painting of zucchini-gingerbread muffin ingredients.

Zucchini-Gingerbread Muffins. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Sarah O. mentioned overgrown garden zucchini in her comment on Zucchini-Feta Pancakes and I thought, “It’s time to get out the other zucchini recipe,” useful for times when you are drowning in zucchini or your zucchini is not of the best or you have zucchini-haters in the household. The solution? Zucchini-Gingerbread Muffins, another example of camouflage cooking.

You’ve heard of zucchini bread, I’m sure. But what if we made it healthier? And what if we took occasion to use up the sour milk, buttermilk, blinky half and half, or old canned milk hanging out in the fridge? If you are shuddering, just stick with buttermilk or plain yogurt when you get to the recipe, but otherwise, stay with me and, as my friend Bob says, you may never pour sour milk down the sink again.

In the old days, when milk used to sour, when ice houses were common and farm wives could not afford to throw things away, they made use of what they had: if the milk went sour, you cooked with it. Good cooks knew that you could “sweeten” milk with soda and sour it with lemon juice or vinegar to adapt it to your recipe.

I developed this recipe to use sour(ed) dairy products and zucchini. The soda takes care of any off-flavors — I am not advocating that you drink soured milk, just that you cook with it — and the oven heat kills any organisms you might otherwise worry about. Gingerbread contains multiple assets in camouflage cooking: cloves, mustard, ginger, cinnamon, molasses and brown sugar. Chocolate is the other great camouflage flavor in desserts but we won’t go there today (unless you want to).

My jumping-off point was the Multigrain Muffins recipe in “Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home.” I have used Moosewood’s muffin recipe so many times that the spine of the paperback book is broken at that page and the page itself is spotted. Need I say more?

The first thing I do is check the end of the  recipe for suggested additions to see how much zucchini I can get away with using. Since it says 1 and 1/2 cups of apples or blueberries, I know I can use 1 and 1/2 cups of zucchini, plus a little more. I go to work with a grater.

Next, I look at the volume of liquids, Because I want to introduce molasses for a gingerbread flavor, I reduce the buttermilk  (or soured milk or soured cream or sour cream or yogurt) to 3/4 cup to allow for 1/4 cup molasses. Now I will follow the recipe pretty much, except for adding gingerbread spices: ginger, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and dry mustard.

Zucchini-Gingerbread Muffins

Preheat oven to 400.

Grease a twelve cup (standard sized) muffin tin with corn oil, vegetable shortening or butter. Use plenty so the muffins won’t stick and your tin cleans easily.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together:

1 cup unbleached flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp each baking soda and baking powder (You must use both).

2 tsp ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp dry mustard, 1 tsp nutmeg and 1/4 tsp ground cloves.

In a small mixing bowl, beat with the same whisk

1 egg


1/4 cup vegetable oil (I use corn oil)

3/4 cup buttermilk or sour milk

1/4 cup molasses (or honey, if you like things lighter in flavor)

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup quick cooking oats

grated zucchini (you can get away with up to two cups — say two small or one large zucchini)

Whisk together and set aside.

Make a well in dry ingredients. Pour in wet ingredients and fold or stir just until blended. Transfer batter to muffin cups.

Bake at 400 for twenty minutes. Test centers with a toothpick or knife if you want — it should come out clean. Let cool on rack for a few minutes.

Food notes:

I like baked goods and desserts less sweet than many Americans. If you like things very sweet, you might want to increase the sugar, or eat the muffins slathered with honey or sweetened cream cheese: you’ll figure it out.

As long as you watch the liquid to dry ingredient ratio you can add other things you like: nuts, coconut, grated apple or carrot, chocolate chips, a teaspoon of espresso powder, lemon zest. If you invent a wonderful variation, frost the muffins with something unique or have a great serving suggestion, by all means write in and share it.

Cornmeal variation: One recent day I ran out of whole wheat pastry flour. I replaced it with another half cup unbleached flour and half a cup of yellow cornmeal. The result was delicious, maybe even better than the original recipe above — if you like cornmeal and molasses, be sure to try it.

Painting Note: For more information about “Zucchini-Gingerbread Muffins” or any other original painting, please contact me here.