I’m not sure what makes breakfast breads so darn attractive.
Maybe it’s the way I wrap them in foil – always in foil, except for when they have a glaze, in which case I use waxed paper – and nibble away, slice by slice. The first time I open the foil, I take the bread out completely, slice it on a cutting board with a proper knife, and return it to the foil, tucking it in like a child. The second time, I cut it still in the foil, with a regular dinner knife, and the blade smooshes some of the bread into the crinkles of the foil, so things start to get messy. By mid-afternoon I’m carving slivers, really miniature breakfast bread towers out of the loaf, then by dinnertime, I scoop bread out with anything—knife, spoon, fork, spatula, whatever. I don’t even bother to re-wrap it. And of course I don’t use a cutting board. By the time it’s gone, the foil is the only proof that the loaf was loved. It’s torn and pliable, wrinkled and leathery, skin after a summer of too many sunburns. There are little bits of moist crumb clinging to its cracks, and dried crust sifting through the bottom of the foil, where an errant fork poked through.
Maybe I find the way the bread cuts a bit endearing – I can never get it straight up and down, even if I’m trying my best to be precise.
Or maybe it’s the way it feels in my mouth. It’s soft, yielding, layers of cake and vegetable and sweetness light on the tongue but hefty in the belly. (It’s rarely the low-fat version.)
Or maybe it’s just that breakfast bread is familiar. This recipe is based on my grandmother’s zucchini bread recipe, which I finally found, at my brother’s request. It was tucked into a metal recipe box, with the other habits from her 50’s kitchen, on someone’s personalized recipe card. (We’re not sure who Sandy Jones was, but we can see she wasn’t big on directions.)
I’m sure it’s not quite what Josh had in mind – I added cornmeal, like he asked, and updated the loaf with a bit of whole-wheat flour. But this bread tastes far too normal and delicious (homey, really) for Zucchini-Sweet Potato Bread, which sounded to me before like a breakfast bread from Mars.
It’s not quite my zucchini bread. I’d add different things, if it were my recipe – flaxseed meal and spices, and yogurt in place of some of the oil, or perhaps a bit of buttermilk for tang. Less sugar. And nuts, for sure, if Josh wasn’t looking.
But it’s not mine – it’s my grandmother’s. And even with my brother’s touches, the first taste brought me back to a memory I didn’t know I had: I was sitting at the kitchen table with a glass of juice, playing with the lazy Susan, pretending I didn’t see my grandmother’s husband pour himself a Pepsi at 8 a.m.
When I made this, it occurred to me that my family doesn’t really have family recipes. At least, I didn’t think we did. There are things my mother makes that I love, and she’s a glorious cook, but she doesn’t own a recipe box (at least not one that I’ve seen). There are no recipe compilations. Sure, she made zucchini bread, delicious roasts, and challah, and the occasional batch of chocolate chip cookies when I was growing up, but I can’t think of a single recipe that I think of as “hers.”
Maybe I just like breakfast bread because it tastes like family.
And yes, actually, zucchini and sweet potatoes do go together.
Based on my grandmother’s recipe for zucchini bread, updated only with a bit of whole wheat flour and a smidge more baking soda, this breakfast treat isn’t as avante garde as it sounds. You’ll love the sweetness the potato adds, but probably won’t notice its flavor.
TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: Two 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaves
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purposed flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups grated zucchini (from 2 medium, or 3/4 pound zucchini)
2 cups grated sweet potato (from 1 medium peeled sweet potato, about 3/4 pound)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Coat the insides of two 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” baking pans with the baking spray and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the flours, cornmeal, soda, salt, and cinnamon to blend, and set aside.
In the work bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand-held mixer), whip the sugar and eggs for 2 minutes on medium-high speed, until light. Add the oil and vanilla, and mix to blend. With the machine on low, add the dry ingredients a bit at a time, mixing until the flour is just incorporated. Stir in the zucchini and sweet potato.
Divide the batter evenly between the pans, and bake 60 to 70 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of one loaf comes out clean. Cool 20 minutes in pans, then transfer loaves to racks to cool to room temperature. Store wrapped in foil, at room temperature for a day or two, or up to a week in the refrigerator. Cooled loaves can also be wrapped well in plastic and frozen up to 3 months.