Monday, August 1, 2011

Zucchini-Date-Apricot Muffins

One of my favorite summer veggies is zucchini. Although they are comparably mild in flavor next to many of summer's other offerings, I just can't get enough! I love them grilled, sauteed, fried, roasted, even raw as crudites with dip. I love zucchini fries (baked or fried), zucchini cakes, zucchini shreds, zucchini bread... I feel like Bubba from Forrest Gump with his shrimp. There's just so much you can do with zucchini, and all of it is just fantastic! My parents have a vegetable and herb garden, and although year after year I criticize their lack of originality in always picking the same vegetables instead of having more variety, one vegetable I'm very thankful for is the zucchini.

With the abundance of zucchini, I decided to whip up some muffins (since most of the other zucchini dishes have been savory). I know I've been baking a lot lately, but I promise I will have some non-baking recipes to share soon. Although there are many zucchini bread and zucchini muffin recipes out in the universe, one of my favorites is the zucchini loaf with apricots and dates from Great Coffee Cakes by Carole Walter. I adapted the recipe to make muffins instead, since I enjoy the convenience of individual cakes, and also the fact that they cook so much faster. The moist and tender muffins are studded with intensely sweet dates and milder sweet/tart apricot bits along with crunchy walnuts. A variety of flavors, levels of sweetness, and texture really sets these muffins apart from more traditional zucchini bread creations. Apart from the obvious addition of fat (butter and oil) and eggs, these zucchini-date-apricot muffins and full of vitamins and nutrients from many of the other components. I'm sure you could easily replace some of the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat as well. Here's to a less guilty start to your day...

Zucchini-Date-Apricot Muffins
Makes 16 to 17
(Adapted from Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More)

1 lb zucchini
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup (about 2 oz) 1/4-inch diced dried apricots (packed)
1 1/2 cups plus 2 T. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
2 large eggs
1/2 cup lightly packed light brown sugar (very fresh)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (about 4 oz) 1/4-inch diced dates (packed)
3/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Line paper liners in 2 standard muffin pans to fill 16 to 17 cups (depending on how much you fill them). It would be best to distribute the liners evenly between the 2 pans, around the edges, so they cook evenly and also prevent the pan from warping. Set aside.

Scrub the zucchinis well, trim off the bottom end of each and use the other end (the stem end) to hold each zucchini while you grate it over a box grater into a medium bowl. Discard the stem. Transfer the shredded zucchini to a colander and sprinkle with the salt, working to distribute it evenly. Place an 8-inch plate directly on top of the zucchini and weigh it down with a heavy object (such as a large can of tomatoes) and let it drain in the sink for about 30 minutes. Then take handfuls of the zucchini and squeeze firmly to remove additional liquid. Set aside.

Place the diced apricots in a microwave-safe bowl and just cover with water. Microwave on high power for 2 minutes. Empty into a strainer and rinse under cold water to cool. Drain well on paper towels.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, ginger, and coriander. Set aside.

Place the eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes. Add the brown sugar and granulated sugar, a little at a time, until well combined (beat each for 2 to 3 minutes). Beat for 2 minutes longer until it is thickened and pale. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.

Combine the butter and oil and add to the mixer (while it's running) in a steady stream until combined. Switch to the paddle attachment, and at low speed at the zucchini and vanilla. Add the flour mixture all at once, mixing just until combined. Remove the bowl from the machine.

Toss the apricots, dates, and walnuts with the remaining 2 T. flour. Using a rubber spatula, fold gently into the batter.

Use a level standard ice cream scoop to distribute the batter among the lined muffin cups. Place the muffin pans side by side in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool before serving. Store at room temperature in an air-tight container for several days.

*Alternatively, if you'd like to make a zucchini loaf, pour batter into a generously buttered and parchment lined 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pan and bake in a preheated 325 degree F oven for 65 to 70 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. When the loaf is almost cool, remove from the pan and peel off the parchment. To serve, cut the loaf into 1/2-inch slices with a serrated knife. This loaf may be frozen.


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