Photo by Zachary Cross
Zucchini bread, introduced in the groovy, healthy 70s, is what most people probably associate with a sweet summer squash treat. Grated zucchini is added to a (usually spiced) quick bread batter, as in a carrot bread or cake. I love squash but I’ll confess I’m not a huge zucchini bread fan. There are some good recipes and even zucchini cake but there’s something about the texture that bugs me.
I love pumpkin-based baked goods, though. They don’t appeal to me until the weather cools down, though hot weather is not stopping companies like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts from rolling out pumpkin spice lattes. Pumpkin muffins and such got me thinking, though: why aren’t there recipes for baked goods with pureed summer squash? It is an extra step but I’ve grated my knuckles enough times making zucchini bread to think that extra step worth it.
I decided to give it a try and thankfully started with a recipe that works best with home-cooked squash: Winter Squash Bars from Simply in Season. I have tried canned pumpkin in this recipe in the past and it was too dry. This distinction is important because summer squash puree can be pretty wet. It needs to be drained well and then the remaining liquid taken into consideration when mixing up the recipe.
I felt that different flavors would be good, rather than the standard cinnamon and spice. I opted for lemon, using grated zest (so I didn’t get away from the grater after all!) and experimented with hints of ginger and clove. I tried two variations: blueberry and poppy seed. They were a hit, especially the poppyseed (I have some big fans of Greyfriar’s lemon poppy seed muffins from back in the 90s.). The blueberry tends to get overly moist but the texture of the poppy seed version is perfect. This is a bar in shape but in texture more like a muffin or cake, not a typical gooey lemon bar.
These bars are found in the dessert section of the cookbook, but I looked at various muffin recipes and found the sugar content to be about the same in the bars as in muffins. So, eat them for breakfast, tea, or dessert as your taste buds prefer. You could experiment with the amount of sugar, though I’d make a batch with regular sugar before experimenting with wetter sugars such as honey or maple syrup. As I’ve said, this can be a pretty wet recipe already. I think it would work well with a gluten-free flour, too; the number of eggs seems to make it less sensitive to the kind of flour used. I’ve used all whole wheat, white, and a combination of the two. I have not used gluten-free flour but I have made it grain-free with green plantain. That variation is on my personal blog.
When buying squash, know that it takes about a pound of squash to make a cup of puree. That varies, though, depending on the squash. The tough peel and big seeds of a larger squash should probably be discarded, necessitating a little more to begin with. You can use any variety of summer squash, spaghetti squash (just be sure to puree it well so you don’t have strings), or even immature winter squash if you can find it (ask a farmer). I’ve not made it with acorn squash but that’s another mild squash with a pale flesh. Essentially you don’t want the rich orange of a squash like mature butternut or pumpkin - save those for October and later!
To cook the squash, cut up and boil until soft (best for summer squash - peel and seed if necessary, smaller squash are fine unpeeled and with seeds; you’ll be blending it all up). Drain the boiled squash well and puree in a food processor or with an immersion blender. You may want to drain again in a fine strainer if it still seems really wet. It should be wetter than canned pumpkin, a tad drier than applesauce. Or bake whole at 350 for an hour or so (depending on size) - best for spaghetti or other winter squash. Scoop out the seeds, then scoop out the flesh and puree. Drain if needed. Then you’re ready to make bars!
The original recipe was double this quantity. I’ve made a printable recipe here, including a second printable for the quantities of the original recipe.
Summer Squash Bars
Adapted from Winter Squash Bars from Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert
1 cup flour (white, whole wheat or half and half)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbs poppy seeds
(optional: 1/16 tsp ginger and/or cloves)
Beat together in a mixing bowl
1 cup summer squash puree (about 1lb fresh squash, immature winter squash, or spaghetti squash)
¾ cup sugar
⅜ cup (6 Tbs) butter, melted
1 tsp grated lemon zest
Mix in dry ingredients to wet. Pour into greased 9” x 13” pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes and cut into bars when cool (or cool-ish!).