Despite the common complaints echoing through the blogosphere about planting too much zucchini, and consequently eating far too many meals based around the green summer squash, it sounds like the best problem a gardener could have. Impossible to imagine from my barren plot of rocky earth, an overabundance, or even modest yield of anything edible would be a welcome challenge to tackle. So while the next foodie is grumbling about their 5th zucchini bread of the season, and wondering who else they could pawn this next loaf off on, I find my appetite for this humble staple growing by the day, just like the vegetables in question.
Not until recently had I even tried zucchini bread, much less considered it as a baked good so fundamental to summer loving. Egged on by my mom’s skepticism about savory vegetables baked into a sweet quick bread, I was convinced I would prove her wrong, throwing in spices, brown sugar, and chocolate to really dress up that otherwise ordinary loaf. No doubt, this was what excess zucchini was made for, and each of the dozen carefully cut slices disappeared in no time. But without my own glut of summer squash, this revelation was quickly forgotten, and another year passed before the concept flickered into my head. Again, my mother made faces at the mention of such a bread, her experience lost in the passage of time as well.
So it was time to step it up yet again. Forget that plain old zucchini bread. Try, zucchini babka.
Traditionally reserved for holidays, this rich, yeasted bread is the perfect vehicle for some of those excess zucchinis. Really, you’d be kidding yourself if you approached this as a “healthier” treat thanks to the vegetables, as it could very well be more decadent than that ubiquitous carrot cake piled high with cream cheese frosting. Don’t let that stop you from having a thick slice for breakfast though; if you can call a cupcake without frosting a muffin, you can easily get away with pretending that this cake in bread’s clothing is a reasonable choice to start the morning. Your tastebuds will certainly thank you.
Even if you’re not “burdened” with extra zucchini, this one is worth picking up an extra squash or two at the market for.
1 Cup Plain Soymilk
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 1/4-Ounce Package Active Dry Yeast
4 – 6 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 Cups Shredded Zucchini, Squeezed and Drained of Excess Liquid
1 Tablespoon Chia Seeds, Ground
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Margarine, Cut into Pieces and at Room Temperature
3 Tablespoons Melted Margarine, Divided
6 Ounces BitterSweet Chocolate, Chopped Finely
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
To make the dough, first warm the soymilk for just a minute or two in the microwave, until it reaches between 105 – 115°F. Be careful, because any hotter and you’ll kill the yeast! Stir in the sugar, and sprinkle the yeast in and let it sit for about 5 minutes, until bubbly and active. Transfer this mixture into your stand mixer, along with 3 cups of the flour, the chia seeds, zucchini, vanilla, and salt. Begin mixing on low, so as not to kick any flour out of the bowl, and continue until the dry ingredients have become mostly incorporated. Switch over to the dough hook, add in 1 more cup of flour, and allow the mixer to begin kneading the dough.
Once the dough is smooth, add in 1 – 2 more cups of flour, depending on how sticky it is. You want it to be tacky and elastic, but not wet and gooey. Continue working the dough with the dough hook while slowly dropping in pieces of margarine, one at a time, waiting until the previous piece has been incorporated before adding the next. It should become very shiny and soft. After all of the margarine has been used, let the stand mixer keep kneading for 5 – 10 more minutes. Scrape the dough out into an oiled bowl, cover loosely with a cloth or piece of plastic wrap, and let sit in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in volume.
Scrape dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
To assemble your babka, first lightly grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, and set aside.
Punch down the dough with your knuckles, and on a well-floured surface, roll it out into a rectangle. Be sure to keep the two short sides no longer than 9 – 11 inches so that it will fit in the pan, but roll it out lengthwise as far as possible- The longer the dough, the more spirals you will get in the finished bread.
Brush your rectangle with 2 tablespoons of the melted margarine, leaving 1/2 inch of one of the long sides clear. Mix together the chopped chocolate, cinnamon, and sugar in a small bowl, and sprinkle it evenly over the dough. Press the filling in gently with your hands. Starting with the long edge that is completely covered, roll up the dough as tightly as possible, but don’t be aggressive, as it’s a fairly delicate dough. Once you get a very long tube, arrange it with the two ends next to each other, like a squashed horse shoe. Twist the two sides together, and press the ends beneath the mass of dough, and carefully fit it into the pan. If your dough is too large to fit comfortably, you may need to fold more of the ends underneath. Brush the top of the dough with the remaining tablespoon of margarine.
Don’t panic- This is a VERY large loaf! It will seem way too big for the pan, but don’t worry, it will simply be very impressive when finished.
Let the bread rise for another hour or so, until just about doubled, and then pop it into a 350 degree preheated oven, for about 40 – 50 minutes. It should be golden brown on top, and when removed from the pan, it will sound hollow when tapped. (Yes, you can cool it, tap it, and then toss it back in the oven if it doesn’t sound right.)
Let cool completely before slicing.
Makes 1 Huge Loaf