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.