I’m Finally Sharing My Grandma’s Top-Secret Zucchini Bread Recipe

published Jun 19, 2021
Kitchn Love Letters
Grandma's Zucchini Bread

Lemon zest lends brightness to this moist and tender zucchini bread, which is perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack.

Makes2 (9x5-inch) loaves

Prep15 minutes

Cook55 minutes to 1 hour

Jump to Recipe
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loaf of zucchini bread sliced on a wooden cutting board
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner

One of my favorite food memories from growing up in Ohio is eating my grandma’s homemade zucchini bread. She made it every summer with homegrown zucchini from her garden, and whenever the loaves emerged from the oven, everyone in the vicinity would immediately descend. The bread would be gone before it even had a chance to cool.

I live in New York now, but I’m still an Ohio girl at heart (where making quick breads are about as Midwestern as you can get). Last summer, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, my family and I took refuge at my parents’ house in Ohio, where protestors marched throughout the month of June just a few miles away. We did our part and made 20 to 30 mini loaves of my grandma’s bread for a physically distanced bake sale to support the Southern Poverty Law center. It sold faster than the lemon loaf!

Back in New York, my kids and I occasionally have stoop sales to support our local community center, The Brotherhood Sister Sol, and neighbors are often skeptical. (Zucchini bread is not a New York thing.) Does it taste like vegetables? No, I always say — give it a try, you wont regret it. The flavor is sweet, warm, and bright. Even my son, who refuses to eat anything with even a speck of green, will gobble it up. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner

Now, my grandma’s zucchini bread isn’t just better than anyone else’s because it’s nostalgic. No, it’s also because of her secret ingredient. I’ve kept this secret guarded until now — it made me feel close to her, because perhaps she guarded it herself. But knowing my grandmother, she probably didn’t think she was doing anything special or secret, only that her bread was way better than someone else’s down the street. (To be fair, she was an expert baker).

Her secret? Lemon zest. Not lemon juice; just zest. It seems sort of silly — after all, lemon zest features in many a quick bread, cake, or biscuit — but I don’t often see it in zucchini bread. It seriously takes it to the next level, adding a brightness that perfectly contrasts the warmth of the cinnamon. Although it’s not in the original recipe, I like to rub the zest into the sugar to release every last bit of its fragrant oils. The mild zucchini grabs onto these flavors, and the result is a moist, springy, slightly sweet bread that’s packed with flavor. It’s dairy-free, although still plenty moist — eggs add the richness many quick breads get from whole milk, sour cream, or yogurt.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner

Making My Grandma’s Zucchini Bread

Here, I’ve translated my grandma’s recipe into one that’s much easier to follow. My recipe card has very few instructions (like many old recipes, it assumes the baker knows what to do), and also calls for “salad oil” (which is just standard vegetable oil). Judging by these details, I’d guess her recipe originated in a ’40s- or ’50s-era magazine or cookery book for housewives.

You can add nuts if you like (I prefer pecans over walnuts, but either work for texture), but I often leave them out, as nut allergies are common these days and my kids aren’t fond of the nutty version. My grandma often added raisins, so I’ve included them as an option here, although I personally find they interrupt the flavor goodness of the secret ingredient.

My family’s favorite way to eat this zucchini bread is with a thick schmear of cream cheese — it’s how I’ve eaten it all my life. It makes for a very bright breakfast or afternoon snack when you just want a little something sweet with a big mug of milky tea.

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.

Grandma's Zucchini Bread

Lemon zest lends brightness to this moist and tender zucchini bread, which is perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 55 minutes to 1 hour

Makes 2 (9x5-inch) loaves

Nutritional Info


  • Cooking spray

  • 1

    large or 2 small zucchini (about 8 ounces)

  • 1 to 2

    medium lemons

  • 3 cups

    all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    baking powder

  • 2 cups

    granulated sugar

  • 1 cup

    vegetable oil

  • 4

    large eggs

  • 1 cup

    finely chopped walnuts, toasted if desired (optional)

  • 1/2 cup

    raisins, preferably golden (optional)


  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Coat 2 (9x5-inch) loaf pans with cooking spray and dust with flour; tap out any excess flour.

  2. Grate 1 large or 2 small zucchini on the large holes of a box grater until you have 2 cups. Finely grate the zest of 1 to 2 medium lemons until you have 1 tablespoon zest.

  3. Place 3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 3/4 teaspoon baking powder in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.

  4. Place the lemon zest and 2 cups granulated sugar in a large bowl, then rub the sugar and zest together with your fingers until aromatic. Add 1 cup vegetable oil and 4 large eggs and whisk until combined. Add the zucchini and stir to combine. Add the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Add 1 cup chopped walnuts and 1/2 cup raisins if desired and stir until combined. Transfer to the loaf pans and smooth the top.

  5. Bake until golden brown and a tester inserted into the center of a loaf comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before flipping out of the pan onto a wire rack and cooling completely.

Recipe Notes

Storage: The zucchini bread can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months.