Disclaimer: Not all recipes featured on this blog are the product of euphoric bliss, made in a state of felicity or unbridled joy.
Sometimes, they’re taken on in a place of frustration, approached through irritation and grievance. I go to cookbooks trusting that recipes will lend an air of calm in the adherence to their instruction, allowing me to forget all exterior concern, and instead focusing on what I can control, what I can create in the mixing of ingredients, in the application of method and technique.
But sometimes, this frustration only persists, building even, in the ingredients that defy me, in the souffles that don’t rise, or the egg mixtures that won’t thicken. In these moments, it seems that your effort goes without reward, without notice or acknowledgement. It comes almost to the extent of punishment, returning your trust, your hope for comfort and consolation, with only the shame of defeat.
But what I’ve learned from these searches for solitude left without response, is that nothing can be controlled. I’ve learned that humidity deflates egg whites with the even greatest structural integrity, that mixtures may curdle, and ingredients may not bind. Creativity, and its application within the work of your hands, is so exciting to pursue because it presents happenstance, the serendipitous result you could never plan. You hold your breath as you open the oven door, peeking in to see if your Madeleines achieved their familiar bump, and your fingers are crossed behind your back, biting into a slice of bread you hope is airy and light. And sometimes, mistakes occur. Muffins will burn and sometimes pudding won’t become the silky, condensed elixir you hope to skim your spoon across. But I’ve learned that these mistakes don’t define me as a baker, and that my faults don’t repress my search for self. Rather, they push me forward, carving out my personhood in their wake.
I learned this lesson in the irritation of zucchini bread.
In a complete shift of tone and thought, I’ll note that, when making zucchini bread, writers often preface the recipe with a headline praising its masking of vegetables, the bread preying on unsuspecting children with its deliciously-sweet disguise.
I’ll argue this in saying that the addition of a cup and a half of sugar likely outweighs the zucchini’s virtue. I’m not going to pretend this bread is healthy and simply continue to eat slice after slice for snacks and dessert and what is, at times, a permissible meal.
I’ll admit as well, on a final note, that this recipe arose solely from convenience, or maybe a convenience more accurately positioned as brilliant pragmatism. A large, seedy squash, whose grating I bemoaned, came from a neighbor who didn’t realize that it would either be impossible to serve in a savory context (given the increase in starch in proportion to its increase in length), or, that its processing to a texture appropriate for bread, cake, or muffins would be July’s greatest, messiest challenge.
So maybe this recipe can fall into cliché and be named a labor of love, representing ingenuity when one must be polite, accepting the well-intended present of the harvest bounty, albeit overgrown.
To myself, it’s appropriately known now as etiquette bread.
Blueberry-Zucchini Bread (Isabelle’s Etiquette Bread)
Note: I took a forkful of this bread and immediately forgot all my earlier qualms, melting instead into rapturous bliss at the moist, brightly-flavored first bite.
Adapted from The Vermont Country Store Cookbook
Makes one 9-by-12-inch loaf, or two flatter, denser loaves in slightly smaller pans, if you like to stretch things as I do.
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 cups grated zucchini (about 3 medium zucchini, or 1 very large, cumbersome monstrosity)
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 pint fresh blueberries
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Writers of The Vermont Country Store Cookbook will tell you to lightly butter and flour a loaf pan, tapping out the excess flour. For myself, I revel in the rich coating that a melted tablespoon of butter brushed onto the pan imparts on your bread’s exterior. I’ll leave the decision up to you.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar and butter on high speed until smooth.
Crack the eggs in a small, separate bowl, marveling at their beauty and verifying their rich, golden hue (useful as well for removing shells that may appear). Tip each egg into the sugar and butter mixture, one at a time, incorporating well after each addition. Lower the mixer’s speed, and beat in the vanilla and yogurt. Gradually add the flour mixture just until combined.
With a spatula, fold in the zucchini, lemon zest, and blueberries, stirring gently just until specks of green, blue, and yellow equally color the darkly rich batter. Pour into the pan(s).
Bake until a cake tester (makeshift or otherwise) pricked into the center of the loaf comes out clean. I checked at 40 minutes, and each loaf was beautifully-golden at 45. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then slide a butter knife around each bread’s edge, staring in awe as steam rises from the most gorgeous product of chemical reactions (i.e., a baked good).
Slice and fall in love, forgetting everything else.