Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Foto: Zucchini Cupcakes

Today is an historic day for No Gluten, No Problem. For the first time in the history of the blog, we're sharing a recipe whose main ingredient is something we grew ourselves, in our garden, from seed. You see, two days ago our organic 400-square-foot community garden plot - a humble space with great aspirations - yielded its first fruit: a pair of gorgeous zucchini. And so it was that on July 6 we reaped our first harvest.

I imagine that every gardener goes through a similar climax moment, the time when your garden has paid its first dividend, and you go home and proudly prepare and eat whatever it is you've been trying to grow. It is a magical moment. Though I have a firm grasp of the biology of it all, I remain in awe that we began with a 20x20 square of weed-choked earth, and that - through the inputs of nutrients, water, sunlight, and tender loving care (usually 3 or 4 nights a week spent at the garden lately) - seeds sown weeks or months ago have grown, almost before our very eyes, into robust plants that are now beginning to feed our family.

It has been a roller coaster of a ride thus far. Part of that must certainly be due to our status as novice gardeners. We both grew up with very modest gardens out our childhood homes, but it's been many years since either of us has put our proverbial green thumbs to any real use. In past seasons we've purchased a single basil plant that served us well through pestos and margherita pizzas. And there was the one summer I tried to surprise Kelli with a culinary herb garden. (Of 5 pots, only 4 germinated, and none grew into anything usable.)

I suppose it's true to our artisanal, from-scratch style of cooking and baking, but we've grown everything from seed, rather than purchased starter* plants from a local nursery. And as newbies, we've inevitably made some mistakes doing so along the way. We left our peppers (bell and jalapeno) in the seed starter trays much too long, stunting their growth. We didn't give the tomatillos enough sunlight, causing them to grow tall and leggy in search of solar radiation. We failed to sufficiently harden off our three varieties of tomatoes before transplanting them to the field. (24 hours later, they had withered and yellowed, and we were sure we'd lose the whole lot of them...) Some seeds sown directly into the field seemingly failed to germinate after weeks, and we gave up on them, assuming we'd need to start again.

And yet, the plants and the garden have surprised us with their resiliency. The corn, which the folk saying says should be "knee high by the Fourth of July," is instead approaching eye level. The stunted, yellowed basil and peppers have regained their vibrant deep green hues and are growing well. The tomatoes have genuinely shocked us - from the brink of death they have made an astounding comeback, and we should be harvesting tomatoes in the not too distant future. Cilantro, Brussels sprouts, and lettuce - which all failed to germinate, or so we thought - are now growing well. Meanwhile, the beets, Swiss chard, onions, carrots, broccoli, winter squash and zucchini are all exceeding our expectations.

The garden has been an emotional roller coaster ride, taking us from high to low and back to high.

The garden has also been therapeutic. There's something about time spent doing physical labor under the glaring late-day sun. We disconnect from our phones, and emails, and television. We instead immerse ourselves in heat and humidity and dirt and bugs and the occasional thunderstorm, and best of all, family. Our garden - just one mile, almost exactly, from our house - has become an integral part of our weekly ritual.

I sense that the ritual of the garden is reaping some sort of spiritual earnings. My soul benefits from the time spent there. I look forward to gardening each week, not just for the tangible growth, the cultivation, the expectation of a harvest to come, but also simply for the process.

Of course, the garden is now also paying real dividends, and those two zucchini are our first withdrawal. The larger zucchini we set aside for a fresh preparation with dinner tonight. But the smaller zucchini we earmarked for something a little more indulgent, a little more celebratory - a cupcake.

We contemplated including a zucchini cupcake in our new cookbook, Artisanal Gluten-Free Cupcakes. It ultimately didn't make the cut. Not for lack of merit, mind you. Many cupcakes failed to make the cut, simply for lack of space. We were committed and bound to 50 cupcake flavors, and our brainstormed list of potential flavors easily doubled that number. In the end, our Carrot Cake Cupcake got the nod for a shredded vegetable cupcake.

