There are plenty of ways to get esoteric about food, and sometimes I have to laugh at myself about the things I start debating in my head. But I know I’m not the only baker who has ever wondered: Where does something stop being called a bread and turn into cake?

I often find myself asking this question when I’m having the semiregular disagreement with my too-clever-for-his-own-good son about what he can have for breakfast. Is something that’s called a bread (as in quick breads, not yeasted varieties), but is actually more like a cake, OK? Is the presence of a frosting the dividing line? What if it’s in muffin form? Et cetera.

Perhaps nowhere is this dilemma more apparent than when it comes to zucchini bread. Sure, it sounds like it should be better for you since it stars a vegetable, at least in the culinary sense, as zucchini is botanically a fruit. In reality, though, recipes are often loaded with sugar and fat – great for a once-in-a-while dessert but not the thing to make all the time, even when your plants start going bonkers.

I decided to rein in zucchini bread’s more indulgent nature. Based on my frequent interactions with readers, it seemed like putting an emphasis on whole-wheat flour, reducing or cutting refined sugar and slashing fat would be appreciated tweaks. 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 is notoriously watery and whole-wheat flour thirsty, so I figured pairing these two ingredients would be a nice symbiotic relationship. And it was, to an extent. After three tests, I was still ending up with somewhat soggy loaves. Part of that was because I was already adding more liquid in the form of a pureed clementine and honey to the recipe. Both ingredients help mellow out some of whole wheat’s more bitter undertones and tenderize the loaf, as well. Then when honey alone wasn’t quite sweet enough, I pureed a small amount of soaked raisins along with the clementine for another boost of natural sugar (more honey would make the loaf prone to burning). That change made the crumb even more satisfyingly tender, yet the soggy center remained.

I had a feeling I knew what I needed to do, but for affirmation, I turned to two of my go-to baking mentors, Martin Philip, cookbook author and baker at King Arthur Baking, and Andrew Janjigian, a freelance food writer, recipe wiz and newsletter author. They both confirmed my hunch: I needed to wring the zucchini. I had been trying to avoid that because it introduced an extra step. In the end, there was no way around it. Just a few extra minutes squeezing excess liquid out of the shredded zucchini wrapped in a dish towel did the trick. With that final tweak, the bread was just the right amount moist, plush but not gummy. Even better, eliminating all that water made the other flavors – the nutty whole wheat, the bright citrus, the zesty ground ginger – shine even brighter.

I sent my college roommate an early version of the recipe since she was practically tripping over zucchini in her yard, and she summed up my feelings perfectly: “Flavor is great, love that it tastes like bread as opposed to cake.”

Need a little more sweetness? Go ahead and sprinkle some coarse sugar on top. I’d still serve it to anyone, kid included, and call it breakfast.

A few extra minutes spent squeezing excess liquid out of the shredded zucchini, wrapped in a dish towel or cheesecloth, makes the bread just the right amount moist. Eliminating that zucchini water also makes the other flavors brighter. Photo by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post

Whole-Wheat Zucchini Bread

Active time: 40 minutes | Total time: 1 hour 40 minutes

10 to 12 servings (makes one 8 ½-by-4 ½-inch loaf)

Made with whole-wheat flour and no refined sugar, this zucchini bread is satisfying and gently sweet without feeling like an over-the-top cake. A puree of clementine and raisins lends a plush texture and counteracts some of the wheat’s bitter edge while allowing the flour’s nutty flavor to shine. Ground ginger adds a pleasant zing, though you can use whatever spice you like.

For an additional hit of sweetness and crunch, you can sprinkle the top with coarse sugar, such as demerara or turbinado. Want to add chocolate chips? Go for it.

Storage Notes: The zucchini bread can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container or tightly wrapped for up to 3 days. It may also be tightly wrapped and frozen for up to 1 month.

To make this recipe vegan, substitute 6 tablespoons aquafaba (the liquid from a can of beans, such as chickpeas) for the eggs and 1/2 cup agave nectar for the honey. Bake the loaf as directed. It may be slightly squatter and lighter in color, and if it’s not looking overly dark toward the end of baking, you can skip the foil tent. Start checking for doneness at 45 to 50 minutes.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup (120 milliliters/100 grams) vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the pan

11 ounces (315 grams) zucchini, trimmed and grated on the large holes of a box grater

1/4 cup (35 grams) seedless raisins, soaked in hot tap water for at least 10 minutes

1 clementine, coarsely chopped, peel left on

2 cups (250 grams) whole-wheat flour

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt

2 large eggs, at room temperature

Scant 1/2 cup (110 milliliters/150 grams) honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Demerara or turbinado sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. (You will reduce the temperature once you start baking, but the higher initial temp helps generate rise in what could otherwise be a dense, squat cake.) Grease an 4 1/​2-by-8 1/2-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray or a bit of oil. (You may also use a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.)

Working in batches if necessary, place the grated zucchini in the center of a clean dish towel. Twist the edges of the towel so you have a packet that looks like a wrapped peppermint candy, and squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the zucchini. Don’t be afraid to be aggressive, pressing and twisting multiple times, rotating the bundle as you work. By the end, you should have extracted about 1/4 cup liquid, though the exact amount may vary. (Sip the liquid as is, or mix with a little sparkling water for a refreshing riff on cucumber water.)

Pour off all but a splash of the water from the soaked raisins and combine them with the clementine pieces. Using a blender or immersion blender, puree the mixture until smooth.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the eggs, 1/2 cup of oil, honey and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Whisk in the raisin and clementine puree and then the zucchini. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and stir together with a flexible spatula until thoroughly combined. You don’t need to worry about overmixing.

Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle with a little demerara or turbinado sugar, if using. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for 45 minutes, then loosely tent the pan with aluminum foil, as the honey and whole-wheat flour make the bread more susceptible to burning. It will be a dark khaki-brown on top at this point, but the middle won’t be done yet.

Bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, with a few moist crumbs attached. (If you use a 9-by-5-inch pan, the bake time may be shorter.)

Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edge of the bread to release any stuck edges and then turn it out of the pan. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.

Nutrition per slice, based on 12 | Calories: 227; Total Fat: 11 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 31 mg; Sodium: 184 mg; Carbohydrates: 31 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugar: 15 g; Protein: 4 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.


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