Friday, July 18, 2014

The Best Zucchini Bread

A few days ago, I was driving the kids back from the beach. Traffic was just horrible and it was blistering hot. Our car had been so warm when I was buckling the kids up, that I had the windows rolled down part of the way to keep air circulating. As I was driving up the busy street, I suddenly heard Matthew scream: "Oh no! MONKEY!" And in the review mirror, I saw his monkey - the precious little toy that has not left his side since he was 11 months old - fly into the middle of the street, where it was immediately run over by a truck.

I freaked. All I could think about was how much Matthew loves that toy. I quickly pulled the car over into the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. I locked the kids inside the car and then sprinted down the street, darting between the busy traffic and into the middle of the road where monkey lay with a huge tire tread mark across his battered face. I grabbed the toy and raced back to our car. A guy on a Harley stopped at a light a short ways away, who apparently found the entire scenario frightfully amusing, called out to me: "Now THAT'S a Super-Mom!"

I was so mad at Matthew. We had warned him before not to stick monkey out the car windows when they are rolled down for fear of losing him. But, as usual, he did not listen. Later on, Paul told me that I should have left monkey in the road - but I could not even imagine doing that. The truth is, monkey has been such an important toy to Matthew that he has almost become like family, stupid as that sounds. And if Paul were in the same situation, despite his tough talk, I know that he would have gone back for monkey too!

This is what the kids were doing on the other side of the counter as I made zucchini bread.
Notice Monkey next to Matthew there - definitely a little worse for wear after his accident.

Even when Matthew is driving me nuts, I still feel compelled to feed him delicious snacks. However, Matthew definitely has tastebuds for more savory and salty food. He's never been a huge dessert eater. Unlike Emma, who will inhale anything laden with sugar, Matthew tends to shy away from sweets. He claims to love brownies but will eat maybe two bites before he's done. On birthdays, he will try perhaps a couple bites of cake. He refuses to try pie or fruit desserts - I'm blaming the texture of cooked fruit. He likes cookies, but will never eat more than one in a single sitting. Again, this is so different than Emma whom we often have to pry away from baked goods.

However, I have found a treat that Matthew finds irresistible: zucchini bread! This is the first baked good I have ever made where Matthew ate not one, not two, but three pieces in one sitting! Now, I have made zucchini bread before and Matthew has never touched it. When I saw a different recipe for it in the latest issue of Cook's Illustrated, I liked that it incorporated Whole Wheat Flour and very little fat. When four large zucchinis graced our countertop the other day, I decided to give it a try. For some reason, as Matthew was sitting in the kitchen watching me shred the zucchini, he found the idea of vegetables being in the "muffin bread" appealing. He asked for a piece of zucchini to munch on as I baked - he loves zucchini in raw form.

When the bread had finished baking and cooling, I cut off a thick slice for him and showed him the specks of green scattered throughout: "See Matthew? Those are the pieces of zucchini!"

He found that so awesome. Which is really strange to me, because I think most kids would be turned off by that. But not my strange little boy. He gobbled down one slice and asked for another, using the excuse: "Monkey is hungry too!" I only agreed to give Monkey a slice because he is still recovering from his traumatic traffic experience the other day.

I tried a slice of the zucchini bread myself and was wowed by this recipe. It was the best loaf of zucchini bread I have ever baked. I even made a loaf of my other usual recipe alongside this one to compare. I'm dorky like that. It tasted so bland and boring next to this one. Paul was also blown away by it. This recipe is a keeper, for sure!

And now I know exactly what to make as a special treat for Matthew...and Monkey.

Zucchini Bread
adapted from Cook's Illustrated Magazine July/August 2014

1 1/2 pounds zucchini, shredded
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1/4 cup olive oil (not extra-virgin) or vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (I use white whole wheat flour)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 8 1/2" by 4 1/2" loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Shred the zucchini using the large holes of a box shredder. Place the zucchini in the center of a dish towel. Gather the ends together and twist the towel tightly to drain as much liquid as possible. I sometime double wrap the towels. Set aside for a moment.

Whisk together the brown sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Fold in the zucchini.

Whisk together the flours, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and nutmeg. Fold in the zucchini mixture until just moistened. Pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 65-75 minutes in the preheated oven or until a toothpick inserted in teh center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.

Let cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes before removing from the pan. Let the loaf cool completely before slicing.

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