These zucchini bars use wholesome ingredients, a less processed sugar and less oil than the classic recipe with a lightened up cream cheese frosting. They’re gluten-free too!
I know summer was technically over on Monday.
And I know people are all about diving head deep into pumpkin spice, squashes (I just bought my first batch of delicata for the season!) and all things fall but, I have to give summer one last shout out with these zucchini bars.
*This post is sponsored by Domino® Sugar. All content and opinions are my own.
Plus, this zucchini is eaten in dessert form and with cream cheese frosting.
I think that alone one-ups pumpkin.
Healthier Zucchini Bars
Zucchini bars or, zucchini “cake” bars as they should really be called seem to be a sort of classic recipe.
I wanted to take that traditional recipe, give it a twist, some added flavor and turn this into a recipe you can feel just as good about snacking on and sending to school with your kids as you can enjoying for dessert.
From top to bottom, these bars are lightened up, gluten-free and yet still packed with flavor.
They’re tenderly moist with the perfect amount of sweetness that doesn’t overwhelm, even with the cream cheese frosting.
Using gluten-free flour, oat flour and rolled oats as the base, the crumb of these zucchini bars stays interesting with just enough texture and chew.
Greek yogurt and low-fat milk replace larger quantities of eggs and oil and I used Domino® Golden Sugar to sweeten them just enough.
I love that this new sugar, while made from cane sugar, is a less processed version than traditional white sugar.
There’s a hint of molasses flavor to it that brings extra depth to the recipe and, the best part is that it’s used 1:1 like regular sugar so you don’t have to do any crazy math while baking.
Check out the peanut butter and jelly muffins I made with it as well!
I often times find zucchini bars (and carrot cake also) to be overly sweet.
It’s like the recipes don’t account for the fact that there’s a cream cheese frosting on top with more sugar in it and it’s as if a sugar bomb exploded in your mouth at the first bite.
I used just 1/3 cup of sugar in this zucchini bar recipe and what resulted is the perfect sweetness level to balance the cream cheese frosting on top.
You know it’s a dessert when you take a bite but, you can actually taste the flavors in the zucchini bar instead of it being overly sweet.
How To Make Zucchini Bars
There are two parts to these zucchini bars:
- the zucchini bar base
- the cream cheese frosting
For the zucchini bar base
You’ll mix these dry ingredients together in a large bowl:
- gluten-free flour
- oat flour
- baking powder
- baking soda
In a slightly smaller bowl, you’ll combine the wet ingredients:
- melted coconut oil
- Greek yogurt
- vanilla extract
- Domino® Golden Sugar
- grated zucchini
Next, you’ll add the wet ingredients to the dry, stir everything until it’s well combined and then transfer to a greased baking dish.
The zucchini bars will bake at 350°F for about 25 minutes. Once they’re cooked in the middle and golden on the edges, remove the baking dish from the oven and let it cool completely while you make the cream cheese frosting.
For the cream cheese frosting
Using a handheld mixer, you’ll beat the following ingredients in a medium bowl:
- softened unsalted butter
- neufchatel cheese (low-fat cream cheese)
- Greek yogurt
- vanilla extract
- confectioners sugar
The butter and cream cheese are beat first until light and fluffy and then the remaining ingredients are added. Take caution to mix on a slow speed while adding the confectioners sugar.
The zucchini bars are then assembled by removing the cake from the baking dish and spreading the cream cheese frosting in an even layer on top.
Before serving, sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons of the Domino® Golden Sugar for a slightly sparkly top and a bit of a sweet crunch!
I’m not gluten-free, can I use regular flour?
Yes, you can substitute all-purpose flour for the gluten-free flour.
You can also use whole wheat white flour or whole wheat pastry flour if you wish.
Can I use low-fat cream cheese or full-fat cream cheese instead?
Yes, I love neufchatel because it’s a little lower in fat and slightly higher in moisture. But, it can be used interchangeably with cream cheese.
Whatever cream cheese you use, be sure to use block cream cheese, not whipped varieties.
Why do I need to squeeze the zucchini of water?
The recipe calls for 2 cups of grated zucchini before squeezing the water out of it. Once you do this, you’ll end up with a significantly smaller amount of zucchini – that was all water!
Imagine if all that water ended up in your zucchini bar – it’d be a soggy mess. It’s very important to thoroughly squeeze the water from the zucchini. Don’t be alarmed, that 2 cups will go down to something like 1/2 cup or less!
If using frozen grated zucchini, you should have done this step before freezing but it’s also smart to give it a quick squeeze again after it’s thawed before use in these bars.
How do I store the zucchini bars once they’ve been frosted?
These zucchini bars with the cream cheese frosting will keep in an air tight container in the refrigerator for about a week.
You can also prepare the zucchini bars ahead of frosting and keep the cake wrapped for 1-2 days beforehand.
Can I add nuts, chocolate chips, other add-ins?
Of course, make these your own!
Some chopped walnuts would work nicely in these zucchini bars. Unless you’re a no-nuts in my cake kind of person and I can totally understand that! Not a huge fan myself.
Mini chocolate chips are another great option too. I love chocolate and zucchini bread combined (this chocolate zucchini bread is one of my favorites).
Other dried fruit or a variation of the spices used (try some cardamom or allspice) would also be fine.
I would say you can safely add about 1/3 cup of add-ins without needing to alter the rest of the recipe.
If you love these healthier zucchini bars, check out some of these recipes too:
And if you love things with cream cheese frosting, don’t miss these!
Zucchini Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting
For the zucchini bars:
- 1 cup gluten-free baking blend can sub all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup oat flour
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil melted
- 1/2 cup 0% plain Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup 2% milk or any other milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup Domino® Golden Sugar
- 1 large zucchini grated abut 2 cups, squeezed of excess water
For the cream cheese frosting:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter softened
- 5 ounces neufchatel low-fat cream cheese
- 2 tablespoons 0% plain Greek yogurt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup Domino® Confectioners Sugar
- 1-2 tablespoons Domino® Golden Sugar
For the zucchini bars:
- Grease an 8×8 or similar sized baking dish and preheat oven to 350°F.
- Combine the flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda and spices in a large bowl.
- Whisk together the egg and coconut oil in a medium bowl.
- Add the remaining wet ingredients except the zucchini and whisk until thoroughly combined.
- Gently fold the zucchini into the wet ingredients.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until combined.
- Transfer the batter into the prepared baking dish, spreading evenly into the corners and bake for about 25 minutes until center is cooked through and edges start to brown and pull away from the baking dish.
- Remove from oven and let cool completely in the dish.
For the cream cheese frosting:
- Beat the butter and neufchatel/cream cheese in a medium bowl with a handheld mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes until light and fluffy.
- Add the Greek yogurt and vanilla and beat again until mixed through.
- Slowly add the confectioners sugar with mixer on low speed. Once all the confectioners sugar has been added, increase speed to medium-high and beat until smooth.
- Remove the cooled cake from the baking dish and spoon frosting on top. Spread an even layer of frosting across entire cake then sprinkle top with the Domino® Golden Sugar.
- Cut into 16 squares before serving.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.
Gina Matsoukas is the writer, founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients as much as possible. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.