Friday, August 07, 2009

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

My friend's husband once left her a note in the kitchen that read: Honey, we're out of bundt cake. It became a family joke, but with a beautiful underlying assumption. That bundt cake, a particularly decadent class of dessert, can be as much of a pantry staple as eggs or milk. And that listing a hand-made treat on a slip of paper can will it into your kitchen. I used to add the word "pony" to shopping lists I found lying around the kitchen when I was young. It was a similar idea.

When I said that bundt cakes are decadent, I'm not kidding. While you can bake any batter in any pan (well, more or less), many bundt cakes are baked in their special hollow-centered form because they couldn't support their own weight in a standard pan. In the excellent food science baking book Bakewise, Shirley Corriher notes that many bundt cakes have particularly high amounts of fat and sugar, like the classic pound cake. These recipes create cakes with a moist and luscious crumb, but they're often sunken, lacking a nicely domed top. The beauty of a bundt pan is that it hides this flaw. There's no center of the cake that can sink in alarmingly, and any slight collapse will be hidden when you flip the cake to reveal its underside, nicely domed from the fancy fluted pan. Genius!

But did I say that bundt cakes were decadent? Well, yes, some are. But not this one. This cake rises nicely, showing that its fat and sugar are in healthy(-ish) proportions. It has zucchini, which we all know to be a green vegetable. And heart-healthy nuts. Why, it's practically granola! With two cups of sugar. More, if you count the frosting. Did I forget to mention the frosting?

This recipe comes from the Baker's Cafe, a cozy bakery where I worked throughout high school and college. It's where I learned most of my baking chops, and where I felt the most at home. It's also where I ate delicious cakes such as this one. Sometimes multiple slices in the course of a shift (and multiple shifts in the course of a week). Those were great days.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

adapted from The Baker's Cafe Cookbook

The zucchini melts into the cake, providing moisture and lightness, with just enough green to make you feel virtuous. If you've got a ton of zucchini, you can sneak in a bit more, with equally delicious results. The frosting is a bit runnier than a standard cream cheese frosting, so that you can pour it thickly, lusciously, over the rounded top of the cake.

3 cups grated zucchini (I like using both the coarse and fine holes on a box grater)
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups neutral oil (like canola or soy)
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 cup chopped walnuts (more for garnish, if desired)

4 oz cream cheese (1/2 cup), softened at room temperature
2 Tbsp butter, softened at room temperature
squeeze of lemon or lime juice (optional)
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup + 2 Tbsp sifted confectioner's sugar

Make Cake:

- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease and flour a 9" bundt pan.

- Set zucchini in a strainer or colander for at least half an hour to drain out the excess liquid.

- Whisk together eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla until well combined. In another bowl, sift flour with cocoa, salt and soda. Add the flour mixture to the oil mixture, folding together until just barely combined. Fold in the zucchini, breaking up any clumps, and then the nuts. Be careful not to over-mix.

- Pour batter into your prepared pan, and bake 45 minutes to an hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 20 minutes, then invert and finish cooling on a rack or plate.

- When the cake is cool, make the frosting. Using a mixer or food processor, blend together cream cheese and butter until uniform. Add the vanilla and optional citrus juice, then beat in the powdered sugar until smooth. Drizzle over the cooled cake. Garnish with additional walnuts, if desired.


  1. Ooh, I just make this recipe - it is awesome!! I managed to include nearly four cups of zucchini. Much to the awe of my 5 year-old. Baker's Cafe cookbook rocks.

  2. I'm a huge fan of this cake, and have shared it with many others, who feel the same. I am just now "halfing" the recipe, and trying it as cupcakes... and I processed the zucchini/yellow summer squash in the food pro to hide it from my unsuspecting boys. I'm sure it will turn out great!

  3. Love this recipe!!! Baking one right now with yellow squash. Mm-mmmm good!