But that's okay. Instead, we share a zucchini cupcake recipe with you today. It's loosely based on our zucchini cake recipe from 2008, though with some modifications here or there. It's moist and tender, sweet but not overly so, with a cream cheese frosting whose mild tang provides a perfect counterpoint to the subtly sweet zucchini cupcake.

Zucchini Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes

2 cups shredded unpeeled zucchini (about 2 medium)
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tbsp GF pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (about 310g) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
2 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp GF baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Line standard cupcake tins with paper liners.
2. Combine the zucchini, sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla in a mixing bowl. (We like a stand mixer, but it's not required.)
3. Add the flour and all remaining ingredients, mixing just until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix at high speed for 5 seconds.
4. Divide the batter evenly between the paper-lined cups. Make the tops of the batter as smooth as you can.
5. Bake for 25 minutes.
6. Let cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
7. Finish the cupcakes with some cream cheese frosting (recipe follows).

This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free

Cream Cheese Frosting

12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup salted butter (2 sticks), room temperature
3 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 tsp GF pure vanilla extract

1. With an electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese and butter until completely incorporated.
2. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla, and mix until smooth and of spreading consistency. (Use additional confectioners' sugar to make a thicker frosting, if needed.)

This recipe is: gluten-free, egg-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free

This recipe can be easily made dairy-free and vegan by substituting vegan butter and vegan cream cheese.


- Pete


glutenfreeforgood said...

That is a pair of gorgeous zucchini! I've gardened off and on my whole life and I must admit to being thrilled to have a real farmer do the work for me now (my CSA share). I don't miss that roller coaster ride you describe in your post. Having said that, it's rewarding when you end up with a prize like you have in that photo.

I was just debating whether to make the carrot cake or sweet potato walnut cupcakes from your new cookbook. I need to make a dessert for a get-together this weekend. These zucchini cupcakes look wonderful, but I think I'll go with the sweet potato version. I have sweet potatoes in the pantry. I'll save the zucchini recipe for another time! It looks to be a "keeper." =)


Anonymous said...

Nice muffin recipe, but I'd love to see you leave out the sugar and go with honey or agave. Interested?????

plot26 said...

Congratulations. We are in our second year of gardening at our community garden. Our plot is only about a quarter the size of yours. Something always fails, but our tomatoes are terrific this year! Tomorrow, we are going to try your recipes for homemade pasta and we're going to pair it with a sauce made with oven roasted, home grown San Marzano tomatoes, home grown basil, home grown garlic and home grown onions. Can't wait!

The Healthy Apple said...

Love zucchini and loving this adorable cute and perfect for a summer dessert. Just lovely!
Thanks for sharing.

peterbronski said...

Hi Melissa... Thanks for stopping by NGNP! How did the sweet potato walnut cupcakes turn out? We got more harvest from our garden today, and are continuing to cultivate it to the best of our ability.

Hi Anonymous... We're one step ahead of you. Follow the guidelines in this blog post - - to convert our cupcake recipes with sugar to cupcakes using brown rice syrup or agave nectar. Enjoy!

Hi Plot26... Sounds great! Making a dinner with so many items grown in your own garden must be very rewarding.

Hi Healthy Apple... Thanks for swinging by! Glad you enjoyed the recipe. =)

Cheers, Pete

Michele said...

Amazing recipe! I made these for our neighborhood "night out" and they vanished. People could not believe they were GF. I even made them with half oil and half apple sauce and they were light and springy - fantastic!!! I am making them again, by request this weekend!

Claire said...

In your cupcake book, you mention that paper cups work better than foil. I usually use washable silicone cups for traditional muffins and cupcakes to cut down on waste, but haven't tried gluten-free with them yet. Is the breathability issue specific to gluten-free baking or a general preference? I don't mind the little bit of "crust" on a muffin that I normally get with the silicone cups, but I wonder if it will be more problematic without gluten.


peterbronski said...

Hi Michele... So glad to hear the cupcakes were such a hit!

Hi Claire... We haven't tried baking the cupcakes in silicone molds, though we certainly sympathize with your goal of reducing waste with cupcake wrappers. We found it was a permeability and heat transfer issue with the foil wrappers. The paper cup liners worked much better. But please do let us know how the silicone option works out!

Cheers, Pete