Some food, some drink.
Building a Better Zucchini Bread
Abstract: In the technology enthusiast sense of the word, I love to “hack” recipes. I can't help myself. The need to change at least one thing in a recipe is pretty much a compulsion. The latest rework is good ol' zucchini bread. To a standard recipe, we double the zucchini to a full pound, swap that bland 'salad oil' out for olive oil, and load it full of raisins, dates and walnuts. The outcome is a loaf of quickbread with a light muffin-like crumb that is forever-moist; and serious flavor that all but insists you put the butter back in the fridge.
Purpose: 'Tis the swan song of the summer
vegetable season. Thus, it just wouldn't be proper if I didn't
shoehorn in one
Everyone with a recipe box has a zucchini bread recipe. You know -
It's that one that's been handed-down to you from someone that
hand-copied it from someone else who clipped it out of a newspaper
or magazine which sourced it from any one of a zillion cookbooks.
I've got a few of those myself; but this year, I've decided to wipe
the slate clean. We're getting back to square-one and rebuilding a
tried and tested recipe into a new classic.
One of my Aunts turned me on to an extension publication from the University of Alaska Fairbanks that has just about every standard zucchini preparation under the sun. As I hadn't done a zucchini bread yet this year, I decided that the UAF's printed word might be a good place to start browsing. The recipe was solid and safe, but I figured a bit of incremental tweaking would only serve to improve it. After the third batch, I settled on a result that shrinks two behemoth quickbread doorstops into six mini loaves, incorporates twice the vegetables, and also is bettered with the added flavors and textures of raisins and dates. Additionally, we ditch the plain-Jane cooking oil for olive oil so as to impart a more complex flavor with the hope of raising your HDL a bit in the process.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Preheat oven to 350F
In a mixing bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. In the stand mixer (using a completely different and empty bowl), combine sugar, vanilla and oil and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add eggs and continue beating on medium for another two minutes. Reduce speed to stir and alternately add scoops of the mix of dry ingredients and grated zucchini. Once the dry and zukes are both integrated, add the raisins, dates and walnuts.
Coat six non-stick 5.75 x 3 inch mini loaf pans with a spritz of cooking spray and fill 2/3 full (~ 12 oz by weight) with batter. Sprinkle each with a heaping tsp of demerara sugar, and bake for 40 - 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let rest at least an hour before de-panning.
- We're down-sizing the loaves for
three reasons (and
here are the properly-sized pans if you're lacking) -
- Over an hour in the oven for anything with that much sugar is generally a guaranteed ticket to burnt crustville (by way of raw-middle junction).
- Reducing surface area also decreases baking time. Do you really wanna run your oven any more than you have to in the late summer?
- Smaller portioning allows you to more easily share your squash-laden masterpiece with friends, family and co-workers (or if you're stingy, a smaller loaf freezes nicer).
- The original recipe tells you to peel the zucchini before grating. I say, “What the hell for?” As usual, just make sure to keep the seeds and pith out. There are better ways to get your fiber.
- Put that top-shelf olive oil back. Your fancy-pants, first cold press stuff is no good here. Though extra-virgin oils have more of the good stuff that keep the cholesterol in check, the stuff labeled “refined”, “light”, or “light-tasting” has a flavor that is less-overwhelming.
- Although the end-product has the mouth-feel of a muffin, the technique to build the batter has more in common with cupcakes. We're beating the hell out of the wet ingredients to integrate completely and create lots of little bubbles; then alternating the addition of dry goods with the zucchini to ensure the texture remains consistent.
- The demerara garnish is optional (and a bit of a baked-goods parlor trick), but I guarantee the first time you make it without, folks will notice it's missing.
- Spritzing each pan with a bit of cooking spray should be sufficient to ensure these things de-pan from a mini nonstick loaf pan. That said, for best results you'll want to let them cool for an hour or two in the pan before running the reverse edge of a butter knife between loaf and pan.
- I'm not gonna say it's critical, but it doesn't hurt to have those little pans on a Silpat-lined sheet pan. It keeps 'em firmly in-place, and you only gotta manage one pan instead of a half-dozen that have the potential to slip thru the oven rack.
Results: I've given out a few of these
mini-loaves for testing and feedback. The verdict? People are
fighting over this zucchini bread, and a loaf seldom lasts longer
than a day. I'm not looking to cause malcontent in otherwise happy
homes, so I just keep making more for folks to keep the peace.
As summer wanes, there are always a few cooler days that just seem to be perfect for baking. Make as much of this bread as you dare, and freeze what you're not gonna consume immediately after cooling. When you bring it out of the freezer, slice it thin with your sharpest knife for a presentation that's sure to impress and easy to share.
I've always thought that there's a flavor synergy with zucchini and olive oil, and this recipe only serves to reinforce that belief. I keep wanting to call the flavor something akin to savory, but that ain't it. The spices all play well with the fruity richness of the olive oil, while the zucchini keeps it all incredibly moist and delicate. Topping a slab of this treat with anything is borderline sacrilege.