One of the most beautiful things about the holidays is that all our conventional markers blur. Lazy mornings stretch on. People drop by unexpectedly. Tea and coffee are made. You play cards and Monopoly and do the crossword. You stay in your jammies all day. Appropriately, the line between breakfast and lunchtime—breakfast and dessert, too—blurs. There are the cinnamon rolls and French toasts and leftover slices of pie, all breakfasty indeed, but it’s the quick bread that best occupies this middle space. Good in your jammies, good with coffee, and good with company, quick breads are far more cake than bread. They are, for the most part, decidedly sweet, tender and moist, and leavened not with yeast but with baking powder or soda or both. And they bake up so quickly and with so little fussing that they’re ideal for last-minute holiday brunches and gifts for your hosts or coworkers—even if you’re “not a baker.”

Let’s talk for a minute more about their fusslessness: Quick bread recipes are hard to mess up, which means you can play and play and play, and your resulting loaf will be, more often than not, happy to play along. Use the recipe below as a base to take your bread from lemon poppyseed to panettone-inflected to classic banana. Want something more chocolatey? Substitute cocoa powder for some of the flour, strong coffee for some of the milk, and add a big handful of chocolate chips. If you’re looking for something whole-grainy, use whole wheat flour, buttermilk, and the smallest amount of sugar, and then add nuts and seeds to your heart’s content. (And don’t forget to play!)

Extra-Customizable Quick Bread for Any Occasion

  • Yields: 1 9x5-inch loaf
  • Cook Time: 50 minutes

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F and grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan. Set aside.

  2. Combine the eggs, milk, oil, vanilla extract, sweetener, baking powder, and salt, stirring until completely incorporated. If you’d like to add any zests or spices, do so now, stirring well. Gently stir in the flour and any larger additions (like oats or nuts), stirring until just combined—too much stirring will lead to a dense loaf! 

  3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and sprinkle something—coconut flakes, pumpkin or sesame or sunflower seeds, oats, demerara sugar—over the top, if you like. Bake, turning once halfway through, for 35 to 50 minutes. (The time will vary based on the kind of flour you use, among other things.) Remove from the oven when the top is golden and firm to the touch, and a knife or toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

  4. Let cool in the pan until cool enough to handle, then remove by running your knife around the sides, lifting up gently, and carefully flip the pan over and tip the loaf out. Try your hardest to let it cool completely before slicing.

  5. The bread will keep for 3 to 4 days at room temperature—but my favorite way to store quick bread is sliced in a zip-top bag in the freezer (for up to 3 or 4 months), so that all I have to do when I want a piece (or am scrambling for breakfast in the morning) is to pull out a slice and toast it.


More Things to Play With

Spices (think cinnamon, nutmeg, five-spice, allspice, ground ginger—and start slow)

Espresso powder (especially good with chocolate—and in banana bread)

Zests (start with the zest of two lemons, limes, or tangerines, or one grapefruit or navel orange)

Additions of nut butter or tahini

Swirls of jam 

Layers of streusel

Top the whole thing off with glazes! A few suggestions to get you going:

All-purpose flour + whole wheat flour + coconut oil + coconut flakes + almond extract + almond milk

Whole wheat flour + olive oil + tangerine zest + currants

All-purpose flour + rye flour + brown butter + brown sugar + oats + pumpkin seeds