Monday, August 2, 2010

In The Blink of An Eye

Home-grown zucchini are sort of like home-grown kids. One minute they are tender and young...quite delicious, really. And the next they are pubescent pre-teens who are as tall as you, weigh (20+ pounds) more than you, and are growing hair on their upper lip. Okay, perhaps I was referring to my son and not the squash, but you get the point. In the blink of an eye, they are totally, incomprehensibly huge. Yes, you can still slice them and cook them, or even eat them raw (and just to be sure, here I'm referring to the squash and not the kid). But I think they are best shredded up and disguised in baked cake. Or bread. Or both.

Just before we departed Cape Cod, my sister-in-law and I baked this cake from Diane at Napa Farmhouse 1885. The recipe had me at the mention of chocolate and zucchini, which sounded like a smashing combination. But as I started mixing ingredients, I noticed that the fat in the cake was olive oil...and it had a splash of balsamic dressing too. It was too late to turn back, and despite my fears that this cake would taste more like zucchini salad than chocolate cake, we pressed on.

We drizzled a ganache over the top of the cake and served it to our dinner guests, who all gobbled it with enthusiasm. The vinegar gave it a bit of whang, and actually deepened the chocolate flavor. Most everyone enjoyed it thoroughly, except for my daughter who said it tastes like "your breath when you've been drinking wine..." Well, I guess it could be a lot worse. My breath that is. Despite her protests, I found the cake to be moist, with a nice, soft crumb--and very tasty too.

My California garden also has zucchini plants and our sweet house sitter left a big, fat one on the vine for us to pick when we got home. With that, I decided to make zucchini bread, loaded with walnuts and dried cranberries. Kid repellent if you must know. I'm tired of never, ever getting a bite of the goodies I bake!

Unfortunately for me, the kids liked it afterall. And so did our friends. I think you will too!

And....just thought I'd mention that I saw this recipe today. To. Die. For. It's next on the list...and yes, I have a LOT of zucchini.

Zucchini Walnut Bread with Cranberries

I am a huge, huge fan of one bowl cakes that don't require any special equipment that might be stored on a garage shelf (think stand-mixer). This one fits the bill. Not only is it pleasantly spiced, it has a nice crunch from the walnuts and a bit of tangy goodness from all the dried cranberries. I think it would also be fabulous with chocolate chips. But almost everything is, isn't it? The recipe is adapted from this one.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: 2 loaves


2 extra large eggs
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups grated zucchini
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup sweetened, dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 2 standard loaf pans and set aside.

2. Beat eggs in a large mixing bowl with a wire whisk. Whisk in sugar until thoroughly combined. Add butter and vanilla, stirring well. Whisk in zucchini and salt.

3. Sprinkle the top of the batter with the baking powder, then add half the flour and all the nutmeg and cinnamon. When combined, add the remaining flour and whisk just until barely combined.

4. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold in the walnuts and cranberries, taking care not to over-work the batter.

5. Pour the batter evenly between the two prepared loaf pans and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean.

6. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, before inverting to a cooling rack to cool completely. Top with your favorite cream cheese frosting, if desired.

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