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I used to be afraid of baking.
It seemed so unforgiving, unlike dinner each night, which allowed me to improvise and do things less precisely to hit the mark.
But my love of creating in the kitchen has led me to some wonderful mentors who helped me work through my baking issues. Adrienne Kane taught me how to make bread with her thorough ode to the staff of life, The United States of Bread. I learned to relax around yeast and appreciate its idiosyncrasies. I came to understand that mastering bread was more about getting a feel for good dough and not about rigidly weighing ingredients on a kitchen scale.
Tara O’Brady and Malin Elmlid helped me fine-tune those skills with slow rises and sourdoughs. Feel was still important to achieving a perfect crumb but so was sight and smell.
And now I have someone else to lean on and get me familiar with the mannerisms of doughnuts, cakes, pies and pastries.
That someone is Renée Kohlman. Her teachings come by way of her beautiful and earnest homage to all things risen, glutenous and indulgent. Renée, known around the blogosphere as Sweetsugarbean, is the newly minted author of All the Sweet Things (Touchwood Editions, $39.95). And more than a collection of recipes, it’s the story of how this Saskatoon chef became a baker.
It will bring a tear to your eye in parts, make your tummy grumble in others, and wow you throughout. I found myself wolfing down the personal essays that broke up the chapters dedicated to breakfast, cookies, muffins, cakes, tarts, custards and pastries. I could relate to so much of Renée’s story from the big hair to the wanderlust, to moving to the other side of the country for school and being drawn home again. Perhaps this is why we’ve become friends.
I got swept up in the stories of this Prairie girl finding her way with an incredible support network and some all-purpose flour. I worried my husband when, just a few sentences into the introduction, I found myself sobbing about the death of her father when she was girl.
That speaks to Renée’s abilities as a writer. Her book isn’t a detached collection of recipes cobbled together to fulfill the requirements of a publisher’s contract. Each one seems to play an role in her journey. And she relays their significance with a writerly prowess that conjures the likes of O’Brady and Nigel Slater.
As for her recipes, well, I can’t wait to make her parsnip cupcakes. I am a fan of vegetables in sweet things, which is why I chose to share her Double Chocolate Olive Oil Zucchini Bread recipe. I could have made something more springy, like the superlative rhubarb fool. But I have a chest freezer with the last of 2016’s shredded zucchini still taking up space. It desperately needs to be cleared out for the 2017 editions soon to come.
This bread should be made for more than pragmatic motives, though. Here are five good reasons to make Sweetsugarbean’s Double Chocolate Olive Oil Zucchini Bread just because:
5. It uses two cups of zucchini
We all know zucchinis are the rabbits of the vegetable world. Two cups of it is a significant dent in your bounty, especially when you’re feeling like you’ll never get through it all. It’s even better when that zucchini is frozen. That stuff needs a good ringing out to get rid of excess moisture once it thaws, so you’ll need even more than you originally thought to reach two cups.
4. It helps you get your 5 to 10
I love vegetables but I know it’s not everyone’s favourite food group. Those people need to be fed sneaky vegetables and sneaky vegetables are exactly what’s in this double chocolate olive oil zucchini bread. If zucchini wasn’t in the name, you wouldn’t know it was in this rich, melt-in-our-mouth treat. Still, its presence seems to cancel out any of the bad you might associate with such decadence.
3. It doesn’t last
There is no chance of this quick bread collecting dust on your counter. Ours was gone in a day. Renée talks about how it will last two months in the freezer but why test that out? Just eat the stuff. Then go make more.
Double chocolate, to be exact. No further explanation is needed.
1. It makes a bad day great again
Renée has experienced enough heartbreak in life to know the salve for the soul that baking can be. She recommends that on a bad day, a quick bread like muffins makes everything better.
This batter could easily be divided into muffins. You can get lost in the process of mixing ingredients and then treat yourself to alchemic results in very little time.
Bad day? Pfft.
Want to know what she recommends baking on a good day? Renée dishes in the latest episode of Grub: A Podcast about Food.