I’m a devoted fan of quick breads, especially traditional banana bread and zucchini bread. But just about any variation that’s sweet works. My neighbor gives us a cranberry-walnut quick bread every Christmas that’s incredible. A college friend made a pumpkin bread with extra doses of chocolate chips that I still think about to this day. I love having a fresh quick bread in the kitchen, and plan to try a new recipe this weekend with for apples and oatmeal-walnut crumble.
Quick breads are the kind of treat that’s all upside: easy to make, reliably delicious, people pleasing, and totally appropriate any time of day. They might be my favorite basic snack of all time.
But to me, quick bread means sweet bread. So when I first heard about the rising popularity of savory quick breads, I flinched. How about a nice big slice of chorizo-parmesan-parsnip bread with that afternoon coffee? I don’t think so.
Savory quick breads, or cakes sales as they’re called in France, turn our traditional notion of quick breads on their head. They’re still quick, of course, but instead of sweet sugary goodness, there’s an abundance of salty cured meats and olives, melty cheeses, crunchy nuts, and herbs.
The French have long made a classic savory cake with ham and cheese, but it wasn’t until Les Cakes de Sophie was published in 2000 that the idea really came into its own. The author, Sophie Dudemaine, created cakes that combined unexpected cheeses with vegetables like chard, asparagus, and cauliflower, swapped the ham out for bacon, chicken livers, and even scallops and smoked salmon, and incorporated surprises like preserved ginger, wild mushroom, and prunes.
Maybe not a perfect match for coffee or sweet tea, but definitely for wine or cocktails. And that’s how they’re most commonly served in France, particularly as finger food alongside a pre-dinner aperitif. Once I started thinking about savory quick breads in that environment, I suddenly had a new appreciation for the idea.
After a week trying out different savory quick breads, I can say without doubt that they’re a genius happy hour or cocktail party food. My favorite recipe featured bacon and blue cheese, but I also loved a cheesy cauliflower and rosemary cake, and I’m working on perfecting a chorizo and green olive combination.
Warm out of the oven, a slice of savory cake provided a rich, salty contrast to my evening glass of bittersweet Punt y Mes or herbal bianco vermouth. The pairing would work with any similar French aperitif, such as Dubonnet, Suze or Pineau des Charentes, or a glass of dry white wine. It’s an antidote for the harried evening hours between work and dinner.
Once I started making savory cakes, I stopped thinking of them as a surrogate for banana bread or zucchini bread. They opened a whole new world of snacks that transition day to night. Leave it to the French to make a simple cheesy-salty bread feel chic.
Roquefort, Walnut, Bacon Cake
This recipe is flexible, so don’t feel chained to it. Go right ahead and use salami instead of bacon or fontina instead of gruyere, or toss in some fresh chopped herbs if you want to. I make this in a traditional loaf pan, but you can smaller loaves or muffins as long as you reduce the cooking time. If you’re interested in the book that started the savory cake trend, Sophie Dudemaine’s book is available in the United States as Sophie’s Sweet and Savory Loaves.
½ cup bacon, chopped
½ cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
½ cup whole milk
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
1 cup blue cheese, such as Roquefort or Danish Blue, crumbled
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a loaf pan.
In a pan, heat the tablespoon of olive oil, then fry the bacon over medium heat until brown and crispy. Reduce heat to low and add the walnuts. Continue to sauté until the nuts are lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper to taste. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs with the olive oil and milk, then pour into the flour mixture. Stir until the batter is smooth. Then fold in the cheeses and the bacon and walnuts and stir well to incorporate the ingredients.
Pour the mixture in the loaf pan and bake for approximately 40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, and then turn out on a rack to finish cooling.
Serve warm or room temperature, sliced into finger-sized portions.
Photos by Rachel Wisniewski