Monday, August 15, 2011

Zucchini Olive-Oil Cake with Lemon-Crunch Glaze

I am not an animal! I am a vehicle for excess squash! Also, a really good piece of cake.

I remember this from Augusts past--this desultory fog that starts to creep in over the children. They argue in the back of the car, something to do with What's your name Mary Jane? "No, no" they are laughing and irritated both. "No, no. You have to say cucumber immediately. You have to--hup" I look back into the sudden silence, and they are both staring straight ahead, holding their breath. They resume their good-natured bickering as soon as we're past the cemetery.

Later, reading in bed, I hear them brushing their teeth, giggling and arguing in whispers. "Fine," Birdy says audibly, crisply. "Then I'll call you Scrotum McClitoris."

And so, when I ask the kids for help with this cake, Ben grates the zucchini like he's on kitchen duty at a tuberculosis sanitorium, leaning down from a high stool, his face on his fist, dragging the squash limply across the grater. "It's not really grating," he says, as a green slush gathers up at the edges of the grater. I show him that it takes force--real pressure--explain that he's going to have to actually stand up. Birdy comes to assist him, and when I look over, she's punching a measuring cup full of grated zucchini, her fist balled, green shreds flying. "Um, honey? Why are you hitting that poor squash?" She laughs. "Ben said to pack it tight, so I'm punching it." They are so pleasantly ineffective that it's hard to be irritated with them. Hard, but not impossible. "Go," I tell them. You guys are the best--I'm so grateful for your willingness to help. I am. But go. Leave me!" They walk out of the kitchen arm in arm, and I hear them laughing gently at themselves: "I was punching the zucchini!" It could be worse, I know. Especially since two minutes later I have to yell, "I know I just kicked you out, but can someone please grate the nutmeg for me?" and they both run back in cheerfully.

The thing is, I actually love baking--and it's partly because I have systematically hurdled the obstacles standing between me and this love. For one thing, Pam baking spray--the kind that manages to grease and flour at the same time? (With real flour!) It saved me. I used to think, "Maybe I'll make a bundt cake!" and then the thought of greasing all those awful ridges would totally deflate me. No more! Similarly, the Beater Blade on my Kitchen Aid spares me the irritation of stopping the mixer to scrape down the bowl (aka Batter Knuckles), and this seemingly minor improvement is huge for me. Plus, you can cream butter without letting it soften first, and everything mixes so beautifully. I cannot recommend it enough. 
My boyfriend, the Beater Blade.
Zucchini-Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Crunch Glaze

This recipe is from Dolce Italiano, by Gina DePalma, but I got it from lottie and doof, which is one of my favorite food blogs. Even though he's forever posting outrageously glamorous recipes for, like, elderflower fritters and mulberrytinis, because he and his partner are young and unencumbered by the fact of actual meals and, thus, get all the nutrients they need from elegant desserts and fancy alcohol drinks. Sigh.

I've made many changes, however. One is that I'm using half whole-wheat flour because I just can hardly bear to bake with only white flour these days. Another is adding lemon zest to the glaze, which totally MAKES this cake--it's simply the best glaze I've ever made. And you know I'm not a frosting person (by the hundredth frosting recipe I post, you'll be like, "Um, Cath?"). If I made this again, I'd use half vegetable oil because the strong olive-oil flavor actually makes this cake almost too savory. I'm wondering, though: What would this be like with grated chocolate in it? Grated chocolate and rosemary--keeping the vanilla, but skipping the spices? That's how I'm trying it next.

For the cake:
1 cup walnut pieces, toasted 4-5 minutes, and finely chopped
1 cup  all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
2  teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or half olive oil, half vegetable oil)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups grated zucchini (about 2 medium-small zucchini)

For the glaze:
The grated zest and 1/4 cup freshly squeezed juice from one lemon
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease and flour a bundt pan. Or use the evil, wonderful Pam baking spray.

Whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices into a medium bowl and set aside. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (aka my boyfriend), beat the eggs, sugar and olive oil together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed (ha ha, but you won't need to!). Beat in the dry ingredients all at once on low speed until they are thoroughly combined, then switch to medium speed and mix for 30 seconds. Mix in the zucchini and walnuts on low speed until they are completely incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes or until a tester inserted in the cake comes out clean and the cake has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan. Bake a little longer than you might be inclined: it's a heavy cake with a lot of moisture that needs to bake off.

While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze. In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and granulated sugar, then whisk in the zest and confectioners’ sugar until the glaze is completely smooth.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then carefully invert it onto a wire rack. Using a pastry brush, immediately brush the glaze over the entire surface of the warm cake, using all of the glaze; first it will all pour off, but it will start sticking as the cake cools, and you can scoop up the puddled glaze with a spoon and pour it back over (I forgot to use a pastry brush! I just spooned it and made a mess.). Allow the cake to cool completely and the glaze to dry--which it will, beautifully.

Don't be fooled by the smile. She is up to no good.

Don't be fooled by the huge pile of squash. I grated that myself.


Okay, go. Go, you guys.

Oh--but wait!

I love olive-oil cakes, but maybe the combo of zuke and oil conspired to make this one just a tiny, tiny bit too vegetal. As I mentioned, swapping in half regular oil would solve this, I'm almost sure.

My boyfriend.


Ready to bake.

Meanwhile. . . 

And then!

I absolutely love how this looks for some reason.


  1. Yes - it is a beautiful sight! yummy looking. And perfect timing too. Now that the oppressive heat has finally left our area in NJ, I'm ready to fire up the oven. I might just use your tweaking ideas - and report back.

