olive oil zucchini bread + ancient grains / by Annie Jefferson

The notion of choice in flour as a central determinant in the flavor and texture of a dish is a relatively new one when it comes to everyday home baking. We talk often about white wheat versus all-purpose white flour, bleached versus unbleached, enriched, self-rising, sifted or not. We talk about the protein content of different types of flour - bread, pastry, cake - and how it affects the composition of a pound cake or a croissant or a country loaf. But that a particular flour has the potential to actually play the role of manipulator of flavor - such as a spice like cinnamon - and texture - like poppy seeds - isn't an idea that's played with as much outside of professional kitchens.

This week I've started working with feedfeed as the editor of their Ancient Grains feed. From the more commonly recognized barley, spelt and farro, to the lesser known Kamut, teff and sorghum, ancient grains are a grouping of grains and cereals that date back to prehistoric times and have managed to remain relatively whole and untouched by the modern food industry, especially in comparison to certain other wheat and corn varieties. Ancient grains have been making the rounds in recent years - showing up in supermarkets, recipe books and pantries - and for good reason. Not only are they less processed than their modern counterparts, they’re also naturally free of or low in gluten, which appeals to a rapidly expanding gluten-sensitive cohort. Even more enchanting are some of the stories that accompany these grains, like the idea that you can work Kamut, a grain found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb, into your next lunchtime salad.

This recipe takes advantage of the generous zucchini, which comes hot into the summer months, producing more of itself than we know what to do with. Recipes for zucchini quick breads tend to be similar - flour, sugar, egg, oil, and of course zucchini. This one uses extra-virgin olive oil in place of standard vegetable oil for its peppery fruitiness, ground ginger and nutmeg for their warm spiciness, lemon zest for brightness, walnuts for crunch, and finally einkorn and spelt flours because I promised ancient grains, and these are great and forgiving ones to start out with when it comes to baking.

While incorporating ancient grains into everyday cooking presents loads of new and exciting options for salads, soups, risottos (even popcorn!), the options multiply when you consider the possibilities of the grains in their milled state. In order to get the most out of it, flour needs to be understood in a much broader way than just one of the obligatory building blocks of baked goods or pasta or pizza. If we think of flour as its own special ingredient deserving as much thought and experimentation in a recipe as a spice, and each type of flour with its own unique and characterful personality, baking becomes much more interesting. Ancient grains have lots to offer in this department: wheat flour varieties include einkorn, Kamut, spelt and emmer. Teff, sorghum and amaranth are examples of non-wheat ancient grains - grasses or pseudocereals - which can be ground into flours and used in baking.

So far, I've discussed Einkorn here as it relates to gluten/modern flour intolerance, and I've used spelt flour in this millet and sea salt banana bread and this meyer lemon poppyseed cake. Both flours are great in place of white or wheat flour in baking - and can be substituted 1:1 in most cases - whereas other alternative flours, especially the non-wheat varieties, will require recipes specifically developed around their unique compositions. Spelt flour generally has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor and is very light and tender as opposed to regular wheat flour. If all-purpose white flour is tasteless and lacking when it comes to flavor, Einkorn instead has a unique and robust richness, as well as a light nuttiness. As a result, this zucchini bread is light, tender and moist in texture, and rich, sweet and nutty in flavor. 

I will be incorporating ancient grains more and more in the coming months, so check back and please share your own experiences baking with alternative flours below! 

OLIVE OIL ZUCCHINI BREAD
Recipe adapted from A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories

makes two 6-by-3.5-inch or one 9-by-5-inch loaf pan

note: this recipe yields a quick bread that's slightly less sweet than you may be used to; feel free to up the sugar content by 1/3-2/3 if you prefer sweeter

INGREDIENTS
3 cups grated zucchini (from 1 pound zucchini)
1 inch piece ginger, grated
1 1/3 cups natural cane sugar, divided
1 cup (about 153 grams) einkorn flour
1 cup (about 153 grams) spelt flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 large eggs, at room temperature
Grated zest from 2 lemons
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

METHOD
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour your pan(s).

In a mixing bowl, mix the grated zucchini with 1/3 cup of sugar. Pour the mixture into a fine-mesh strainer and place the strainer over a mixing bowl. Fill another smaller bowl halfway with water and carefully set the water bowl directly on top of the zucchini to help press the water out of the zucchini.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining cup of sugar, eggs, lemon zest, grated ginger and vanilla until well blended. Slowly beat in the olive oil in three stages, whisking after each to ensure it is thoroughly combined.

Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no white clumps remain. Working in handfuls, squeeze the remaining water out of the zucchini. Add to the batter and stir gently until evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the top of the loaves. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Cool the bread in the pan for about 20 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack and let it cool completely.