Italian Style Zucchini Bread: A Challenge

A boatload of zucchini is never a problem around here as we enjoy it so many ways. You can find one of my favorite recipes here for funfetti zucchini bread, but today we are going with an Italian spin on the loaf. It was a challenge to get it right.

Inspired and intrigued by Deb Wise’s recipe for a Tuscan Pignoli Orange Zucchini Bread on my recipes.com I immediately went to work to change it. At first glance, I loved her use of almond and semolina flours in the mix, but then I noticed 2 teaspoons of baking soda plus 1 of baking powder and a red flag went up. I hate the metallic bitterness of unreacted baking soda in quick breads and muffins and I just did not think there was enough acidity in the recipe to balance out the baking soda and allow it to do its job. I also noted an overload of oil and sugar in the ingredient list which conjured up an overly sweet and greasy loaf image. I find most quick breads don’t ever suffer from a reduction in the oil and the sugar in the recipe and in my mind it feels so much healthier.

In my first attempt, I reduced the baking soda form 2 teaspoons to 1 1/2 teaspoons plus I added 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. I reduced the sugar by 1/4 cup and the oil by 1/3 cup. I did not use the nuts (too expensive an ingredient to experiment with), but kept everything else the same. The result is the loaf pictured above. It was greasy and tasted slightly metallic. It was sweet enough, so I opted out of the icing. Did you notice it is slightly sunken in? That is the result of too much leavening. I knew it needed further refinement.

The next loaf required a dramatic decrease in baking soda (from 2 teaspoons to 1), oil (from 1 cup to 1/2 cup) and sugar (1 1/4 cups to 3/4 cup) and the addition of 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and the results were deliciously amazing. First, the aroma is super nutty and the flavor is bright with citrus and just a touch of sweetness. The texture is perfectly light without any greasy feel. Bonus points for a perfect rise without sinking. My husband described it as “fresher tasting”.

Tuscan Lemon Zucchini Bread

  • 1 cup (about 4 1/4 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (about 2 3/4 oz.) semolina flour
  • 1/2 cup (about 1 3/4 oz.) almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use avocado oil)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups grated unpeeled zucchini *

Heat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9- x 5-inch loaf pan with baking spray. Whisk together flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl just until combined. Place eggs in a large bowl; lightly whisk. Add sugar, oil, vanilla, and lemon juice and zest; whisk until smooth. Stir in grated zucchini. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool bread in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of pan to loosen bread. Remove bread from pan, and cool completely on rack.

I am fresh out of grief lessons, but don’t want to give up on blogging. From time to time, I hope you enjoy the recipes shared here. You can see more of what I do on instagram @goodgriefcook

King Arthur Flour Baking School

nissa scocca

nissa socca

If you love to bake as much as I do or are interested in learning how to bake a trip to the King Arthur Flour Baking School in Norwich, Vermont should be on your bucket list. Last week, my Caitlin and I spent a few days exploring the Green Mountain state and learning how to bake everything from flatbreads to European tarts and pastries compliments of the sponsors of the National Festival of Breads.

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The class schedule offers a great variety of hands-on baking experiences for the home baker as well as the professional chef. There are classes for everyone and they do fill up quickly. Some of the classes are taught by celebrity chefs like the famous Gale Gand. I did get a glimpse of her teaching a class on cinnamon rolls as the kitchens are easily observed through large glass windows. This state of the art facility also includes a large retail bakery, a café and a most beautiful store. The store is a baker’s paradise.

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and

the store has everything from appliances to extracts and all gadgets and ingredients in between

the store has everything from appliances to extracts and all gadgets and ingredients in between

and

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Flour Matters–use the best

Back to baking, I especially loved the class on flat breads because I learned a few new scientific things. First, I never baked with a mix of yeast and baking powder before. This extra leavening creates so much carbon dioxide that it actually causes the bread to deflate and bake to the perfect flatness. Brushed with egg white and sprinkled with a little nigella and sesame seed this bread is perfect for scooping up hummus.

