Quick Guide to Quick Breads

Quick breads should be just that—easy to prepare and
baked soon after being mixed and shaped.


A quick bread is a chemical-leavened product made from a batter or dough-based formula. The leavening actions result from the production of CO2 and internally produced steam. Examples of quick breads include muffins, biscuits, scones, soda bread and loaf-cake-type breads such as banana-nut.

Batter vs. Dough

The basic difference between the batter and dough formulas is the amount of liquid in each. A batter is more fluid in texture because it contains a higher percentage of wet-type ingredients such as milk, buttermilk, sour cream, eggs, egg whites and sweeteners. Batter needs to be baked in a pan with side walls, which provide the lateral support needed during the baking process. These characteristics can lead to a longer baking time, until the sides of the product begin to pull away from the walls of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. A batter-based item generally cannot be shaped without a pan that has side walls.

A dough-based quick bread contains more dry ingredients than one from a batter, so it can be handled by rolling and cutting out the desired shape. Because it is a dough form, the product generally holds its shape and does not need a side wall pan—a cookie sheet or sheet pan will suffice.

baking powder and baking soda

Let’s get back to the leavening actions. The word “quick” is associated due to the production of CO2 gas commonly created in the mixture. This is accomplished through the use of baking powder or baking soda in contact with an acid-based ingredient. Once the presence of the correct “catalyst” is present (moisture or heat), the chemical reaction will occur, producing CO2 and leavening the mixture.


Please remember that baking powder and baking soda are not the same! Baking powders contain a combination of special dry acids, baking soda and a starch substance to keep those two from reacting while in the box. Always make sure that the baking powder is gluten free—don’t assume. The main concern is with the word “starch.” That can mean any type of starch. You can also consider making your own baking powder. Remember these numbers: 2-1-1. That’s for 2 ounces of cream of tartar, 1 ounce of baking soda and 1 ounce of cornstarch. These numbers are based on weight, not volume, and this recipe produces 4 ounces of homemade baking powder, which should work well for you—with one exception. That is, the homemade baking powder is only a “single-acting” type of baking powder. Most commercial powders are “double-acting.” You can use the homemade baking powder in quick breads that you are going to bake right after mixing and shaping, but not for storing the unbaked mixture in the refrigerator or freezer before baking.

Baking soda is an alkaline substance that’s actually great for many household cleaning duties. It will react eventually with many of the low-pH ingredients in a recipe, such as buttermilk, sour cream, citrus juice, etc. Be sure to keep the baking soda away from those ingredients, because it can begin to react before you know it. Always sift and mix it in with the dry ingredients.

If a recipe has too much baking powder or soda, the final product can look and taste strange. Measure these ingredients with great care.

gluten-free quick breads

In regards to gluten-free versions, I make my recipes with more liquids. So I either consider adding extra guar or xanthan gum to tighten up the mixture or just accept the fact that I have to use a pan with side walls, even for many of the dough items. Of course, without gluten, lateral support is missing. I make gluten-free Irish soda bread by placing the wet dough in a parchment-lined pie tin. Then I cover the surface with an equal mixture of granulated sugar and a gluten-free flour, which helps to dry the top surface.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to bake a quick bread item a bit longer to allow for the moisture to travel out. Happy baking!

Richard Coppedge Jr. is an award-winning chef and professor of baking and pastry arts at The Culinary Institute of America. He is the author of Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America: 150 Flavorful Recipes from the World’s Premier Culinary College and Baking for Special Diets.


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