Tea seems like an almost overly-civilized practice out here in the rural US. Usually, at typical tea-time, we are rushing to finish up our work day, so we can get home, or rushing to get the kids picked up and on their way to whatever after-school activity they have going on. We are maybe thinking about what to make for dinner in a few hours, or trying to get caught up on folding that massive pile of laundry in baskets that sometimes seem to be just another version of a dresser.
The last thing on our minds is slowing down, or taking a few moments to relax and enjoy the company of people who are important to us. I have to credit my daughter, Ellyn with causing me to take a look at the late afternoon, and how rejuvenating sitting and relaxing over a hot cup of fragrant tea can be. Before they started home schooling, very often when she got home from picking the kids up from school, they all sat down to enjoy a cup of tea and talk about their day – a practice that we have come to enjoy together when either of us is visiting the other. The kids usually have mint or another caffeine free kind of tea, but the grownups are fond of chai, that uplifting mix of tea and spices.
Which brings me to zucchini bread, and how it is often kind of a disappointment flavor-wise. It’s not that zucchini bread is particularly awful, but rather that it is mostly just sweet and not particularly delicious. If you live in an area where zucchini grows well [and where does it not?], at some point over the late summer, when zucchinis seem to get away from us and get too big, you will be faced with a pile of zucchini bread – at a church dish to pass meal, at a family reunion, or a picnic – someone is sure to make thrifty use of over-sized zukes.So, if zucchini doesn’t bring a lot of flavor of it’s own, it does give you a wide open canvas to paint in whatever flavors you want to add. So, why not go with some really strong stuff? Like black tea, warm spices, a hint of citrus and some toasty nuts? That sounds kind of… tasty, doesn’t it?
- 3 & ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 & ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 & ½ teaspoons cardamom
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon finely ground back tea
- 2 cups grated zucchini
- 1 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
- ½ cup honey
- 3 large eggs
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
- 1 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
- Preheat the oven to 350º, and generously butter two 8x5 inch loaf pans. I also line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper, cut to fit, and butter that as well - just a little extra insurance that it doesn't stick.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, pepper and ground tea [see note]. Set aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, use a wooden spoon to combine the zucchini, brown sugar and honey.
- Add the eggs and mix well.
- Add the oil, vanilla, ginger and lemon zest and mix well.
- Pour the wet ingredient mixture into the flour mixture, and fold together until well combined and fairly smooth. Add the nuts and mix to distribute evenly.
- Divide evenly between the two loaf pans, and smooth the tops.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted near the center comes out with no more than a few moist crumbs.
- Cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire cooling rack. Once cool, wrap tightly to keep fresh at room temperature for a couple days - longer than that and it should go in the fridge. Freezes well for a couple months, if wrapped in plastic wrap and then foil.
It improves with sitting a few days at room temperature, which gives the spices time to really meld and permeate every bite. That is why two loaves come in handy, because it smells so good when it first comes out of the oven that you will not be able to resist.
On the other hand, it will taste mighty good at Thanksgiving time, when the zucchinis are long gone. It will keep quite nicely until then, in the freezer – just make sure to snuggle it tightly in plastic wrap followed by foil, to prevent it from drying out. Enjoy Chai Zucchini Quick bread now and later? That is what I call relaxing.