northwest India naan

northwest India naan ready for the oven

In this class we also baked a spelt pita (check out goodgriefcook on Instagram to watch it puff) and a bread I had never heard of before, nissa socca. Nissa socca is a morning snack sold by vendors in the south of France. This recipe, made from gluten-free chickpea flour reminded me more of a polenta than a bread. Warm from the oven and cut into small squares or wedges it will make a terrific holiday party appetizer.

nissa socca hot from these amazing ovens

nissa socca hot from these amazing ovens

Vermont in October is lovely. The air is crisp and the leaves are just beginning to turn. Fresh apples are plentiful and make the perfect seasonal filling for a buttery rustic tart. In fact, most of our fresh baking ingredients like the apples, butter, cream and eggs are sourced from local farms. In addition, we are instructed to drop our egg shells and apple peels in a green compost bucket. The philosophy is clear: flour matters, the farmer matters and the environment matters. It all adds up to naturally delicious baked goods.

European tart class

European tart class

In between our classes we visit some of our old stomping grounds including the old Sugar Bush Farm which inspired my winning National Festival of Breads recipe. The old farm hasn’t changed a bit in 30 years and is still handing out samples of its delicious smoked cheeses and sweet maple syrup. Caitlin and I stocked up and I am thankful to have re-lived some old memories while creating some new ones with my daughter.

one of many old barns at Sugar Bush Farms

one of many old barns at Sugar Bush Farms

By the way, everything we baked we could take home. My innkeeper was very happy and especially loved the chocolate hazelnut ganache tart. A few of the other guests indulged in these from our Mille Feuille (homemade puff pastry) class.

Napoleons really do have 1000 layers of pastry

Napoleons really do have 1000 layers of pastry

The Pippin Inn

The Pippin Inn, Quechee, VT is where we stayed

One day I hope to return to the baking school for more classes. The perfect plan would be to grab a couple of girlfriends and make a long weekend of it. Put it on your Christmas list. If you can’t get there any time soon than shopping their on-line store is the next best thing. Here is a recipe from the far flung flatbread class. I hope it inspires you to enter the National Festival of Breads come 2017.

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Thank you Kansas Wheat and King Arthur Flour for a great weekend and making me feel like a queen.

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Good Grief & French Toast Take Time

Overnight French Toast

Overnight French Toast

It should have come as no surprise that the first new episode of Downton Abbey would be about GRIEF. By the end of last season, Tom Branson lost a wife, Mary lost a husband and Mrs. Crawley lost a much loved son in a tragic accident. (Sigh! I can still see that handsome Mathew pinned under that car. That final episode haunts me.) We even saw a bit of angry suffering in the character of Carson as we learned of his love and loss. The episode enforced many of the things I have felt and have discussed on this blog like  finding strength to celebrate life, the need for forgiveness and the need for distraction.

good times around the fire pit

good times around the fire pit

However, I beg to differ with one final notion as portrayed through the grief-stricken Mary. With the exception of her father, the other characters believe 6 months should be plenty of time for her to resolve her grief and get back into the swing of things. What is so magical about 6 months? Good grief takes time–however long it takes. I am going on 3 years and I am still in the resolution phase. If, however, after 6 months, you still are not eating, sleeping or enjoying any kind of social interaction then it is time to see your health care provider as those are signs of a deeper, more complicated grief and depression.

Good French toast, believe it or not, also takes time. Especially if you like it a little crispy on the outside and melt in your mouth soft and creamy on the inside. It takes some simple planning. First of all, your bread should be just a bit stale–1 day old is good with most artisan breads that don’t use preservatives. The bread also needs to get a good 8 hours (overnight) in a yummy milk bath to soak up all the creamy goodness. Topped with butter and real maple syrup it is worth the time.

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Simple Overnight French Toast

4 (1-inch thick) slices French baguette*

2 eggs

½ cup milk

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

pinch of salt

butter

Arrange bread in a single layer in a baking dish. In bowl, whisk remaining ingredients until well mixed; pour evenly over bread. Cover and chill at least 8 hours or as long as overnight. Melt some butter over medium heat on a non-stick griddle. Place soaked bread slices on hot griddle. Cook, turning once, until deep golden brown on both sides. Serve with your favorite toppings.

*Use the center portion of the bread and save the ends for another use. Trimming the crusts is optional.