There are many ways to get esoteric about food, and sometimes I have to laugh to myself about the things I start arguing in my head. But I know I’m not the only baker who has ever wondered: where does something stop being called bread and turn into cake?
I often find myself asking this question when I have a semi-regular disagreement with my son who is too smart for his own good about what he can have for breakfast. It’s something called a loaf (like in quick breads, not the yeast varieties), but actually looks more like a cake, okay? Is the presence of icing the dividing line? What if it was in the form of muffins? Etc.
Nowhere is this dilemma perhaps more apparent than when it comes to zucchini bread. Of course, it looks like it should be better for you as it is a vegetable, at least in the culinary sense, as zucchini is botanically a fruit. In reality, however, recipes are often loaded with sugar and fat – great for an occasional dessert, but not the go-to thing all the time, even when your plants start to go crazy.
I decided to limit the more forgiving nature of the zucchini bread. Based on my frequent interactions with readers, it seemed like focusing on whole wheat flour, reducing or cutting refined sugar, and cutting back on fat would be welcome adjustments. And now I present to you this whole wheat zucchini bread with honey and ginger.
Whole wheat flour was an obvious nutritional improvement over all purpose, but my motivation was twofold. Zucchini are notoriously watery and thirsty for whole wheat flour, so I figured putting these two ingredients together would be a nice symbiotic relationship. And it was, to some extent. After three tries, I still found myself with slightly soggy breads. Part of this was because I was already adding more liquid in the form of mashed clementine and honey to the recipe. Both ingredients help soften some of the more bitter undertones in whole wheat and tenderize bread. Then when the honey alone wasn’t sweet enough, I pureed a small amount of the raisins soaked with the clementine for another natural sugar boost (more honey would make the bread prone to burn). This change made the crumb satisfactorily even softer, but the soggy core remained.
I felt like I knew what I needed to do, but to assert it, I turned to two of my go-to pastry mentors, Martin Philip, cookbook author and baker at King Arthur Baking, and Andrew. Janjigian, freelance food writer, recipe wiz and newsletter author. They both confirmed my hunch: I needed to wring out the zucchini. I had tried to avoid this because it introduced an extra step. In the end, there was no getting around it. A few extra minutes of squeezing the excess liquid out of the grated zucchini wrapped in a tea towel did the trick. With this last adjustment, the bread was just right, chewy, chewy but not gummy. Better yet, by removing all that water, the other flavors – nutty whole wheat, bright citrus, tangy ground ginger – sparkle even more.
I sent my college roommate a first version of the recipe since she was practically tripping over zucchini in her garden, and she summed up my feelings perfectly:
Need a little more sweetness? Go ahead and sprinkle some coarse sugar on top. I would always serve it to anyone including the child and call it breakfast.