Quick breads come together in a snap

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photoIozza’s Corn and Bacon Loaf.

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The beauty of quick breads is their ease: mix, bake, take, share. They are sweet or savory, studded with fruits or nuts, and full of flavor and endless possibilities. Our gathering featured four sweet and two savory loaves.

Quick breads are in the same family as muffins and scones, and rely on baking powder and soda for rising. The chemicals in the soda or powder react with acids to produce carbon dioxide, the gas that gives baked goods their lift. Baking powder and soda are not interchangeable though, because baking powder is baking soda mixed with cornstarch and a dry acid.

If you find yourself without baking powder, "The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook" offers this recipe for a passable substitution: Replace each teaspoon of baking powder with 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.

For best results with these recipes, use baking powder and baking soda before their "best by" dates. If baking powder is nearing expiration, check to see if it is still active by mixing two teaspoons of it in a cup of hot water. If the foaming reaction is weak, toss it.

Here are some more tips for perfect loaves:

• Preheat the oven.

• Prepare the nuts and fruit ahead of time.

• Don't overmix the batter. Too much mixing can result in dense, tough loaves because they have not properly risen.

• Tent the loaves with aluminum foil once they begin to brown to prevent overbrowning.

• Loaves that are too compact are a result of too much flour or too much leavening.

• Use a knife — a toothpick is too short — to check for doneness by sticking the blade in the center of the loaf. If the knife blade comes out clean or with a few crumbs attached, it's done.

• Shiny pans reflect heat, but dark pans absorb heat, so baked goods brown more quickly. If using dark pans, lower the oven temperature by 25 F.n Store loaves for 24 hours before slicing. Or freeze them and slice with a serrated-edge knife.

Earl Grey Tea Loaf

Serves 12

6 Earl Grey tea bags

14 ounces dried fruit, such as raisins, golden raisins, cherries, cranberries

1 orange

1 large egg

1½ cups sugar, divided use

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch salt

1 teaspoon quality pumpkin pie spice

1 whole nutmeg, for grating

1 lemon

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Put 4 tea bags in a measuring cup and add 1¼ cups boiling water. Leave to brew for a few minutes, then remove tea bags. In a large mixing bowl, add the dried fruit, grate the zest of the orange over the fruit and add the hot tea. Cover and leave overnight.

Whisk the egg and add to the bowl of fruit with 1 cup sugar. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, pumpkin pie spice and a few good gratings of nutmeg, and squeeze in the juice of the orange. Mix until a doughlike consistency (it might seem a bit dry). Spoon the mixture into a 4-cup loaf pan lined with parchment paper and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until cooked through, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

Put the 2 remaining tea bags into a pan with ¾ cup water and the zest and juice of the lemon. Gently bring to a boil, removing the tea bags after a few minutes. Add the remaining ½ cup sugar and bring to a boil without stirring. Keep it on a steady medium heat so you have a steady boil for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the mixture has reduced by half and you have a golden syrup. Pour this into a measuring cup.

As soon as the loaf comes out of the oven, poke little holes in the top and pour the syrup over the loaf. Once the syrup has absorbed, turn loaf onto wire rack and cool.

Praline-Apple Bread

Makes 1 loaf

1½ cups chopped pecans

1 (8-ounce) container sour cream

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1½ cups finely chopped, peeled Granny Smith apples (¾ pound)

½ cup butter

½ cup packed light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake ½ cup pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan for 6 to 8 minutes, or until toasted and fragrant, stirring after 4 minutes.

In a medium bowl, beat sour cream, sugar, eggs and vanilla with an electric mixer on low speed for 2 minutes until blended. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this to the sour cream mixture, beating just until blended. Stir in the apple and ½ cup toasted pecans. Spoon batter into a greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Sprinkle with remaining pecans. Lightly press pecans into batter.

Bake at 350 F. After 50 minutes, shield the loaf with aluminium foil to prevent excessive browning. Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes.

Remove from pan to wire rack.

Bring butter and brown sugar to a boil in a 1-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly; boil 1 minute. Remove from heat and spoon over the loaf.

White Chocolate Cranberry Bread

Serves 10

6 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¾ cup sugar

8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature

3 large eggs, at room temperature

½ cup buttermilk

Grated zest of 1 orange

¼ cup fresh orange juice

2 teaspoons pure vanilla

1 cup fresh or frozen whole cranberries, not thawed

1 cup toasted, skinned, coarsely chopped hazelnuts

1 cup white chocolate chips

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 F. Lightly butter and flour a 9-by-9-by-3-inch loaf pan and tap out excess flour. Melt the chopped white chocolate in the microwave on 50 percent power for 1 minute, stir. Repeat in 30 second intervals until smooth. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt and baking soda. In a large bowl, beat the sugar and butter with an electric mixer set on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. One at a time, beat in the eggs, beating well after each, and scraping down the bowl as needed.

Beat in the buttermilk, followed by the tepid white chocolate, zest, juice and vanilla. The mixture will look curdled. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture, and beat just until smooth, scraping down the bowl as needed. Stir in the cranberries, hazelnuts and white chocolate chips. Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake until a bamboo skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1½ hours. Let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before inverting and unmolding bread.

Iozza’s Corn and Bacon Loaf

Makes 1 loaf

12 ounces hardwood-smoked bacon, coarsely chopped

1 ear corn, husked

2½ cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1¼ cups whole milk

3 large eggs

2 cups grated sharp white cheddar, divided use

⅓ cup coarsely chopped fresh chives

Salted butter, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Lightly butter and flour a 9-by-9-by-3-inch loaf pan and tap out excess flour. Cook the bacon in a large, heavy sauté pan over medium for 8 minutes, or until browned and crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towels. Set aside ½ cup of drippings to cool.

Slice the corn kernels off the cob. You should have 1 cup.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and cayenne pepper in a large bowl to blend. In another large bowl, whisk the milk, eggs and reserved bacon drippings. To this, add the bacon, 1½ cups cheese, corn and chives, stir. Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture just until blended. Spoon batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle top with remaining cheese. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve with butter.

If baking these as muffins, bake for 18 minutes.