    Thank you Catherine!

  2. Your kids are killing me. Isn't it clear that kids are ready for the structure of school before they're willing to admit it? Mine sure are, at least. They're only 3 and 7 (or 7 on this coming Saturday--what a big girl!), but when I'm already telling them I'm about to send them up to their separate rooms at 8:30 am, I think they're ready for some time apart!

  3. one_more_amy11:55 AM

    That cake looks perfect -- we'll definitely try it this week.

    Also, we made your "camping rice and beans" while camping this weekend -- it was a perfect meal for the first night of camping when it's already 7:30 and there's no time to make a fire and everyone's starving. As a bonus, it was delicious. So, thanks for the suggestion!

  4. I once asked for zucchini recipes on my blog and it seemed like every other one was "gooey zucchini cheesecake" or "choco-chocolately-zucchini tortlette," which makes me think zucchini is just a vehicle for dessert, which cracked me up, but which is also fine.
    This looks really good Catherine.
    Glad to hear that your kids are bickering *sweetly* these days. Looking forward to that.

  5. Soren went to Kindergarten today (full day), and I am the happiest woman on the planet. Reading that Birdy said "Scrotum McClitoris" makes it all the better. I love zucchini! Now, I'm going to read until I have to go to the bus stop.

  6. darlingtiffy2:07 PM

    Hello Catherine. I just found out that I'm a WOD. Wife of diabetic. I think that's the most god awful term ever made up. I mean come on, WOD?? They couldn't think of anything better? I know you'll share in my absolute horror about this, but I digress. :D I'd would love nothing more than to use a lot of your recipes, especially for baking, but need to know if splenda or stevia would really work the same? Its been a real nightmare doing meal planning. He's allowed 6 carbs per meal (15 grams=1carb) so I have to do lots of math, which I'm very bad at. Sometimes its hard to find enough carbs for him in one meal. Having a yummy dessert would help. And make me feel better too. :D Love your post as usual!

  7. Oh I can't wait to try this along with your recipie for chocolate zucchini cupcakes from the Dali Mama site that I found in a stack of recipies that were hiding in the back of my cupboard. I remember how much my daughter loved those cupcakes, and then I remembered that it's because there is so, so much sugar in them. Totally worth it, though. I just made the orange glazed zucchini cake from the August Martha Stewart Living, and it was similarly beautiful and tasty. This is a great varation. I was wondering if you can ever sub yellow squash for the zukes? Just curious. We get a lot in our CSA.

  8. That cake does look good! Sibling bickering at the end of August...of what do you speak?! Hee. Glad to know I am not the only one.

  9. very interested in your boyfriend. Stopping and scraping the sides of the bowl are by far the most annoying aspect of the Kitchen Aid.

  10. I have a Kitchen Aid with a beater blade. But what is this about not having to soften the butter? I think I've tried that and the batter comes out lumpy. Please explain! Not remembering to soften the butter ahead of time is one of my major baking obstacles. Then I try to use the microwave and it ends up melted instead of softened.

    I am not a big frosting person either, but could eat lemon glaze straight out of the bowl with a spoon. Not that I've ever done that of course. Of course not.

    Whoever mentioned the chocolate zucchini cupcakes...they are a favorite of mine. Really delicious. Highly recommended! And I remember an olive oil cake recipe you published once, Catherine, with oranges and walnuts? It was also really, really good.

  11. Ah, but she must solemnly swear she is up to no good...

    I agree that the photo just looks like art for some reason! My zucchini plants did not survive our alternating sizzling heat and monsoons this summer, so I'll have to hit the farmer's market this weekend just to make this recipe. My kids hate zucchini in every form I've tried except desserts, so I'm always looking for new versions. Thanks!

  12. Anonymous8:43 AM

    Scrotum McClitoris may be the best name to call a brother . . . ever. In fact, I am considering inviting my older brother over for dinner, just so we can bicker and I can call him this. I think my mother will love it. OK, she won't but I will just try to call him that when she and my boys are out of the room.

    Birdy is a genius!

  13. Ok, I made this cake yesterday, and it was, honestly, one of the best cakes I have ever had. The fresh nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger really gave it a lot of depth, and I did half olive and half canola, and it was amazing. The glaze really makes it- so bright and crunchy and just spectacular! Thank you Catherine!

  14. Absolutely yes to the grated chocolate and rosemary. I made it like this twice you said, just leave out the spices, keep the vanilla. I grated in 2 1/2 ounces of semi sweet chocolate and and added a teaspoon of finely chopped rosemary. It was ridiculous. It could probably take more chocolate and more rosemary, but I liked the subtleness.

  15. Delightful and yummy! Awesome!

  16. This was absolutely delicious! And I am also a big fan of your orange walnut olive oil cake. My daughter, who does not generally like frosting, loved the lemon glaze and is contemplating putting it on a pound cake or white cake for her b-day. Your tip about the unholy flour spray is one of the best things I've ever learned on the internet. :)

  17. okay, first of all? Scrotum McClitoris? You've got to give a heads up when you're going to write something like that. Pretty sure I aspirated a decent amount of really good red wine. Now, I'll grant you there are worse ways to go...

    This cake was delicious. I loved how not sweet it was (full olive oil) and I would happily leave off the glaze, but the short people will insist...

  18. okay, so C, next product endorsement for your friends from Utah might need to be a food processor with grating attachment. Pretty much changed my we-have-so-much-freaking-bleeping-zucchini world this year.

  19. I made this cake tonight, accept all I had was white flour, and no nuts but still! So good!!