I seem to be increasingly fond of dishes with long titles. There’s nothing particularly extravagant about this quickbread (though I must admit, the prep work involved makes it not all that quick), but the title is lengthy because it does have a lot going on. Harvest color from a baked, mashed sweet potato, juicy chunks of apple, a hearty, wholesome boost from the oats, plus a hefty dose of brown butter, buttermilk, cinnamon, and a streusel topping crammed with walnuts and dried apple rings. But I didn’t want to overload you, so sweet potato apple oatmeal bread it is.
This bread turned out to be a lovely little response to October’s Twelve Loaves theme: root vegetables. Upon first reading this mandate, I was a little concerned. I’ve already done loaded potato biscuits. Carrot cake is, eponymously, not bread. Beets and rutabegas and parsnips and all those other decidedly savory tubers I’d welcome in a roasting pan or in a latke just don’t seem like a good fit in bread, yeasted or otherwise.
Los Angeles has recently decided that, since it’s almost the middle of October now, Fall might be okay. It might be acceptable to hover below 80 degrees during the day,* and nights could, possibly, occasionally, fall to the chilly (hah!) mid-50s. This has put me in mind of all the harvest flavors I love which, predictably, takes me to Thanksgiving. Once there, it’s only a tiny hop to the humble sweet potato.
Sweet potatoes are true root vegetables. Unlike taro or ginger, which are technically modified stems, or even the grand old potato itself, which is a tuber but not a “true” root (I know, I was shocked too!), sweet potatoes are the root of the plant.
Thankfully, they are also delicious. I love their mellow, starchy sweetness in savory and sweet applications, but I’d never tried incorporating them into bread before. I knew almost immediately I wanted a quickbread rather than a yeasted loaf, and from there it only remained to pair a few flavors. Apples seemed like a nice match for sweet potato: big, fresh Honeycrisps have been showing up at our Farmers’ Market lately, and their juicy tartness would be a good foil for the dependable mellow of my main player. Oatmeal would bulk up the bread a little, giving it strength to support the onslaught of apple and sweet potato I had in mind. I found an oatmeal quickbread recipe that sounded promising on Flour Child, but things really cemented when I read Irvin’s post on Spiced Brown Butter Apple Walnut bread on his blog Eat the Love.
So, sweet potato, baked rather than steamed or boiled to cut down on moisture, an excessive mound of apples, left in sizable chunks that, when you start to mix them in will seem like far too many, rolled oats to bake into a breakfast-worthy slice, and the usual players – brown sugar and cinnamon and just enough salt – get topped off by a streusel you will want to eat not just on this bread, but on everything. Walnut pieces, more oats, cinnamon for flavor and flour for texture, enough butter to hold things together, and the crowning touch: roughly chopped dried apples that, when baked, dehydrate even more into crispy, gloriously tart-sweet candy. I’m already imagining it on oatmeal, or pancakes, or baked on its own into a take on granola.
This is a moist loaf, and hearty, but not particularly dense. It can’t quite support its own weight, which means slices collapse easily on themselves because they are groaning under the quantity and size of the apples. It is also not terrifically sweet. I was aiming for a breakfast or a mid-morning snack kind of loaf. If you want something more dessert-like, or if you just have a determined sweet-tooth, try increasing the quantity of brown sugar by a few tablespoons.
* This morning’s meteorological news, however, may have made a liar out of me.
Sweet potato apple oatmeal bread
Adapted from Flour Child and Eat the Love
makes one large loaf
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup butter (8 tablespoons or 1 stick)
½ cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup baked, mashed sweet potato (from one medium)
2 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into generous ½ inch pieces (I used Granny Smiths)
2 tablespoons oats
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup roughly chopped walnuts
¼ cup roughly chopped dried apple rings
2 tablespoons softened or melted butter
- If you have not already baked your sweet potato, preheat your oven to 400F, pierce the flesh of the sweet potato a few times with a knife or the tines of a fork, and bake until the potato is evenly soft – anywhere from 35-60 minutes, depending on the size of the root. When done, remove from the oven and cool completely before halving lengthwise and mashing the flesh. Discard the skin (or just eat it – it’s sweet and soft and good for you!).
- Turn the oven down to 350F (or, if you haven’t just baked a sweet potato, preheat it to 350F) and butter, grease, or spray a loaf pan. Set aside.
- Begin by browning the butter. Melt your ½ cup of butter in a small pot over medium-low heat. As it melts, it will foam and sizzle a bit and some scummy stuff will appear on the surface. That’s okay. Water is evaporating and leaving us with a more concentrated product. After a while, little brown bits will begin to form on the bottom. This is what we want, but watch carefully – it takes a matter of seconds for butter to go from perfectly brown to burned. When the brown bits are nice and toasty, turn off the heat and set aside to cool.
- While the butter cools, it’s a good time to make your streusel so you’re prepared later. In a small bowl, combine all streusel ingredients except the butter and whisk lightly together with a fork. Add butter and toss with the fork again or with your fingers until the mixture begins to stick together in clumps. Set aside.
- Now, back to the bread. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. I like to use a whisk for this – it aerates the flour and evenly disperses the leavening agents.
- In a large bowl (or the bowl of your standing mixer), combine the buttermilk, eggs, brown sugar, and mashed sweet potato. Add the brown butter and beat until a soupy, homogenous mixture is formed.
- Add the dry ingredients to this wet mixture in two batches, beating just enough to combine after each. Once the flour mixture is incorporated and you have a thick, stiff batter, fold in the apples using a stiff spatula. It will seem like there are too many for the quantity of batter, but don’t worry. It will all work out.
- Scrape the batter, which might seem more like just battered apple cubes, into the loaf pan. Tap it once or twice on the counter to release air bubbles and help it settle a bit.
- Pack on the streusel.
- Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until the topping is deeply bronzed and a toothpick or knife inserted in the center of the bread comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Since the size and juiciness of your apple chunks may vary, check for doneness the first time after an hour, so you can gauge how much more time you might need.
- If your bread is not done yet but outlier edges of dried apple or walnut threaten to burn, treat this like you’d treat a pie crust: tent the offending areas loosely with aluminum foil to keep them from getting too dark.
- Cool completely before attempting to slice or remove from loaf pan. Trust me.