Whether baked at retail, in a cafe or at the industrial level, bread, muffins and other non-dessert baked foods offer an invitation to enjoy when they include fruits, nuts or seeds. These plant-based ingredients provide color, flavor, texture and nutrition in the form of fiber, protein, healthful fats, vitamins, minerals or antioxidants that appeal to the growing number of health- and-wellness-seeking consumers who want more out of every bite.

But working with such inclusions and toppings can be tricky, said Kami Smith, director of culinary showcasing, Pecan Deluxe. She said it is important to identify finished product attributes to select the best ingredient formats.

This includes exploring consumers’ expectations of the product, such as the importance of packaging claims like “made with real fruit” or “contains heart-healthy almonds.” Cost constraints, as well as distribution and merchandising stresses, must be factored in.

Shelf-life expectations are critical, too. Fruits often add moisture to batter and dough while nuts and seeds absorb water and can lose their crunch over time. Ingredient format matters.

“When baking bread with nuts and fruits, you have to consider the dough because higher levels of these inclusions can weaken the overall bread structure,” Mr. Davis said. “Some inclusions like ground nuts disappear during mixing or processing. Other inclusions, such as bigger nut pieces and dried fruit, require softening or hydrating before they are added to the dough structure. Depending on the level of inclusions, more dough strengtheners or gluten may be needed to achieve the desired product height.

“Another consideration is the way a high percentage of inclusions and smaller granulation sizes may cause bread to lose volume and become increasingly dense,” he continued. “To maintain a lighter texture, increasing your dough-to-pan ratio will help volume without dramatic increases in dough strengtheners or gluten.”

Fruits, nuts and seeds are conventional bakery inclusions, but there are other opportunities to use them in bakery applications.

For muffins and quick bread, individually quick frozen (IQF) berries and fruits often are preferred because they experience minimal bleeding and deterioration. To get the best results, these fruit pieces should be added during the final mixing stage.

“This minimizes crushing,” Ms. Smith said. “Coloring of the batter should be very low, and the fruit will be evenly distributed in the baked product.”

In general, IQF berries perform well. The same is not true for some other fruits.

“The density of frozen blackberries, raspberries and blueberries is perfect for a muffin or quick bread batter because they suspend well, whereas a frozen peach slice will likely lose suspension in the oven and sink to the bottom,” Ms. Smith said.

One solution is to use frozen diced pieces. Another is to add the fruit in a different format, for example, as part of a streusel topping.

“Opt to use frozen or dried whole fruit rather than slicing fresh fruit,” Ms. Woods suggested. “This prevents bleeding, discoloration, oxidation and moisture migration. The fruit will better maintain its vibrant, appetizing color. Baking with nuts isn’t as tricky, but you need to take into account the intent for the nut to be enjoyed.”

There’s less of an issue when nuts are mixed into the system prior to baking. Nuts and seeds on top of baked foods may add eye appeal but don’t always deliver on flavor and texture.

“Watch the time a nut rests atop a muffin,” Ms. Smith said. “It can be the difference between a stunning roasted nut that expels oils and creates a fragrant experience and one that is just burnt. Nuts and seeds are very high in oils, and not every nut or seed can withstand the heat index of a hot oven for a long time.”

When added to the batter or dough, it is best to use roasted nutmeats to ensure desired flavor, said Ms. Smith.

“If the nutmeats are used as a topper, use raw pieces,” she said. “They will get roasted in the oven.”

For some extra flavor adventure, nuts and seeds can be seasoned, sweetened or even chocolate-coated. Think Parmesan-encrusted pine nuts on top of an artisan garlic herb loaf.

Volume, loaf integrity and consistency can be especially tricky when making swirled bread.

Baking, fruit

“The goal is to get the same amount of filling and swirls in every loaf, but gravity and other production variables lead to inconsistencies,” Mr. Davis said. “Using water spray before the swirl is incorporated is key to a consistent swirl. We use a method of adding flavored filling to the dough in slurry form. A gentle, low speed on the spiral mixer allows for good incorporation of the filling and even distribution.

“Water is also essential when adding nuts and seeds to the outside of the loaf, or enrobing,” he said. “A simple pan of water to wet the dough piece is a big help when rolling the dough piece in nuts or seeds.”

Fruits, nuts and seeds are conventional bakery inclusions, but there are other opportunities to use them in bakery applications. Smokey Waters, director of culinary innovation, Pecan Deluxe, said, “Putting fruits, nuts and seeds in baked goods is a tried and true practice, but there is more room for these items to be used as a topical application on baked goods.”

Kate Leahy, spokesperson, Sunsweet Ingredients, added that quality is critical.

“For instance, nuts need to be shelled in a way that minimizes breakage and are stored in a way that prevents rancidity,” she said. “Some nuts, especially walnuts, are filled with an enviable amount of healthy oils, but they easily turn rancid under improper storage. The benefits of using quality dried fruit is that it lasts for a long time naturally, without preservatives, and can be stored at room temperature.”

Dried plums, also known as prunes, are a versatile fruit for bread and muffins, as they’re not too sweet. In bit and diced formats, they have a pleasant chewy texture. They soften and can streak if a dough is fermented for several hours and then mixed again. This may be a way to add visual excitement to an otherwise plain baked food. This ability for dried fruits to absorb moisture and soften can inspire creativity.

This article is an excerpt from the December 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on fruits and nuts, click here.