Celebratory baking yields tangible, tasty reminder of home

Courtesy of Tamika Whitenack.

The familiar smell of butter and cocoa wafts through the air as I pull the loaf of chocolate zucchini bread out of the oven. After waiting for it to cool and taking a satisfactory number of photos, I cut a thick slice, smiling at the soft crumbs that indicate a tender cake.

How did we get here? Like many of my Vassar baking projects, this loaf is a variation on a recipe from home. When I’m in the mood to bake, I often turn to my group chat aptly labeled ????. Created during my first year at Vassar, the chat consists of my mother, aunt, older sister and cousin. Scrolling through the chat reveals a collection of recipes, food photos and tidbits of culinary advice.

In my pursuit of chocolate zucchini bread, I queried the chat, and shortly after, my mother sent a photo of our old recipe card. This is the typical routine for communication in our group chat—someone wants to make something, they ask for advice or recipe suggestions, everyone else chimes in with their contributions. Later, we share photos of the finished product. For me, this chat functions as a treasure trove of delicious information and a meaningful link to far-away family.

People often ask me if I like to bake in order to destress. Rather, I choose to bake as a way to celebrate. Growing up in a family of proud bakers, I associate confectionary creation with happiness and accomplishment. Continuing my culinary habits at Vassar has allowed me to recreate the joy that I find in producing and sharing cookies, cakes and muffins. Baking reminds me of home—childhood afternoons helping mix chocolate chip cookie dough, countless birthdays marked by strawberry shortcake and hours spent crafting hundreds of holiday cookies. I credit my family for my baking skills, and each time I make something new at Vassar, it feels a little like a badge of family honor.

My mother takes her reputation as a good baker very seriously, and I’m trying my best to emulate her talents. Beyond the sense of pride I garner through baking, I cherish the tender sentimentality it evokes. The simple act of mixing butter and sugar, or of measuring flour and cocoa, reminds me of home and my role as a daughter, niece, sister and cousin. It can be easy to become caught up in my role as a student and allow my family to slide to the back of my mind. Baking is a means of maintaining that familial connection. Silly as it may sound, I believe I can capture their spirits, memories and love in a slice of chocolate zucchini bread.

Chocolate Zucchini Loaf

1. Preheat the oven to 350 ̊F. Grease and flour two loaf pans.

2. Cream the butter, then slowly add the sugar. Mix until combined. Beat in the eggs.

3. Stir in the vanilla and zucchini. The batter might look curdled; this is okay.

4. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

5. Add the dry ingredients to the butter, egg and zucchini mixture in alternating additions with the milk (add some of the dry ingredients, then some of the milk, then some of the dry ingredients, etc.). If choosing to use chocolate chips, stir them in.

6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

7. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

8. Enjoy!


12 tablespoons butter 2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups grated zucchini
2 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

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