Today, for the second day in a row, my son went to school wearing shorts. This has not happened since September. That’s the way the weather works here, the warm days bookending the beginning and ending of the school year, never to be seen in between. The school year is drawing to a close, and that means that summer is approaching. Though it tends to happen rather slowly around here, it does eventually happen.
Summer, to me, means taking trips. They don’t have to be long trips, but if I can find a way to pack traveling food to take along with us, the trip is, in my mind, complete. Last summer we took day-long bike rides, me pulling my son in a bike trailer that was nearly too small for him (his helmeted head forming a dome under the trailer’s netting while he slouched in his seat and read books about whales); we took our annual 12-hour road trip to San Francisco to watch some baseball games and visit my family; and we made a few expeditions to the beach, where we sat in the sand and constructed cities with my son’s dump trucks and sand castle toys. For every excursion, we packed what I like to think of as a prolonged picnic mea: a bit of bread, a bit of cheese, plenty of crunchy vegetables, some sweets, some nuts, and a ration of fruit. This summer, when our garden is bursting with summer squash, I will definitely find a way to fit these fantastic muffins into the picnic/road trip mix.
We come again to that shadowy place where a cake meets a bread, a bread meets a muffin. The lines long blurred between the three, it is oftentimes difficult to tell where one might be inclined to be identified as something else. Not so much a cake, but also not entirely a bread, these are a lovely little snack to take in on an afternoon trip. They make great traveling companions, and they can survive for several days in an airtight container (presuming that one can resist eating them for that long—we did not, in all honesty, so I suppose I should admit here that my statement on the longevity of these muffins is pure, unadulterated speculation). Though they boast a great deal of dark chocolate flavor and comforting cinnamon and almond tones, the sweetness factor is at a minimum, and a nice combination of shredded zucchini, applesauce, and vegetable oil in the batter keeps the muffins wonderfully moist without ever devolving into heaviness. A stop in a grassy place to stretch one’s legs in the midst of a prolonged car ride would be made several worlds nicer with a bit of this satisfying, not-to-sweet treat to go along with it. All we need now is a destination, and we’re all set.
Mexican Chocolate Zucchini Muffins Recipe
1 2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 heaping cup shredded zucchini (from about 1 large zucchini), squeezed of its liquid
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 12-count muffin tin with paper liners, or grease the tin with vegetable oil.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and instant espresso, and whisk to combine.
In a medium bowl, combine the vegetable oil, eggs, sugar, applesauce, vanilla, almond extract, and shredded zucchini, and whisk to combine.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and stir until just combined. The batter will not be completely smooth, but there should be no streaks of flour remaining. Be careful to not overstir, as that will make your muffins quite tough.
Evenly portion out the batter in the muffin tin. Bake the muffins in the center of the oven for 20 to 22 minutes, until the tops of the muffins appear firm and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin emerges with just a few moist crumbs attached. Allow the muffins to cool in the tin for just a couple of minutes, then turn muffins out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
Makes 12 muffins.