Some food, some drink.
How to eat your favorite vegetable and your favorite dessert at the same time.
Abstract: Those jumbo zucchinis that seem to be good for nothing but baked goods are always welcome in my kitchen. I like to let a few get out-of-control on purpose, just so I can heat up the house to make one of my all-time favorite baked goods: a Zucchini Chocolate Fudge Cake. This simple, yet decadent snack cake is a full pound of vegetables incognito; buried underneath a crispy-crunchy layer of vanilla sugar, melted chocolate and pecans. Is it good for you? Is it doing nutritional disservice to the zucchini? When it tastes this good, who cares? If there was ever a reason to plant a garden, this is it.
Purpose: This recipe is another one of my favorites that I pilfered from my Grandma's recipe box. It's one of those recipes that's so damn good, that you're afraid to tinker with it (too much). Every summer without fail, this is the second zucchini dish I make (always gotta grill the first one out of the patch for purposes of instant gratification). I'm a big fan of zucchini in baked goods in general, but given the choice, I'll probably roll out at least one or two more 9x13 slabs of this chocolate wonder this summer before I proceed with any breads or muffins. Summer is short, and I want to make sure that I'm absolutely sick and tired of this cake so I won't crave it again until next year.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Preheat oven to 350F. In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar for a couple of minutes on medium speed. Add eggs and vanilla and continue beating for a couple more minutes, or until creamy-smooth. Add cinnamon, coffee, salt, baking soda, and cocoa; continue beating until integrated into the mix. Slowly add in flour. Once it's all in, stir in the grated zucchini. Pour the whole mess into a 9x13" casserole and top with nuts, chocolate chips & vanilla sugar. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.
- No mammoth-sized squash? Not a big deal. You really only need a zucchini that's about a pound and a half pre-processed.
- When dissecting your curcurbit, leave the skins on, but be sure to discard the seeds and pith from the center.
- The best way to tear down a big zuke is to cut the edible portion into 2in x 8in bars. Take the bars to task on the box grater, skin-side first. A food processor works as well, but you'll spend more time cleaning hardware than you would have spent with a decent grater.
- Plain ol' sugar will give you the same lovely top with just a little less aroma if no vanilla sugar is on-hand. Demerara is also good if you like more crunch.
- In the realm of nuts, walnuts work well as a pecan substitute.
- There's plenty of sugar in this cake already so be sure you're using semi-sweet chocolate chips, as opposed to milk chocolate. You can also add an additional half-cup of chocolate chips to the batter if your chocolate craving is serious.
Results: Given its mild flavor, people might be
inclined to say that if you replaced the zucchini in this cake with
milk or even water that the taste would be similar. I beg to differ.
Aside from the zucchini acting as a liquid delivery vessel for this
cake, there is a subtle taste complexity that comes from the squash
that I don't think you could get from anything else. By my palate,
the zucchini reinforces the sweetness of the cake while amplifying
the richness of the cocoa and that aroma of cinnamon. All the while,
that wholesome bottom layer plays the role of good cop to the bad
cop that is a lovely mess of toasty pecans and gooey chocolate,
bound by the delicate sugar crust.
In the end, I just keep eating the cake and slugging back milk while trying to reassure myself that as far as chocolate indulgences go, this one has good things going for it. If you look at the measurements by weight, there's about as much vegetable in this cake as butter and sugar combined; a full pound to be exact. Hell, even if it is bad for me I don't think I care. This dessert is a reason that I look forward to summer.
I think my three-year-old daughter said it best: As I was sharing a piece with her the other day, she exclaims after her second bite, “Dad, this cake is deee-wishous!”.