When I was 4 or 5, Santa brought me an Easy-Bake Oven.

It was harvest gold — the “it” color of the 1960s. I was so excited to break it out of its packaging and put it through its baking paces that I think we christened it that morning.

The Easy-Bake could melt cheese and toast bread and make itty-bitty cookies. It even came with a recipe book!

One of the recipes was for chocolate cake. My mom and I followed it to a T, spooning chocolate batter into the oven’s tiny, circular, silver pans. We put the pans on the Easy-Bake’s conveyor belt and peeped inside as the cakes got “cooked” by the oven’s light bulb.

When they emerged and cooled, Mom and I dug into one.

At least, we tried to. It was hard as a puck and tasted like sawdust.

“I think the recipe was wrong,” my mother said. “I’ll bet we were supposed to use baking powder instead of baking soda.”

The cakes went into the trash. Tears were shed. And my takeaway?

Don’t mess with baking. If a switch from powder to soda can wreak such havoc on a teeny chocolate cake, imagine the mess wholescale tinkering could create.

I thought of my Easy-Bake yesterday as I went all recipe rogue on some zucchini bread. The original called for a lot of dry ingredients and just a smattering of oil and egg as liquid. I ended up with a sugary mound I could probably pass off as Play-Doh to my preschoolers.

So I started over: Subbed in some whole wheat flour for the all-purpose; kicked up the spices; used olive oil in place of vegetable and honey in place of some sugar; added a healthy dose of buttermilk. The only thing I didn’t mess with was the baking powder-to-soda ratio.

The batter was just what I wanted: Thick and silky; spicy and somewhat savory. After about an hour in my (standard) oven, the bread emerged bronzed and fragrant.

After cooling completely, I cut into it.

Again … just what I wanted: The crumb was moist, but the addition of wheat flour gave it a little nubbiness. The ginger and cardamom played beautifully with the original recipe’s cinnamon and nutmeg. The honey offered earthiness; the olive oil added depth.

I made this bread less than 24 hours ago, and it’s already almost gone. I’ll make another loaf today.

Too bad I don’t have teeny pans. I wonder how my recipe would fare in that old Easy-Bake Oven.

zucchini bread

Messed-Around-With Zucchini Bread

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup shredded zucchini
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray, olive oil or butter and set aside. (If you use a smaller loaf pan, you’ll have to increase your baking time.)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

In a smaller bowl, whisk the buttermilk, olive oil, honey and egg until smooth. Add to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth.

Stir in the zucchini and nuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Smooth the top, then bake for 50 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Cool for 10 minutes, then turn the loaf out onto a platter. Cool completely(!) before slicing.