High Altitude Baking: Olive oil quick bread with raisins and walnuts (recipe)
High Country Baking
Editor’s note: High altitudes make cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
This bread is pleasing and understated, with no strong tastes or heavy textures. Instead, it’s well balanced, with a light crumb and mild lemon flavor accented by sweet, soft raisins and bitter, crunchy walnuts. It’s always agreeable, whether served with jams for breakfast — it toasts well — with a mid-morning cup of coffee or with cheeses, olives, grapes and a glass of wine before dinner. The more you nibble, the more you like it.
If you haven’t baked with olive oil, you’re in for a treat; it provides a rich moistness and depth that enhances flavorings. Select one that’s mild or fruity rather than spicy.
Make sure the raisins are soft and pliable. If they aren’t, place them in a small bowl, add a tablespoon of water, juice or brandy, cover and microwave on high for about 15 seconds, until they’re warm and soft but not cooked. Drain, dry on paper towels, and cool before proceeding with the recipe.
Use a light hand when making the batter — don’t beat it when combining the liquid and dry ingredients. Just stir it, and only until blended.
Though you could make a single loaf in a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan, I strongly recommend you make smaller loaves instead; at our altitude, the larger pan may result in bread with a dense, heavy texture.
Olive oil quick bread
(Adjusted for altitudes of 8,000 feet and higher. Make in three shiny, 5 ¾-inch-by-3-inch metal mini-loaf pans or two four-cup capacity shiny metal loaf pans.)
2 ¾ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
½ cup raisins
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
2 large eggs
¾ cup milk
½ cup plus 1 teaspoon mild, extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the long sides and bottom of the pans with nonstick or regular aluminum foil, letting the foil extend beyond the sides to use as handles when removing the baked bread. Grease the exposed parts of the pans and the regular foil with a vegetable oil-flour spray.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar until well combined. Stir in the raisins and lemon zest until evenly distributed. Set aside. In a second bowl, whisk the eggs to break them up, add the milk and olive oil, and whisk until blended. Add this to the dry ingredients, and quickly but gently stir only until they are uniformly moistened and almost lump-free. Add the walnuts and stir them in.
Distribute the thick batter evenly among the pans, filling them about two-thirds full. Smooth and level the tops, and bake until a tester (long toothpick or thin skewer) inserted in the middle of the breads (gently push it all the way to the bottom of the pan) comes out clean and the tops color slightly. For mini pans, start checking at about 32 minutes, 42 minutes for larger pans. Don’t overbake.
Move to a rack. Cool for about 15 minutes, and then use the foil handles to remove the breads from the pans. Let them cool completely, and then immediately wrap airtight (they’ll dry out quickly once cooled). Let them rest several hours or overnight for flavors to blend before cutting and serving. The wrapped breads can be frozen for a month. Serve at room temperature.
Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbooks “Baking Above It All” and “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Bookworm of Edwards and Gorsuch in Vail), is a chef instructor with Colorado Mountain College’s Culinary Institute. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.