Read It All Up Test Night 1: Chocolate-Zucchini Muffins

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

This is going to be a week of experimentation.

My friend Carol and I have started up a non-profit called Read It All Up®, which is all about combining our mutual love for reading and food into a way to get kids to love reading at a very early age. You can see more on our web page, which is a placeholder until we get the full site up, and we’ve been working with this fantastic, innovative school in Newark to read and eat with the kids, try different things, and really get this project off the ground.

Our next event is on Thursday, and unfortunately I can’t go, so I’m sending cupcakes in my place. Healthy cupcakes. Hence the challenge.

One of the books being read this time is The Bake Shop Ghost, by Jacqueline K. Ogburn.

The Bake Shop Ghost

It’s a fun book about a ghost that haunts a bake shop, and in the course of the story, the bakery’s new owner makes recipe after recipe, trying to make something special to please the angry ghost.

Well, now it’s my turn. I need to come up with a cupcake that will feel like a treat, but be full of healthy ingredients to keep the school happy and show the kids that healthy food can be delicious. They already have the benefit of a teaching kitchen and a brilliant chef who runs it, so I don’t want to come in with mountains of butter and white sugar to wreck everything they’ve been learning.

But is there such a thing as a healthy cupcake? My mission is to find out, with only three nights in which to experiment. (My back-up, by the way, would be my Low Fat Chocolate Muffins, but they’re more about not being unhealthy than actually being good for you.)

Now on to the baking!

Maybe I’ve been watching too much Food Network Star — can you actually do such a thing? — but I threw in an extra challenge to trying a brand new recipe: Juliet wanted to help. But seriously, who could resist this:

Juliet with ingredients

Or this, which she insisted I take a picture of:

Juliet making a face

Not I.

But the hard part was that I’d have to put her to bed in the middle of the process, so I decided to let her help with the dry ingredients, and then take on the rest myself.

She’s getting to be a pro at measuring the flour. We used whole wheat pastry flour.

Juliet measuring flour

When I asked her to look up at me while she was leveling off the top, she refused. “I gotta focus on this, Mommy,” she chided me. Fair enough.

focused Juliet

She added baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and then I had her dump in the cocoa powder.

Juliet adding cocoa powder

She whisked. She’s getting pretty good at it, plus I gave her one of my new, smaller whisks and it definitely fit her hand better.

Juliet whisking

She did a great job.

dry ingredients whisked

And then it was time for bed. Past time, in fact. Teeth were brushed, a story was read, and she was tucked in for the night.

The story, by the way, was an old favorite of mine from my own childhood: The King, The Mice And The Cheese.

The King, The Mice And The Cheese

My grandmother used to read it to us and it always made me hungry for cheese.

But back to the experiment.

Now that Juliet was tucked into bed, I started in on the other ingredients. Into a new bowl went a mashed banana, demerara sugar, milk, a cup of shredded zucchini, and applesauce. I was supposed to add half a cup of applesauce, but I decided to swap half of it for yogurt to see what happened. I think maybe I should have done the whole thing, but it’s hard to play with a recipe you’ve never tried before.

wet ingredients

It looked just as unappealing as I expected, at this point, so with high hopes I added in the dry ingredients.

adding dry ingredients

I mixed it together, then added just shy of a teaspoon of espresso powder to beef up the chocolate a little. The zucchini pieces made me nervous.

I put the batter into the pan, opting to spray the cups instead of using paper liners.

batter in tins

But then….something caught my eye.

lonely vanilla

It looks kind of lonely, doesn’t it? That’s because I THINK I forgot to put it in. I’m not sure. The whole putting-Juliet-to-bed-in-the-middle-of-baking thing threw me off and I still don’t know if I put it in or not. I think I forgot, so instead of scooping all the batter back into the bowl and risking overmixing and potentially doubling the vanilla, I compensated by adding 5 cinnamon chips to the top of each muffin, like I do to banana muffins.

I baked for 18 minutes. The kitchen smelled great. The muffins looked good, like they could actually sub for cupcakes during a reading of The Bake Shop Ghost.

muffins in tin

Out of the pan, they looked even better.


Once cooled, I cut one open. Did the experiment work? Do we have a recipe worthy of The Bake Shop Ghost?

Well…no. Not this time.

It’s better than no muffins at all, and they’re getting eaten up happily, but they don’t come close in flavor to the Secretly Healthy Chocolate Cake I made yesterday, although the texture is fluffier, probably because of the yogurt. It’s not the vanilla, or the possible absence of it; it’s just clearly more about being healthy than being delicious. And that’s not a lot of fun.

So tomorrow, we try again, and I have higher hopes for the recipe I have on tap next. Batter up!


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