1. My grandmother's old banana bread recipe called for buttermilk or SOUR CREAM as the liquid. I've taken that a step further and will also use YOGURT sometimes (especially good if you find a fruit flavor that matches the bread). (and if you want to intensify the flavor, you could use some flavored liquid coffee creamer for about 1/4 of the liquid called for ~ then use the same coffee creamer in the glaze.)
2. Since I never use buttermilk except for baking, I keep a tin of POWDERED BUTTERMILK in the pantry ~ to make up as needed for recipes. You can find it where the other powdered milk is at the grocery store (usually near the bottom shelf).
3. My husband is diabetic, and I've found that I can substitute SPLENDA for sugar in just about any sweet bread recipe. I'll use brown Splenda or plain white Splenda (NOT baking blend, which is concentrated) ~ in equal amounts of the sugar called for in the recipe. If you use Splenda though, you should add 1/2 tsp. baking soda to the recipe (in addition to any other amount of baking soda called for in your recipe).
4. Most of my breads are made in disposable foil pans, since I ship most of them to customers. But, if I make it for home, then I'll line my pan with parchment paper ~ extending a few inches over 2 sides ~ and spray the entire pan (plus paper) with non-stick BAKING SPRAY (which contains flour). When the bread is done and cooled, it makes it so easy to pull it out of the pan by the paper "tabs".
5. BANG the pans down flat onto your counter once (or twice) before baking. This will help break any air bubbles inside the batter, and you won't have oddly shaped bread tops when it's baked.
6. I always put my bread pans onto a rimmed baking sheet, to catch any run-over during baking.
7. The absolute MOST IMPORTANT thing (so you don't have that hard, dry thick outside that most people have when they bake sweet breads) is to REDUCE the baking time from your recipe! (I don't know why nearly every recipe has you over-baking your bread!) I'll set the time for 10 minutes less than the recipe calls for, and test it with my cake tester. It usually needs 4-5 minutes more, but I want to be sure I don't over-bake it (and some breads bake faster than others) ~ but that's still 5 minutes less than your recipe said! (I've found that mini-loaves usually take 35-40 minutes ~ large loaves take about 40-50 minutes .... I've never found a recipe that actually takes a full hour, although many recipes tell you to bake your bread that long.)
8. TEST your bread to see if it's done. It should start pulling away from the sides of the pan. A cake tester should come out clean. (Don't use a toothpick because they're too short to get down into a large loaf pan.) If you don't have a cake tester, I bought some small packs of turkey trussing stuff for about $1 (in the bargain bin after Thanksgiving) ~ they have twine (to keep for something else or throw away), but also 6-8 thin, sharp metal sticker-thingies which work perfectly as cake testers!
GLAZE ** I almost always glaze my sweet quick breads! Not only will it keep the bread softer and fresher for longer, but it's that little extra touch that makes your bread just that much better than anyone else's!
9. I use a small deep bowl and a small whisk for my glaze. I start with about 3/4 cup of powdered sugar, then whisk in liquid 1 tsp. at a time until it's smooth and my desired glaze consistency. (thinner for brushing it on ~ thicker if I want to drizzle it later so that it stands out ~ sometimes I'll brush the thin glaze on hot bread, then whisk in more powdered sugar and drizzle a design on top when the bread is cool. ) ** For SUGAR-FREE: substitute 1/2 cup plain white Splenda + 1/4 cup cornstarch for the powdered sugar **
10. I keep a variety of flavored liquid coffee creamers for glazes, but will also use milk, coffee, or liquor (rum, brandy). If you want chocolate, I add about 1 TB dark unsweetened cocoa powder (I only buy dark) to the powdered sugar, plus about 1 tsp. dark or sugar-free chocolate syrup ~ then the liquid whisked in as needed.
11. If you brush/drizzle the glaze on HOT bread, it will be clearer (translucent) ~ and will drip down the sides and into the cracks better. If you brush/drizzle on cooled bread, the glaze will be opaque (white or lightly colored).
12. I always drizzle/brush glaze on the HOT breads into any cracks on top and down the sides of the bread (right next to the pan). (Don't skimp on the glaze that you put down the sides and corner of the bread! Just pile it in there!) If your bread rose straight up, you might need to brush those exposed sides with glaze too. This will keep the sides and crusts of the bread soft and help to seal in the moisture, so your bread stays fresh and tender longer. ** of course, it's always fun to put some seasonal sprinkles on top too! If you put them on the glaze as soon as you glaze it, the sprinkles will stick **
FREEZING and SHIPPING **
13. I put a piece of waxed paper or bakery tissue over the top of each loaf. Then wrap each loaf securely in plastic wrap. Then, into a freezer baggie they go!