Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Growing up, my mom used to read to my sister and me religiously. And although some parents read to their children out of obligation (though sometimes, I’m sure she was tired enough to feel it more of a chore than a pleasure), she never failed to deliver an artful performance. Her rendition of each tale was so lively, so engaging, and so faithful, that our favorite bedtime stories became more like call-and-answer interactive theater than simple recitation. We began to love reading before we could do it ourselves, just because we knew that no matter what, every year, The Whos down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot – but the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, DID NOT. Upon the conclusion of each reading, it was easy to fall asleep knowing that things would always turn out as they should. And really, isn’t that feeling what all moms strive to give their children?

Mom’s consistency in the enthusiasm of her reading was matched only by the consistently high quality of her chocolate cakes. For many, many birthdays, I can think of only ever wanting the chocolate sour cream cake she would bake for holidays, family gatherings, and any other such occasion. Eating a cake so rich, moist, and covered in a dark frosting would make me suspect that I was breaking some rule somewhere, but for my family’s encouraging smiles. Taking a bite of that prized sweet never failed to make me feel that no matter what chaos ensued in the universe (though really, what chaos could there be when I was six), Mom and her cake would always make things right again.

So now that Mother’s Day has passed, I suppose it is easy to lose sight of the maternal influences that were recently and briefly thrown into such sharp flower-ordering, brunch-reservationing relief. Luckily for me, my strongest mom associations have nothing to do with special-occasion flowers or fancy restaurants, but everything to do with the humble, homemade chocolate cake. And it is with this Chocolate Zucchini Cake that I remind myself that someday, when I have kids of my own and that clever old Grinch tries to steal Christmas again, I hope to have half my mom's ability to reassure them that it will all come out right in the end. And if I don't -- at least Grandma can make them a consolation dessert.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Adapted from Epicurious

Notes: This cake is dense and rich, and doesn't taste at all like vegetables. It seems the zucchini just serves to make the cake moist, and give it a good texture. It was a bit much with the frosting, but I've included the recipe anyway. It might be best as a snack cake in a single layer in a large rectangular pan rather than a layer cake, with a layer of cream cheese frosting.


1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour -- you can use all regular flour if you don't have any whole wheat
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup applesauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups grated unpeeled zucchini (about 2 1/2 medium) -- make sure to squeeze the water out of this (after measuring) before you add it to the cake
1 6-ounce package (about 1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup chopped walnuts


1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour (with cocoa powder) 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan OR two 8-inch round baking pans for a layer cake.
2. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into medium bowl.
3. Beat sugar, applesauce, and oil in large bowl with a wooden spoon until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract.
4. Mix in dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk in 3 additions each. Mix in grated zucchini, mix in chocolate chips and nuts. Pour batter into prepared pan.
5. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool cake completely in pan.
6. If desired, frost cake.

Chocolate Frosting (just enough to go between 2 round layers and on top, not the sides)

~3.5-4 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
2 TBS butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
tiny pinch salt
2 TBS milk
1 tsp vanilla

1. Melt chocolate in microwave (as suits your machine -- I like to start with 20-sec increments and then decrease to 10-15 as it melts further). Take breaks between heating to stir.
2. Once chocolate is melted, add butter to the bowl and mix with a spoon until melted and combined.
3. Add vanilla and mix until combined, then do the same with the milk and the salt.
4. Sift powdered sugar into the chocolate mixture and still until smooth and combined. Let cool a bit before using on cake.

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