Keyed Up

Meeting new people is awkward; that’s just a fact of life. Young or old, it really doesn’t get much easier to break the ice in a room full of strangers. Everyone nervously clutches paper cups of water or cola, as if they were irreplaceable heirlooms, carefully examining the contents of the room to avoid making eye contact. Sometimes it feels like just assembling any random sampling of humanity would be an impossible feat, if not for the promise of free snacks. The lure of food, no matter the type nor quality, is irresistible. That’s why an ingenuous move to incorporate that shared interest into the meet-and-greet itself, as I experienced at a recent gathering.

He sat alone in a quiet corner of the room, pushing hummus around his paper plate with a few limp sticks of celery. Pulling up an empty chair, I plopped down my similar medley of vegetables and chickpea puree, introducing myself with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. Bright smiles, elevator pitch, small talk about the weather. Check, check, check. Soon, the conversation stalls, dribbling down to long pauses and uncomfortable forced eye contact. Grasping at straws, I remembered to check his name tag…

The organizers had cleverly left a space here, prompting us to write down a recent or memorable food experience. “Zucchini muffins,” I read aloud, taking the cue from his haphazardly scribbled notation. “Tell me about these zucchini muffins of yours.”

Not your average sweet breakfast treats, it turns out that the zucchini muffins that this young man makes are savory, flecked with dill and topped by a crust of sharp, salty parmesan. Interesting, but far from innovative, what really captured my imagination was their origin. His not-so-secret recipe goes back many years to the days when he worked at the historic Baldpate Inn in Colorado, where they were actually called “zu-key-ni” muffins.

The title pays subtle homage to the massive collection of antique, unconventional keys donated by guests spanning their 100 years of operation. The tradition began after World War I, when the price of metal made it impossible to give away room keys as they once had so freely. In response, regulars began bringing new keys with every subsequent visit. Now, there are over 20,000 unique keys on display… But still only one zu-key-ni recipe.

Naturally, my head was filled with visions of summer vegetables and muffins for the remainder of the event. Instead of socializing, I was completely preoccupied by the mission of hunting down the fabled recipe, veganizing it, and sharing its story.

It didn’t take long to uncover the full rundown, just as promised, reprinted for all to see in the Taste of Home June/July 2001 issue. Still, I can’t leave well enough alone, and made a few of my own tweaks. Most notably, the zucchini factor is more than doubled here, because if you’re gonna put it in the name, it should really be the star of the show.

Soft, tender, and rich, they’re the kind of muffins that need no additional toppings or spreads to shine. Enjoy warm for maximum effect, ideally toasted to get those perfectly crisp edges, especially a day or two after baking. Some keys are made of metal, but others, of vegetable, apparently. Shared with the right person, this one unlocks hearts, rather than doors.

Yield: Makes 6 Jumbo or 12 Standard Muffins

Zu-Key-Ni Dill Muffins

Zu-Key-Ni Dill Muffins

Soft, tender, and rich, they're the kind of muffin that needs no additional toppings or spreads to shine. They're packed with zucchini to take care of any summer surplus in the most delicious way possible. Enjoy warm for maximum effect, ideally toasted to get those perfectly crisp edges, especially a day or two after baking.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Additional Time 10 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes


  • 2 1/2 Cups Shredded Zucchini
  • 1 3/4 Cups Bread Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 2 Teaspoons Dried Dill
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt, Divided
  • 1 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
  • 1/3 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup Cashew Parmesan


    1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease 6 - 12 muffin tins, depending on how large you'd like to make them; set aside.
    2. Start by tossing the shredded zucchini with 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Let sit for 10 - 15 minutes while you assemble the remaining ingredients to draw out some of the moisture. Blot with a paper towel to remove as much excess water as possible.
    3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder ans soda, dill, and remaining salt. Add the zucchini and toss to coat thoroughly with the dry ingredients. Add the applesauce and olive oil last, stirring to bring together the batter. It will be very thick, but resist the urge to add water.
    4. Distribute the batter between your prepared muffin tins. For standard sized muffins, fill each tin about 3/4 of the way to the top, using all 12. For jumbo muffins, use only 6, and mound them up high in the center. Sprinkle the tops evenly with cashew parmesan.
    5. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes, until lightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Wait for at least 10 minutes before removing from pans to finish cooling on wire racks.


Muffins will keep an an airtight container for up to 5 days at room temperature. Freeze for up to 2 months.

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 167Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 338mgCarbohydrates: 21gFiber: 1gSugar: 5gProtein: 4g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.




7 thoughts on “Keyed Up

  1. Wonderful story! And great recipe – just what I was looking for (with 4 huge zu-key-nis in my fridge!)
    Is it possible to swap the applesauce for something else.. e.g. soy yoghurt?


    1. You could certainly swap the applesauce for something else, like pumpkin puree, mashed banana (although bear in mind that will result in something more like banana bread, of course,) or blended tofu. I would hesitate to replace all of it with yogurt though, as I’ve found that can create a slightly rubbery texture. Let me know what you decide on and how it goes!

  2. What a nice story and encounter! I’m always on the look out for muffins that are less sweet so these are especially appealing. However, I don’t have a food processor so is there something else i could substitute for the cashew parmesan? thanks.

    1. Sure thing! You could use plain nutritional yeast, store-bought vegan cheese, or just omit it altogether.

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