Monday, November 17, 2008

A Handmade Christmas: Baking

One of my favorite ways to give handmade gifts is with food. Those who know me understand why. Baked goods are so warm and comforting and for me, it is a gift from the heart. I know that preparing baked goods can be quite time consuming and can take all the fun out of the gift giving, so I thought I would share some recipes that are quick and easy, as well as some tips on packaging and presentation. As my mother taught me, presentation is everything. You eat with your eyes first. And a beautifully packaged item will complete the gift. I'll save that for another post.

Why Quick Breads?

Quick breads are a type of bread, typically sweet, that are made using a liquid form of fat, like oil or melted butter. They don't require yeast, rising time, kneading, or even creaming butter and sugar like cookie recipes. They can be made into loaves or muffins and are the perfect recipe for gift giving. Cookies are fun, but oh so tedious sometimes. Whip up a batch of quick bread and you'll have several gifts done in no time. And even better, once cooled, the bread can be wrapped in plastic or zip top bags and frozen for up to 2 months. Spend an afternoon baking before the holidays season gets rushed and crazy, and you'll have it done before you have time to panic. If anyone has received baked goods from me for the past two Christmases, they were all frozen at one point. Trust me, if they're wrapped well, it makes no difference and it will keep you from pulling your hair out at the last minute. Now that you know all my secrets, here's a great recipe for my favorite bread. Don't let the zucchini scare you, it's sweet and delicious. Trust me, just try it.

Zucchini Bread
3 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 TBS vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups grated zucchini (approx. 2 med. zucchinis)
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup pecan, toasted and finely chopped

Mix all ingredients in the order given. If you have a food processor, you can save time by grating the zucchini using the shredding disk attachment or just do it by hand on a box grater. It's only two zucchinis. For the pecans, unless you have an allergy, don't leave these out. They are toasted and finely chopped (again in a food processor or chopper if you have one). You could substitute walnuts, though. They are so finely chopped and hardly distinguishable in the finished bread, but give so much flavor and moisture. It's a texture thing, trust me. I'm a professional : )

Spray your pans with a liberal amount of nonstick spray. You will need it. This recipe makes 2 regular loaves or 4 mini loaves. It will also make 18-24 muffins depending on the size you use. Just remember to fill only about 2/3 full. It will rise.

Bake at 350 F for 50-60 minutes for large loaves, 40-45 for mini loaves, and 20-25 minutes for muffins. Check the bread 5 minutes before the earliest time, just because all ovens are different. You just want a toothpick inserted in the middle to come out clean. Let cool for 5-10 minutes in the pan and use a nonstick spatula to help remove from pans. Let cool on paper towels until they reach room temperature before freezing.

Happy baking!

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