Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Strawberry Breakfast Bread . . . Wake Up and Smell the Berries!


You know strawberry season is coming to a rapid close in Michigan when you head to your favorite "u-pick" farm and the berry patch is almost deserted. One morning this week, my friend Cathy and I went  to Verellen Orchards, a nice spot about a half-hour's drive from Berkley, the small city where we both live.

It was a sunny, breezy day. As we stepped inside the open-air farm stand to check in, the sweet, humid scent of  strawberries saturated the air.

Empty berry baskets in hand, we made our way into the rows of low-growing plants. Aside from one lone woman a short ways away, intently working to fill her basket, we had the patch pretty much to ourselves. The few viable strawberries still in the field were well concealed beneath that distinctive bushy foliage.  I picked less than half of one flat, all in all, and most of the fruit I took was very small, blood red, and incredibly juicy. Many of my strawberries were almost past their prime.

Once I got them home and had a chance to give them all a good close look, I realized I'd have to weed out quite a few and discard them. The next morning, feeling that familiar yen to bake and realizing there was no time to waste in making use of my limited haul, I briskly sorted, cleaned, and trimmed the remaining fruit, then spent a few minutes paging through cookbooks looking for a quick recipe to make good use of what I'd salvaged before it all turned into a fragrant bowl of rose-colored mush.

I soon found one that fit the bill. In adapting it from a formula for strawberry walnut bread, in The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion, I made a number of changes. Chief among them, I left out all of the walnuts. Walnuts and strawberries don't always fraternize successfully, as far as I'm concerned. Flung together in a salad, they have a reasonable shot at getting along, but in baked goods I'm often doubtful about their compatibility.

Also, in terms of adaptations, I used about two-thirds mashed strawberries, along with one-third mashed ripe banana, instead of using strawberries alone. (That languishing banana was starting to resemble a  Dalmatian with no get-up and go. I had to put it to work somehow.) You could, though, use all mashed berries and no banana if you like. Bananas are not mandatory.

Oh, and you'll notice the recipe calls for a tiny bit of lemon oil; this, too, is not mandatory, so don't panic. I realize not everyone has this stuff laying around. If you like, add in a little lemon zest, lemon extract, or lemon juice instead. Or, nix that citrus aspect entirely.

I thought my 13-year old son, Nathan, wouldn't detect the pathetically small amount of lemon oil that I used, but I was wrong. As usual. He has no use for baked goods that contain anything citrusy, and he identified the barely perceptible presence of lemon after about two bites of this bread. He remarked to me, with mild adolescent disdain, "Mom, I can always tell when you put lemon in baked stuff. And I can always tell right away whenever you poison your baked goods with zucchini, too."  Yeah, okay dude. I get it. But no one said anything about zucchini so just simmer down.

Moving on . . . in addition to the alterations above, I adjusted the amount of salt upward (and I used kosher salt), added in a wee bit of baking powder to give the loaf some extra oomph, and last but not least I made the strategic decision to add in two generous tablespoons of whole ground flax-seed meal. You ever use this stuff? I'm kind of a newbie with it, but so far I like it.

Used judiciously, even a little flax-seed meal adds a rich golden color, ups the nutritional benefits (flax is  a mega-supplier of Omega 3, antioxidants, etc.), and lends an interesting dimension to the overall flavor of certain baked goods that white flour simply can't provide. If, though, you couldn't care less about using the ground flax-seed meal (I understand), just leave it out and add in a couple extra tablespoons of white or whole wheat flour. The resulting loaf will just be less golden brown throughout, but I'm sure it'll still be darn tasty.

When all was said and done, I was more than satisfied with this bread, and completely content with the alterations I made. It's a quick bread that's moist but not wet, mildly sweet yet not at all bland, and substantive without being heavy. I topped it off, right before it went into the oven, with a sprinkling of sanding sugar--always a nice touch on this kind of item. This baby can be put together in a flash, and the one loaf that I made finished baking in about 40 minutes.

Strawberry Breakfast Bread

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour, or spray with baking spray, a 9" x 5" loaf pan.

1 and 1/2 cups All-Purpose flour (I used unbleached)
2 Tbsp. whole ground flax-seed meal
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
Scant 1/2 tsp. salt (I used kosher)
A pinch of nutmeg (I used whole nutmeg)
1/4 tsp. lemon oil
2 eggs, large
3/4 cup mashed ripe strawberries
1/2 mashed ripe banana
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used canola
1 to 2 Tbsp. of sanding sugar (or granulated sugar)

Whisk together the flour, flax-seed meal, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg in a large bowl.

In a medium bowl, mix together the eggs, lemon oil, mashed strawberries and banana, and oil.

Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, and fold with a spatula only until all the batter is just moistened.


Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with several pinches of sanding sugar, or granulated sugar. Bake the loaf for about 40 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Check the bread about 20 minutes into the baking time. If the bread appears to be browning too quickly, cover it lightly with foil.

Let the baked loaf cool in its pan, on a rack, for 15 minutes. Remove it from the pan and let it finish cooling on the rack,


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