Batter breads

Easy comfort food and good for you, too

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Batter breads are great to eat anytime, but especially in the winter, when baking them warms the kitchen as well as the soul.

When my children were young, I tried to limit their intake of sweets. And while that is easier said than done, I found that with batter breads I could satisfy their need to snack with something homemade and manage to sneak in some nutrition.

But when you look for recipes, it can be disappointing. Most banana bread recipes, for example, call for only one banana.

My husband's family hails from South Dakota, where batter breads are common. During one of his family's reunions in the Black Hills, I actually found a recipe for banana bread that called for 4 bananas per loaf.

I would guess that in the old days when bananas arrived out on the prairie, they were sometimes pretty ripe, and those frugal cooks incorporated them into their breads. I've shared this recipe over the years with family and friends to rave reviews. Not only does it taste great, but you feel pretty good eating it knowing it is chock full of nutritious bananas.

While putting vegetables in breads is nothing new, as my husband grew up eating them, they were new to me. I didn't have my first taste of zucchini bread until I was in college. Made by one of my friends, it was dense, moist and not too sweet.

I had never heard of putting vegetables into a cake before, and I was intrigued. Unlike my husband's Midwestern family, I grew up in a Greek family, where combining savory and sweet was unheard of. When I tried to share those kinds of foods with my mother, she was always disapproving.

Greeks made a phyllo pie out of zucchini and feta cheese, or fritters, or just stuffed them with a meat filling -- all delicious but all savory. They would never think to put zucchini in a coffee cake!

As many of you gardeners know, zucchini grows like crazy, and those who grow it are often tortured by it. In fact, in some neighborhoods, you may be afraid to leave the house during harvest, lest someone leave a basket of zucchini on your porch.

Cooks, especially from the Midwest, were always looking for ways to use it up. And so zucchini has made it into casseroles, soups, stews, breads and even chocolate cake. Even if you are not a gardener, zucchini is great because it is available year-round in the grocery store.

But as far as recipes go, I had the same experience as with the banana bread: most recipes called for hardly any zucchini -- just enough to say it was there. The typical recipe calls for a mere cup of shredded zucchini for a loaf of bread or about half of a large zucchini per loaf.

I became obsessed with finding a way to pack a lot more zucchini goodness into zucchini bread. I experimented with my mother-in-law's recipe and discovered that by adding a little more flour and some sour cream for moisture, I could use up about two zucchinis per loaf, quadruple the typical amount, which is good news for zucchini growers. Plus, it's still delicious and extra good for you.

Finally, I am sharing a savory favorite of my husband's family: dilly bread. Dill would have been commonly grown for pickling, and those clever cooks from South Dakota decided to incorporate it into a light, easy and delectable bread.

Although this bread uses yeast and rises twice, no kneading is involved. The dough is sticky, and you just scrape it into a well-greased round baking dish. The surprise is that it contains a cup of cottage cheese, making the bread high in protein. When I made it recently, my husband wistfully said, "It reminds me of my childhood." And he suggested that I not have any so there would be more for him. Needless to say, I ignored his suggestion.We ate it for every meal, including breakfast, until it was gone.

While the origins of these three recipes are from my husband's Midwest family, with a few tweaks here and there, they are as relevant and appealing in Taos as anywhere. I encourage you to give them a try. I hope that they will become "family favorites" in your house as they are in mine.

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LUCY'S ZUCCHINI BREAD

As mentioned below, I do like to add 1/4 cup of vanilla whey protein to this bread, but it is entirely optional. Leaving it out has little effect on the flavor. However, adding it does provide a good amount of protein, making this bread even more nutritious.

4 large zucchini, grated and allowed to drain slightly in a mesh colander

1 cup butter, at room temperature

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup sour cream

4 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

4 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup vanilla whey protein powder (optional)

2 teaspoons coarse sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two loaf pans.

In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and if using, the protein powder. Set aside.

Using a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the sour cream, the eggs and the vanilla, and mix well. Add the zucchini and mix well. Add the flour mixture in batches, scraping the beaters often (you could also mix dry and wet ingredients with a sturdy spatula until well combined.)

Divide evenly between the prepared loaf pans. Evenly sprinkle each loaf with 1 teaspoon of the coarse sugar. Bake for 1 hour, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Using a butter knife, gently separate the edge of the bread from the pan, and remove to cool on the rack for 1-2 hours before serving.

Makes 2 large loaves.

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BANANA BREAD (from South Dakota)

1 cup sugar

1 stick butter, softened

2 eggs, beaten

4 bananas, mashed

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon hot water

2 1/4 cups unbleached flour

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon vinegar

3 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the sugar, the butter and the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Blend in the bananas. Dissolve soda in hot water and add to mixture. Add flour in batches and mix well to moisten. Combine vinegar and milk; blend in well.

Pour into a greased loaf pan. Bake about 60 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Makes 1 loaf

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OLD FASHIONED DILLY BREAD

1 package yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water

1 cup cottage cheese (heated to lukewarm)

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon instant minced onion, or 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh onion

1 tablespoon soft butter

2 teaspoons dill weed

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg

2 1/2 cups flour

Butter and coarse salt

Soften yeast in water. Combine in mixing bowl cottage cheese, sugar, onion butter, dill seed, salt, soda, egg. Add yeast. Add flour to form a stiff dough, beating well after each addition.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cover mixing bowl and let rise. Scrape into greased 11/2- to 2-quart casserole. Let rise again for 30-40 minutes.

Bake 40-50 minutes, until golden. Brush with butter and sprinkle with coarse salt.

Allow to cool before removing from baking dish. Cut in wedges to serve.

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