked bread, you'll find a gorgeous swirl spinning around the pastry.

As pretty as that swirl may be, you'll reserve the standing ovation for the cinnamon sugar topping. The final step before your pan hits the oven requires topping the loaf with a cinnamon sugar mixture, which transforms into a crunchy topping that is the icing on the proverbial cake. In additional to the light bread and the cinnamon swirl, you get a nice contrast in texture from the crunch throughout every couple of bites.

3. Meyer Lemon Blueberry Loaf

Recommended swap: If you don't have lemons on hand, zest a lime or an orange. (After all, it's blood orange season.)

This loaf, which is one of the most popular recipes ever featured on Salon Food, has a pop of bright flavor guaranteed to wipe away those winter blues. Citrus is a great way to add flavor to loaves, and the zest from the lemon packs a special punch in the flavor department. This particular recipe is powered by lemons, but you can use any citrus you have on hand. Blood oranges or limes work well, too. If you don't have citrus in your fruit bowl? Just eliminate it. 

"This is a recipe I return to time and time again," McGarry said. "It's not a trend. It's not an involved project that takes a whole day. It's simple, and it's good."

This loaf is super adaptable, and not only in terms of ingredients. Eat half of this loaf and freeze the rest, or double the recipe and freeze an entire loaf for a day when the therapist isn't in session. (Or if you don't feel like baking, you can order direct from Buttercream Blondie instead.)

4. Roasted Strawberry Banana Bread

Recommended swap:  If you don't have strawberries (or don't feel like roasting them), leave them out.

If you've ever made any recipe for banana bread before, you'll know this is the best way to use those overripe bananas on your counter up instead of throwing them in the garbage. If you have strawberries that are on their last leg, don't toss them out either.

Roasting this fruit is a great way to revitalize it. It intensifies the flavor and brings out the sweetness, especially when you add the vanilla bean to your pot. McGarry recommends making an extra batch of roasted strawberries, because they're so good you'll be tempted to eat a whole batch before you even throw them into your loaf mix. (Instead, keep this recipe on hand for Valentine's Day.)

If you don't have any strawberries on hand or just don't feel like taking an extra few minutes to roast them today, you can leave them out. The base of this recipe is McGarry's classic banana bread, and it's perfect with only bananas. If you're not feeling fruity or you're trying to please someone with a sweet tooth, try tossing in a cup of chocolate chips instead. No matter which way you go, this banana bread is always a win.

By Joseph Neese

Joseph Neese is Salon's Deputy Editor in Chief. You can follow him on Twitter: @josephneese.

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Baking Breads Buttercream Blondie Food How-to Meghan Mcgarry Quick Bread Recipe