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Quick breads have evolved as a distinctly different tradition after the introduction of baking powder in 1850. Before that, breads and cakes were leavened with yeast. It has in fact replaced yeast as a leavening agent for cakes almost entirely, but not yeast bread doughs.
What are Quick Breads?
Quick breads cover a wide range, from biscuits and scones, which are made from a dough, to muffins and loaves that are made from a batter. They can be large or small, savory (salty) or sweet. The major thing that identifies them is the fact that they are, as their name implies, quick to make.
Quick-breads come in all TYPES, categorized as POUR OR DROP BATTERS, OR DOUGHS, according to the fluidity of the flour mixture from which they originate, along with its ingredients and mixing methods used to prepare them. I am sure you will recognize familiar recipe-names such as Muffins, Coffee Cakes, Crepes, Doughnuts or Donuts, Dumplings. Loaves or Tea Breads, Muffins, Pancakes, Popovers, Scones, Waffles, and even Unleavened Breads.
The basic ingredients of any quick-bread recipe are all-purpose flour, liquids, typically milk, salt and leavening agent, such as baking powder and/or baking soda. They usually contain added fat from butter or vegetable oil, eggs and sugar, but in varying proportions, making some sweeter and richer. Their batters and dough lend themselves well to flavorful and colorful additions, such as berries, nuts, fruit and dried fruit.
Quick breads are called "quick" because they have to be baked or cooked immediately after being mixed. Key to most recipes are chemical leaveners, baking soda and/or baking powder; as soon as their batters or dough are formed and the leaveners are moistened, they release valuable carbon dioxide bubbles (double-acting baking powder, again, when heated). These, along with air and steam produced during baking or cooking, leaven the recipe. In contrast, yeasted bread requires a slow fermentation process, measured in hours. Although, a few recipes in the quick-bread category, such waffles and pancakes can be made with yeast, they are usually cooked within an hour or two of mixing. Others, such as popovers, rely on steam for their leavening.
What quick-breads also have in common that they have little gluten structure. The Muffin or Two-Bowl Mixing Method is the basic method of preparing many quick-breads, although some can be mixed using other methods, such as the Creaming Method for cakes. This entails mixing all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and salt) separately from the liquid and sugar* ingredients (sugar, oil, egg, milk), and then quickly and gingerly adding the wet to the dry, and folding the two together with only a few strokes. The idea is to not overmix, basically moistening the ingredients and leaving the batter slightly lumpy, with wisps of flour showing. The recipe is then baked, fried or cooked immediately without loss of time so the chemical leaveners do not expend their carbon dioxide gasses. You need be watchful of the repeated quick-bread recipe warnings of "DO NOT OVERMIX" and "DO NOT OVERBAKE."
*SARAH SAYS: I include the sugar ingredients with the wet ingredients.