Breakfast Baking: Better Fast Food
I won't commit to calling breakfast my favorite meal — that all depends on what's for dinner. But my ritual of slowly eating and sipping espresso roast while clicking through online news is a pleasure I hate to skip.
Breakfast has long been touted as the most important meal of the day. It gives you energy and keeps your appetite in check until dinner. Unfortunately, almost no one has time to eat it. One solution to the modern breakfast dilemma isn't faster fast food, but a mainstay of home baking — the quick bread.
The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion (Countryman 2003) defines a quick bread as "a bread leavened with baking powder, baking soda, or eggs (rather than yeast), and put immediately into the oven, rather than rising on the counter first."
All you really need to know, however, is in the word "quick." These baked goods are quick to assemble and quick to bake. They can be sweet, savory, full of fruit and nuts, or plain. They include scones, muffins, biscuits, soda breads, batter loaves and corn breads.
Whether you're a parent rushing kids off to school, an urban dweller dealing with the vagaries of public transportation or a student with an 8 a.m. class, fitting in even a bowl of cereal seems difficult. It's more likely that you will grab a bite at a doughnut shop, drive-through or gourmet coffee bar en route to your destination. As greasy crumbs fall down your shirt, or your hands get sticky with icing, you'll wish you had planned ahead for something better. You'll wish you had made some quick bread.
Quick breads are the friend of the busy breakfast lover. You can bake a batch of muffins or scones in the evening or on the weekend and freeze them to preserve their just-baked freshness. This really works. Pull one out of the freezer before bed or a couple of hours before you want to eat and grab it on your way out the door. Even if you can't help eating on the run, at least you can add some whole grains and nutrients to your homemade goodies instead of buying food that is just dessert masquerading as breakfast. Even commercial bran muffins — at least the ones that taste good — are guilty of fat and sugar overload.
Breakfast baking not only adds nutrition to the morning meal, but it also adds cash to your wallet. Money gurus tell us that cutting out the daily $4 latte is one ticket to financial freedom. Add to your coffee windfall the cash and calories you'll save when you give up that Texas-size blueberry streusel muffin, and soon you'll be rich and thin.
If breakfast baking sounds good in theory, but you question your culinary know-how, fear not. All you need is three basic principles: measure flour correctly, mix with a light hand and don't overbake.
First, fluff up the flour and lightly spoon it into a measuring cup without shaking the cup, which causes the flour to settle and means you'll end up with too much flour and dry baked goods. Then level the flour off with the back of a knife.
Second, be gentle when mixing by hand, and stir just until ingredients are moistened. This prevents a tough texture.
Success with the third principle depends on approaching the task with a suspicious mind. All ovens and baking pans behave differently, so keep a watchful eye, checking a couple of minutes before the shortest suggested baking time. Muffins and scones are done when a toothpick comes out clean and any coloring leans toward golden, rather than burned.
Use the following recipes to start on your way to a life of better breakfasts. They are free of buttery crumb toppings (no greasy shirtfront) and glazes (no sticky fingers), so you can travel without incident. They are moist and filled with flavorful add-ins, so no honey, jam or knives to spread them are required.
They're also sturdy enough to eat with one hand, so you're free to carry your reusable mug of home-brewed coffee in the other. And if you get all the way to your office (or class, or volunteer site) before eating your meal, don't be surprised when co-workers — even the inveterate breakfast skippers — demand samples.
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