It’s that time of year; the time when waiting for your garden to produce quickly shifts to struggling to keep up with your garden. If your garden is anything like ours, one of the main results of this shift is a plethora of zucchini (especially the ones that hide from you until they are huge). We have been grilling zucchini up for dinner and to add to pasta salads and veggie sandwiches, but I am also a huge fan of baking with zucchini.
Zucchini bread is an all-time classic that I have been enjoying since my mother (who is also a pro at banana bread) made it when I was a kid. I always used to kid myself by thinking that zucchini bread was somehow good for me because of its vegetable contents. Alas, like many quick breads, zucchini bread recipes often include a healthy dose of oil and sugar on top of mounds of white flour – making the bread more like cake than a healthy grain.
Healthier Quick Bread Options
Like many traditional recipes, there are great ways to adjust the traditional approach to zucchini bread to create a healthier version that is still as much of a pleasure to eat. Here are the four changes I made to create a “healthier” version of the classic recipe:
Whole Wheat Flour. I have been obsessed with whole grain baking for a few years and I am continually impressed by how delicious baked goods with whole grains can be. I figured there had to be a good zucchini bread alternative. I went to my go-to whole grain baking book (King Arthur Flour’s Whole Grain Baking) and found what I was looking for.
This recipe uses 2 cups whole wheat flour (preferably white whole wheat) and one cup unbleached bread flour. I tried the recipe and found it very satisfying, but I still wanted to try going all the way with whole wheat flour, so my recipe uses 100% white whole wheat flour.
Along with this change, I also added a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the recipe; according to the test kitchen at King Arthur Flour, the vinegar reacts with the baking powder and adds a bit more leavening power while also cutting some of the whole wheat flavor. Because whole wheat recipes often benefit from some time to rest and let the whole wheat absorb the moisture of the other ingredients, I allowed the batter to rest a bit before baking.
Ground Flax. Flax seeds are high in Omega-3s, antioxidants, and fiber and can add a bit more nutritional value to any baked good or bread recipe. Adding ground flax adds just a touch of nutty flavor and darker color. I replaced about ¼ cup of the flour in my recipe with ground flax in order to reap these benefits without impacting the flavor or texture of the bread too much.
Applesauce. I have long appreciated the ability to substitute applesauce for oil in many baked goods. Seeing as the recipe I started with only contained 1/3 cup of oil this substitution was a no-brainer! An added bonus is that we have our own apple trees and do a big applesauce making project each fall, so we are usually well-stocked with our source of applesauce.
Honey. I am big into cutting down sugar wherever we can. That said, I do realize that there is ongoing debate over whether honey is really healthier than white sugar (because it causes the same type of blood sugar rise that any other type of sugar would).
In our case, we are using raw honey produced on our own land. As such, more of the trace vitamins and minerals are retained in our honey than in many store bought brands. In addition, because honey is even more sweet than sugar you can use less of it.
Some argue that the different make-up of the sugar molecules in honey are slower to digest and therefore better for your body. In my case, substituting honey for white sugar is more about using a locally-produced, less processed, more natural ingredient and less about the slight variations in nutritional value. But, since honey is also a lot more expensive than sugar, I didn’t substitute 100%. Instead of ¾ cup sugar, I used ¼ cup each of sugar and honey. Less sugar overall, and half sourced closer to home.
Healthier Zucchini Bread
This recipe uses white whole wheat flour, ground flax, applesauce, and honey to increase the health factor of this perennial favorite.
Yields one 9-by-5 inch loaf.
• 1 ½ cups shredded zucchini
• 2 ¾ cups white whole wheat flour
• ¼ cup ground flax seed
• ¼ cup sugar
• 1 tbsp baking powder
• 1 tsp salt
• ¼ tsp ground nutmeg or ½ tsp cinnamon (or a combination!)
• 2 large eggs
• ¾ cup milk
• ¼ cup applesauce
• ¼ cup honey
• 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
• ½ cup raisins or walnuts (optional)
• 1 tbsp grated lemon zest
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a 9-by-5-inch bread pan.
2. Shred the zucchini and set aside.
3. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and spices in a large bowl.
4. Whisk the wet ingredients separately (eggs, milk, applesauce, honey). Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.
5. Stir in the grated, drained zucchini, raisins or walnuts if you are using them, and lemon zest.
6. Pour the batter into the bread pan, then let it rest for about 10 minutes before baking.
7. Bake for 1 hour. Check for doneness and level of browning. If the bread is still loose or wet cover with tin foil and bake for about 10-15 minutes more.
8. Cool for 15 minutes then remove from pan to cool completely.
Carrie Williams Howe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor at Parent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page.
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