"RHINESTONES DON'T MEAN SHIT OFF THE STAGE, HONEY! EVEN PIGS GLISTEN!"
First: The world needs all the love and gentility we can spare. Beyond that, here is a link to Doctors Without Borders. Because we all want to help, and here is one way to do so. I hope you and yours are safe and loved tonight.
Now. Tell me about your favorite Zucchini Bread. Is it cakey, is it made with shredded, chopped or pulverized ribbons of green squash? Do you include cinnamon or walnuts? Do you like it to taste like cake, stay far away from cake or straight-up BE cake? Does the recipe make one loaf or two? Do you eat slabs of it, smothered in smooth peanut butter, with a glass of cold milk on standby? Or do you nibble at thin sheets? Tell me about it. Because apparently I care, I give every damn, about Zucchini Bread.
2. I like zucchini to be evident, along with cinnamon and walnuts if we're getting racy, if we're turning out the lights and hoping your parents don't come home/your little sister throws up her ice cream after her dance recital so everyone has to make an emergency trip to SEARS.
3. I'd rather have one tall, distinguished Peter Florick of a loaf than two floppy, shallow bricks.
Now that we've shared all our best secrets, Betsy, lets talk about this particular Zucchini bread. Made with the verdant ribbons of the finest Hot House zucchinis during the sloppiest month of the year, it makes me look forward to this summer. My plot was overturned yesterday and when I saw it, chunks of Dutch-Process brown jutting out of the earth, widened and evened, I got so excited I decided to rend my clothing. Right there, on the lawn. I refrained, though, because I knew I could make this bread. And because of the children.
Zucchini Bread, like most quick breads and their ninth cousin twice removed, Meatloaf, is something that someone in your family probably made and now you have specific feelings on what constitutes a legal version of each. Growing up, my mom made Zucchini and Banana Breads often, letting us scrape out the tupperware bowl and lick the baking soda-heavy batter. I know her Banana Bread recipe, but I don't know her Zucchini Bread recipe. This poses a problem when it is 11 at night and you're staring down the oven. Do I call and ask? No. You save that phone call for medical history queries and whether or not the urban legend about your Dad's grandfather is real -- "I thought he owned a store".
To me, nothing will top my mom's recipes. But there are things about other recipes that I admire and inquire about. Nuts, for one - forebidden, but I love a good, dark and oily walnut. We'll keep the essential cinnamon, but add vanilla. A crunchy, glistening sugar-scattered top - nothing that will knife your mouth (baked goods are the number one stabbers in my life) but I like sequins and I like it when my loaves are fancy. Fancy Loaves. That is also the new name of my intimate garments Boutique, next to the Chang's Mongolian Grill in that strip mall that is half condemned because of squatters. Right off the highway.
So this recipe, which I tried on a whim, is all of those things at once. Made all the better through my first foray into "natural" sugars, this loaf (and extra mini-loaf or round) of Zucchini Bread is moist, with a light caramel finish, tender and bright from the zucchini, sticky caramelized edges and a handsome dome that crackles and flakes. It is a beast. That I want to tame.
It slices like a dream, thick or thin, and after making several adjustments (the original is a Paula Deen recipe and I am not as strong a woman as she is) you don't feel like a sham. You're eating a QUICK BREAD. A quick bread. This isn't cake! Whatever. Make some cream cheese frosting though, slather it up, and tell me how it turns out.
(Adapted, liberally, from Paula Deen)
1 cup "Natural Cane Sugar" or similar
½ cup granulated white sugar
½ cup Unsweetened Applesauce
½ cup Vegetable Oil
3 small, thin Zucchini, washed and grated
1 tsp Cinnamon
½ tsp ground Nutmeg
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
3 ¼ cups All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Soda
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and liberally butter and flour, grease or spray a light-colored loaf pan or two (mine is on the larger side, but if yours are standard, I would get ready to use two -- for mine, I needed a 5x2 round cake pan to take care of the extra batter). Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the natural sugar, granulated sugar and eggs. Whisk well, until frothy and voluminous, then add in the vegetable oil, applesauce, vanilla, zucchini and water. Continue to whisk, before sifting in the flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and baking soda. Now, use your whisk or a spatula to fold and gently stir until the batter comes together, just until there are no visible pockets of dry ingredients. Do not get too wild. This batter has not stolen anything from you. If you like, fold in as many walnuts as you can handle now, around a cup to a cup and a half.
Divide batter equally among your chosen pans, and after smoothing out the batter, dust a little extra natural or turbinado sugar over the top. For the pan I used that had walnuts, I crowned it with a good amount of extra walnuts. This was a good choice. I slept well.
Now, bake for at least 30 minutes. Check, and depending on the depth of your pans and how your oven runs, continue checking every ten minutes if a skewer or toothpick inserted comes out with wet batter still clinging to it. Mine baked for a long time, almost an hour, but don't go by that. Go by the toothpick.
Once they're done, remove from the oven and cool in the pan(s) for 10 minutes, before running a knife around the edges and gently coaxing them out - the pan I did with walnuts stuck, but I was willing to sacrifice. The pan without was clean and unmarred. We know who is getting the most presents next Christmas.
Cool completely, then do with them what you will.