aka, What happens when you regularly wake up at 3am and you love baked goods.
Full disclosure, this is not really about the house.
It is really tough living in what is essentially a (giant) studio apartment when you consistently wake up 3 – 7 hours earlier than everyone else. Social media is pretty boring, but there a not a lot of other options when you are afraid of waking people up.1
More background: When I was a kid I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house. Every morning she was up hours before everyone else – and because she had a kitchen that was separate from the bedrooms – she made all sorts of glorious baked goods that were ready to eat when the rest of us eventually joined her.
I would love to bake delicious goodies every morning, but all that opening/closing of ingredients, whisking, water running, etc runs the very real risk of waking an extremely grumpy toddler, and then having to choose between potentially wasted effort (and ingredients), or an angry hulk-baby. So most mornings I just sit around thinking about baking.2
But despite this silence-loving-induced laziness, I do love to bake. I love everything about it (except the cleaning up)3: I love putting it all together, mixing it, licking the bowl/spatula afterwards, the smell it makes in the oven, taking creative license with both the amounts of and the ingredients themselves, and testing out substitutes when I don’t have everything I need (we call this “creative problem solving” on the resume).
And of course, eating the delicious completed product.
So, every morning I have a battle between not wanting to make noise, and really wanting to bake something. Silence almost always wins, but every now and then I actually do manage to get something in the oven – and today it was Zucchini Bread (Grammy’s recipe)4. Which brings us (finally) to the actual motivation for writing this post:
Why does every recipe for Zucchini Bread include oil?!?
What is oil’s purpose in Zucchini Bread? Is there actually some chemical process crucial to the successful Zucchini Bread bake that oil is solely responsible for? Does it make it taste better? Was it just a successful marketing campaign by the Wesson people? What does it do?!??
Spoiler alert, as far as I can tell there is no functional purpose for this ingredient at all!
Every way I could think to phrase the google search came back with irrelevant answers, mostly having to do oil’s role in yeast bread recipes as a ‘shortening’ agent. But Zucchini Bread (and other similar so-called dessert or quick breads) are not yeast-based; they use some combination of baking soda and/or baking powder to achieve their rise. Yet oil is still a not-insignificant component of every recipe! (I later found this site’s explanation, which at least sounds knowledgeably informative – but changes nothing as far as oil’s necessity in Zucchini Bread)
Last summer when zucchini crops were plentiful and we were making Zucchini Bread often, I ran out of oil and didn’t want to buy more, so I googled alternatives.5 One of the alternatives listed was zucchini oil – literally the juices you squeeze out of fresh or frozen zucchini! I squeezed out the zucchini, like I usually do, but this time I saved it and put a carefully measured portion back in. It tasted great (I literally6 could not tell a difference).
Zucchini Bread may differ from other ‘dessert breads’10 because zucchini has so much oil/liquid in it already. Maybe for less oily types of specialty breads you would need to add some oil to get the right consistency. I really don’t know, and I probably won’t test this out much since I don’t really like any of the other ones anyway.
So, primarily because Google was of no help in my own research (in part b/c of a very different type of food that is called ‘sweet bread’), I wanted to add this information to the eternity that is the internet in case someone else ever wonders the same thing. In my experience, including oil when making Zucchini Bread does absolutely nothing and is completely pointless and unnecessary!
A few other things I’ve noticed about most of my favorite (not-cookie) baked goods recipes, for anyone interested:
- cut the sugar in half (I either can’t tell a difference, or I like it better)
- add way more of the namesake ingredient (especially if that ingredient is pumpkin)
- mix all the dry ingredients separately from the wet ingredients before mixing them together (even if the recipe doesn’t specifically say to do so; it seems to almost always make for a better end product)11
- personally, I never measure salt and rarely measure cinnamon or other spices. Rough estimates work well and reduce the number of measuring spoons I12 have to wash afterwards.
- I use Allrecipes website when possible for the sole reason that you don’t have to read the person/recipe’s life story and wait for slow-loading ads that are sprinkled throughout the biography in order to find the damn recipe!13 🙂
- if you want to pre-burn some calories or just build up your useful muscles, try making all your recipes without a mixer. Hand mix with a whisk/fork/wooden spoon (or some combination thereof). It’s surprisingly not-that-hard, and is an oddly satisfying achievement. Also crucial if you are trying to be quiet in your baking endeavors.
I probably have some others that my sleep-deprived mind has forgotten, but in general my primary baking14 tip is to do whatever works for you, try or ignore tips or ideas (like those above) as you like, and try not to stress about any of it too much.
1 Specifically Oberon. Westley can sleep through anything, and I frequently hate Sergiu for his ability to not wake up at 3am.
2 A significantly less satisfying option.
3 Which is why I don’t do this part. Thank goodness for Sergiu.
4 Westley has been asking for weeks if we could make another batch, so I dug through the freezer and found some of our extra Zucchini from the summer.
5 This isn’t the same site I found before, but it mentions pureed zucchini as an alternative and I can’t find the other one.
6 I am using this word correctly. I quite literally could taste no difference.
7 ‘Won’ is a misleading word. This was never even a competition, just inevitability.
8 Depending on how juicy your Zucchini is, you may still want to squeeze some of the juices out in order to get the batter consistency right. But maybe not – I haven’t tested this part out much either way.
9 Okay, not every batch has been ‘perfect’, but the various imperfections were caused by different mistakes I made – usually baking time or forgetting some other actually important ingredient.
10 Dessert shmessert! These are meals, and delicious and (reasonably) healthy ones at that!!!
11 Two exceptions to this are my grandmother’s chocolate cake recipe and our ‘raspberry puddin” recipe – both are so magnificently foolproof that this step is truly unnecessary.
12 “I”, in this case, definitely means Sergiu.
13 This post doesn’t count. First, this is not claiming to be a recipe – this is full-disclosured thoughts on baking. Second, even though it’s not technically a ‘recipe’ post, I posted a picture of the recipe at the very top in case you all wanted it. Third, I don’t have ads on here to slow down your browser.
14 ‘baking’ = life (I’m so deep at 7am, aren’t I?!)