Pastry chef Sherry Yard gives quick breads a flavorful makeover
Recipes in this Story
Coffee-Cardamom Quick Bread with Praline Crumble
Grapefruit-Oatmeal Quick Bread
Orange-Olive Quick Bread
Ratatouille Quick Bread
How to make Compound Butters
Written and produced by Stephen Exel
Photographs by Peter Krumhardt
Sherry Yard sees stars. With 19 years under her toque as executive pastry chef at Spago, Wolfgang Puck’s famed Los Angeles restaurant, she has created untold grand finales to dinner. She has baked the thousands of edible Oscar statuettes that grace the annual gathering of Hollywood glitterati. She has sneaked a burger to Hilary Swank and shared chocolate cake in the kitchen with Julia Roberts.
But all that banter and batter aside—Yard loves the basics of baking: cakes, cookies, pies, and easy quick breads.
“What isn’t fantastic about a quick bread?” Yard enthuses. “It’s the unsung hero of bread baking.” Her joy over the simplicity of quick breads couldn’t make me happier. Although I’m an enthusiastic cook, I’m a somewhat reluctant baker. Quick breads save my reputation: It’s difficult to mess them up, and they don’t involve yeast, punching, turning, rising, resting, or precision. Sweet versions are an ideal companion to coffee; savory varieties knock the socks off standard dinner breads.
“Quick breads are familiar, creative, different, and approachable,” says Yard. “They inspire my imagination.”
To prove her point, she offers up four quick bread recipes that surpass zucchini or banana bread. Each example is enhanced by a simple-to-make compound butter. “When you let your imagination take over, you can do anything,” she says.
For flavorings, think beyond the ubiquitous vanilla extract, she advises. “Reach a little further into your cupboard, and go for a spice you wouldn’t normally use.”
For example, spiced Persian coffee inspired her Coffee-Cardamom Bread with Praline Crumble. The cardamom pairs with ginger and cinnamon for a heady kick to this coffee- and hazelnut-flavored bread. (The other surprising secret ingredient? Nutella.)
Earthy oatmeal is mixed with the fragrant, sweet acidity of pink grapefruit in a Grapefruit-Oatmeal Bread. This delightful breakfast bread has other treats folded into the batter: pecans, brown sugar, nutmeg, and homemade candied grapefruit peel. The candied peel has another use—the slightly bitter, slightly sweet peels can be served alongside cocktails later in the day.
Trips to a farmer’s market—Yard often ponders what to do with all those vegetables—inspired her Ratatouille Bread. Red sweet pepper, zucchini, summer squash, onion, and eggplant are woven through the buttermilk, yogurt, and goat cheese-based batter. Thyme, basil, and marjoram add herbal flavor to the bread.
Two aromatic fruits of the Mediterranean perfume Yard’s savory Orange-Olive Bread, which owes its moist texture to the addition of olive oil in the batter. “Olive oil and olives have separate, distinct fragrances,” Yard says, “each quite complex. Orange wakes them all up.” Hints of garlic and black pepper complement the fruity flavor of this dinner bread.
Now, after almost two decades at Spago, Yard is stepping out on her own. Later this year she’ll reopen Helms Bakery in Culver City, a historic bakery that delivered Los Angeles its daily bread from 1931 to 1969.
The four quick breads listed here made their debuts at Spago as take-home gifts last New Year’s Eve, but they won’t be disappearing from Yard’s repertoire when she starts her new venture.
“Helms was an L.A. institution,” she says. “We’re very respectful of what was there, but we’re looking toward the future. This will be Americana baking with a Sherry Yard twist.”