Thursday, July 26, 2012

Zucchini Pistachio Loaf

Zucchini bread always reminds me of two things; the way my best friend Terra's eyes light up at the mere mention of it, and the first time I met my boyfriend's family, freshly baked gluten-free loaf in stow. Both fond memories. Zucchini bread has always been that friend-of-a-friend to me, casual acquaintances so to speak. What I knew I liked but that wasn't to say much. That was until I was completely inundated with zucchini this summer, and now I know her every last secret. I guess zucchini plants are pretty prolific producers because my CSA sure hasn't lost any sleep from loading us up week after week. I have baked at least a dozen loaves this summer, each time tweaking the recipe slightly. The original came from one Miss Maida Heatter, which was pretty damn good to begin with I must admit.  

I wanted a denser cake with a richer flavor so first I experimented with sugars and fats. Fats and oils moisten and tenderize. Oil produces a moister cake, but butter has more of a round rich flavorSugars not only sweeten, but they contribute greatly to texture. Sugar softens and helps retain moisture. Granulated sugar makes for a lighter more delicate crumb while brown sugar produces a denser more moist cake. Brown sugar also has a distinct molasses flavor. I ended up using 50/50 butter to oil and sugar to brown sugar for the best flavor and texture combination. Lemon zest added a tinge of brightness and helped balance all the flavors. Sea salt gave it that little salty bite that I love so much. And pistachios took it to the next level. Sorry walnuts.  

Zucchini Loaf (adapted from Maida Heatter's "Zucchini Loaf from Seattle")
Makes two 9"x 5" loaves

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp sea salt, heaping
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
Zest from one lemon
2 cups shredded zucchini, packed
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup pistachios (optional)
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks (optional)

*You can also add 1/2 cup dutch process cocoa to the dry ingredients if you prefer more chocolate, less zucchini flavor. When I make this version, I'll even add 1 tsp fresh ground cardamom and 1 Tbsp super fine ground coffee. 

Position oven rack one-third up from the bottom and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour baking pans and set aside. Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. 

Wash 2-3 zucchinis, cut off the ends, and shred using either a food processor or large metal grater. You want it to be coarsely shredded and not pureed. When packed in a liquid measuring cup it should equal 2 cups. Do not drain the zucchini. All the liquid will be used in this recipe.

In a large bowl beat the butter, oil, sugar, brown sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla extract until well combined. Whisk in eggs. Add dry ingredients and stir just until mixed. This will be a very dry mixture. Don't worry. Then add your 2 cups shredded zucchini and all the juice that comes with it. Stir until the zucchini is evenly distributed throughout the batter. Next fold in your chocolate chips and/or pistachios. 

Pour batter into prepared bread pans and bake for 50-70 minutes, or until a butter knife inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean (minus the melted chocolate). I like to pull mine on the earlier side so that it stays as moist as possible. Let your cakes cool in the pans for 10-15 minutes before removing. I always like it better the second day. Toasted with a dab of butter, forget about it. 

May this breathe new life into to your summer squash stock piles and inspire you to experiment with your recipes, especially when there's no shortage of the main ingredient.