Never gonna say goodbye: zucchini bread with fig and hazelnuts

A vegetable disguised as a breakfast food. This is my take on zucchini bread. Like carrot cake, quick bread made with the ubiquitous summer squash had its 15 minutes of fame back in the late 60’s and 70’s when as cookbook author Marian Morash once said, “carrot cakes were a restaurant quality test for awhile and the cake formulas were top secret. Now that the craze is over we can all relax.”

I think the same is true for zucchini bread. When I was enjoying the fruits, or rather the vegetables, of my parent’s labor from our family garden we ate a lot of squash because those plants always produced. And produced. And produced. It would seem that an undersized zucchini left behind to its own devices would suddenly be 2 feet long overnight. It was incredible to me as young child – like a miracle. I remember wanting to camp out in the garden so I could ‘catch them’ growing.

My parent’s shared the produce from our garden with family, friends and neighbors. But we always had lots of squash, specifically zucchini. My mother preferred them smallish and tender but there usually was one lonely, overlooked, gargantuan zuke left sitting in the bottom of a basket. Still edible but too big for a sauté or stir fry …time to bake some zucchini bread!

Probably the most famous original recipe for zucchini bread came from the beloved James Beard via Portland writer Carl Grohs. This is the very same recipe my version is based upon. I dare say that down south, zucchini bread hit the big time and thus influenced many home cooks, through appearing in Southern Living magazine. I’m sure this is how it made it into my Mom’s baking repertoire.

I remember it blowing my mind as a kid that squash could be made into bread and a great tasting bread to boot! I hope you like my version – not sure if it’s really any technically healthier than a straight-up zucchini bread recipe – with the substitution of applesauce for some of the oil and fig preserves for some sugar but it is moist, hearty and if wrapped, will stay delicious for several days. The flavor combination of fig, hazelnut and a touch of ground mace play off each other nicely in this version.

The ingredients. Yes, it was disheartening to use store-bought fig preserves and although these worked out fine, I wish I could have used preserves I made myself.

I grated the zucchini by hand but use a food processor if you like. By the way I only needed one of the zucchini squash. The larger one made 2 packed cups.

Mix the leavening ingredients, spices and salt into the sifted flour. When baking I always sift the flour once before measuring.

Beat the eggs well before adding in the sugar.

After adding in the oil, applesauce, vanilla extract, and preserves beat the mixture very well. The preserves should be broken down and distributed throughout the batter. Then use a spatula or spoon to mix in the dry ingredients by hand.

Don’t over mix the batter at this point. After stirring in the flour we’ll add the star of this show…

The shredded zucchini along with the hazelnuts. Stir until just combined.

Pour the batter into 2 loaf pans. You could make one giant loaf out of this…however, I make two so I can share. More fun that way!

Here they are out of the oven, cooling in the pan on a rack. After about 10 minutes, loosen from the sides of the pan and flip out onto a rack to finish cooling. Using oiled parchment on the bottom of the pan makes it a cinch to get the loaves out cleanly.

Here they are cooling right-side up. Sturdy but with a tender crumb. After they’ve cooled be sure to wrap them in plastic or foil – they will dry out if left unwrapped.

Zucchini bread with fig and hazelnuts

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup applesauce, regular or cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup fig preserves
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 2 cups flour, sifted once then measured
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground mace
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup chopped hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Oil 2 loaf pans and line bottom with oiled parchment. Set aside. Shred (or grate) the zucchini and set aside. Mix flour, spices, salt, baking powder and baking soda and set aside.

In the bowl beat 3 eggs with an electric mixer on medium speed about 1 minute. Add in sugar and beat 1 minute more. Stir in the vegetable oil, applesauce, fig preserves and vanilla. Beat again at medium speed until well mixed, especially the preserves, about 1 more minute. You do not want chunks of preserves.

With a spatula or wooden spoon stir the flour mixture into the egg/sugar mixture. Mix until just combined. Stir in the zucchini and hazelnuts and pour into the two prepared pans.

Bake for approximately 50 minutes or until bakes through*. Allow loaves to cool in pan for 10 minutes, run a knife along the sides to loosen bread, remove from pans and cool on a wire rack. (Remove parchment). Serve plain or with whipped cream cheese.

*If you are unsure, insert a skewer or toothpick into the center of the bread, if it comes out clean (no batter on it) the bread is done. If not, bake it a while longer.