Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A taste of childhood: Zucchini cupcakes

Until I was in middle school, my favorite thing that my mother ever made was banana bread. I remember marveling as she measured the flour, sugar, eggs and butter from memory. She used to let me mash the bananas and fold them in to the mix. She always made two loaves and I remember always being angry that she would give one away. Even the "heel" of these golden brown loaves were delicious and I knew nothing would ever make me feel better than to eat a slice, warmed and spread with butter.
Of course even our childhood favorites must someday make way for evolving opinions. While I still love banana bread and often request a loaf from my mom, my heart has pined for a bread that puts the banana variety to shame. I'm still not sure what possessed my mom to sneak a vegetable like zucchini into bread, but I am forever thankful that she happened upon that idea. My mouth still waters at the thought of the dense yet moist loaf, striated with slivers of green. Mom used to grow zucchini the size of a loaf of bread in the summer. She always grew far too many and often froze some for use in the winter. It never occurred to me to attempt the recipe for one trivial reason: I didn't have a food processor. The idea of shredding zucchini (or cabbage or carrots or apples) had always (irrationally, I admit) seemed dependent on owning the contraption. And then I purchased a value pack of 5 large zucchini at Farm Fresh and I knew it was time to brave the uncertainty and shred the squash with the handheld cheese grater that had never occurred to me to utilize.
And so, dear readers, I am finally able to say that I have made my own zucchini-based dessert. Not the perfect bread that I grew up with and dreamt about, but some things should be left to a mother to make for her daughter as she aims to use up a bounteous harvest. I instead chose to go with a more portable package - and something a little more sweet.

Zucchini-Walnut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Loosely Adapted from Eggs on Sunday's Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Someday I will make that chocolate zucchini cake, but this seemed a little rich for Travis, and I wanted to introduce him to the wonders of zucchini desserts without covering up the zucchini. Most of my tweaks involved using the ingredients I had on hand as well as following my gut feeling on a few measurements/ingredients. Feel free to try the original recipe, but I always encourage you to trust yourself when it comes to your cooking.

2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (a substitute for oil that I always use)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter(soy)milk (See a recipe for making your own buttermilk
here, under the heading "replacing buttermilk")
1 tbsp. plain soymilk
2 cups grated unpeeled zucchini (about 2 1/2 medium)
1 cup crushed walnuts
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup powder sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place cupcake wrappers into a cupcake pan, or butter and flour it if you aren't into wrappers.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, spices and salt.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter and applesauce until they’re well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla extract.
  4. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk in 3 additions each.
  5. Mix in the grated zucchini, then the walnuts.
  6. Bake for about 30 minutes, until a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool completely.
  7. While the cupcakes are cooling, mix the the cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla extract on low speed until the sugar is incorporated.
  8. Beat the mixture on medium to medium-high until frosting is light and whipped, about 3 - 4 minutes. Frost the cupcakes once they are cooled.

I shredded the zucchini as soon as I bought it since it was the value pack from Farm Fresh, which really is the "we-have-to-sell-this-today-or-it-will-rot" pack. Of course, 5 fairly large pieces of zucchini for just over $2 is an amazing deal and it's a neat money-saving trick I've been using lately.

I then stuck it in a bag in the freezer until I would have time to make this recipe.

If you choose to do this, just dethaw the zucchini and wring most of the liquid out in a paper towel or cheesecloth. Freezing adds a lot of water and baking requires that you be very specific with the liquid to dry ratio.

There were no spices in the original recipe, which struck me as odd because the dish just screamed for a bit of cinnamon. It's no sweat if you don't have the rest, I just happen to have them on hand. At the very least add some cinnamon. Maybe 2 tsp. if you are dropping the cloves, nutmeg and ginger?

As I strive to be more ecoconscious in my choices, I must acknowledge that cupcake wrappers are wasteful and really unnecessary. A mixture of equal parts shortening, oil and flour has always kept my baked goods from sticking to the pan and I would have gone that route if I hadn't found another product that I will share more details about in a future post.

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