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Recipe-phile: Sweet bread season has arrived

This week began with a craving for banana bread, which I filled. Then I started thinking of my favorite squash spice bread, and gingerbread and lemon tea cake. It must be the relentless drizzle, but I'm suddenly crazy for those snacking breads, the sweet loaves that take about 10 minutes to make but instantly warm the house and fill the air with sweet spices ... the ones that usually contain just enough vegetable material for us to trick ourselves into thinking they're healthy.

We call them breads, but if you read the ingredient list you'll see something odd: two or three eggs, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups flour ... uh, that's a cake. I know what you might be thinking, the same thing I thought when this obvious truth finally settled in me: If banana bread is really a cake, does that mean I can still butter it? (I vote yes.)

I'm going to dispense with the soliloquy this week and just fill my space with my favorite quick bread recipes, some of them classic and others classic-with-a-twist. These come together so quickly that I really enjoy making them by hand with a heavy bowl and my favorite wooden spoon. Somehow the exertion feels good during the gray rain, and it contributes to the feeling that I just banked enough spent calories to justify a second slice.

Banana-Coconut Bread

Note: you can find unsweetened coconut at 3rd Street Market.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, beaten

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 large, very ripe bananas

1 cup dried coconut (unsweetened)

2 Tablespoons poppy seeds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk the eggs with the oil, sugar and mashed bananas. Stir the banana mixture into the dry ingredients. Add the coconut and poppy seeds and stir to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven for about 50 minutes, or until the bread is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 15 minutes, then turn the bread out onto the rack and let cool completely.

Lemon Yogurt Bundt Cake

3 sticks butter, plus more for the pan, at room temperature

3 cups flour, plus 2 Tablespoons more for the pan

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon fine salt

3/4 cup whole milk yogurt

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon pure almond extract

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon pure lemon extract

3 cups sugar

6 large eggs, at room temperature

Lemon Syrup:

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup sugar

Heat oven to 325°. Generously grease a light-colored 10" tube pan with butter. Add 2 tbsp. flour; turn the pan to coat it evenly with flour, tap out any excess, and set aside. (The inside of the pan should be smoothly and evenly coated with butter and flour, with no clumps or gaps.)

Using a sieve set over a bowl, sift together the remaining 3 cups flour, baking powder, and salt. Repeat 2 more times. In a measuring vessel with a pourable spout, combine yogurt and lemon juice and the almond, lemon, and vanilla extracts. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, cream butter at medium-low speed until soft and shiny, about 2 minutes. Gradually add sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Add 1 egg at a time to the butter mixture, beating for 15 seconds before adding another, and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and alternately add the flour and milk mixtures in 3 batches, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down sides of the bowl; beat just until the batter is smooth and silky but no more.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and firmly tap on a counter to allow batter to settle evenly. Bake until light golden and a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out moist but clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on a rack for 30 minutes. Invert cake onto rack. For the glaze, combine the sugar and lemon juice in a small pan over low heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts. Brush the warm syrup on the cake, in two additions, until all of the syrup has been absorbed.

Saffron and Spice Squash Bread

Adapted from The Best of Shaker Cooking, by Amy Bess Miller and Persis Fuller

Note: This recipe will work with canned pumpkin in place of the squash puree.

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup melted butter

3 eggs

2 cups cooked and strained squash (such as buttercup or butternut)

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled (optional)

Bake the squash with a little butter in its cavity until very soft. Remove the pulp from the shell and puree in a food processor or push through a fine mesh sieve. Cool.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Butter and flour two large loaf pans. Combine the crumbled saffron with 1 ½ Tablespoons water and bring to a simmer. Reduce to a syrup and reserve.

In a large bowl, beat the sugar and melted butter to blend. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating one minute after each. Continue beating until light and fluffy. Beat in pumpkin.

Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and all of the spices. Beat this mixture into the pumpkin mixture, and add the saffron liquid.

Divide the batter between the loaf pans. Bake 70 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted in the middle of the loaf. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Remove and place on wire racks and continue to cool.

Guinness Stout Ginger Cake

From The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern, by Claudia Fleming and Melissa Clark

Serves 8

1 cup Guinness stout

1 cup molasses

1/2 Tablespoon baking soda

3 large eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

3/4 cup grapeseed or vegetable oil

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 Tablespoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 Tablespoon grated, peeled fresh gingerroot

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan and dust with cocoa powder or flour; knock out excess. (The cocoa ensures a dark cake with no streaks.) You may also use a 6-cup Bundt pan.

In a large saucepan over high heat, combine the stout and molasses and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the baking soda. Allow to sit until the foam dissipates.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the eggs and both sugars. Whisk in the oil.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, ground ginger, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom.

Combine the stout mixture with the egg mixture, then whisk this liquid into the flour mixture, half at a time. Peel the ginger (cut off knobs) and grate finely. Measure out 1 Tablespoon and add to the mixture, stirring to combine.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 1 hour, or until the top springs back when gently pressed. Do not open the oven until the gingerbread is almost done or the center may fall slightly. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.