This is the cake that conjures up childhood memories every time I make it. The original recipe is nestled in one of those tattered ‘Hometown Cookbooks’ that was a staple for those of us who grew up in the rural Midwest. My Mom made this cake while I was growing up, as did half the residents in my tiny town. But my specific memory of this cake takes me to the farm of my childhood best friend several miles down a gravel road east of Regent. Most everytime I shared a meal with Allison at her family home, her mother would make chocolate zucchini cake. I loved it.
While I loved the recipe as written, I’ve made several changes that add more wholesome ingredients like whole grains, reduce the sugar, and intensify the chocolate flavor. I tested the changes on my Dad (also a chocolate fanatic), who thought it was perfect. My Mom, on the other hand, thought it may be too chocolate-y. I took this as a good sign since there’s no such thing as too much chocolate, and she’s not crazy about it like my Dad and me. This is a delightful, versitile everyday cake. It’s well- suited for coffee, ice cream, a cold glass of milk, and friends. It’s very moist due to the zucchini, has nice texture because of the nuts, and the rich chocolate flavor is impressive. It’s a comfort dessert, or maybe that’s just me, thinking about my hometown.
Speaking of my hometown, I figure this is as good a place as any to give you a glimpse at western North Dakota. On our recent trip over Labor Day, Radd and I took the kids down some of the old country backroads– including the short-cut between my hometown of Regent and Radd’s hometown of Bowman, 60 miles away. We drove that road (below) nearly every weekend to see each other 20 years ago. While it wasn’t that impressive to our two and four year olds, it sure brought on the nostalgia. Enjoy the pictures– and the cake!
The Recipe: Chocolate Zucchini Cake
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (canola or vegetable oil can also be used)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk (2%)
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour ( I prefer King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill Flours)
1 cup white whole wheat flour (substitute all-purpose, if you don’t have this)
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa, plus more to coat pan
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups coarsely grated zucchini (about 1 large)
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1 cup chocolate chips (Ghirardelli 60% cacao are my favorite)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter a 9 x 13 -inch cake pan, then sprinkle with cocoa powder. Tap off any excess. In a small skillet toast the walnuts over medium heat, until they become fragrant, about 4-5 minutes. Making sure to stir them during that time.
In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flours, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, and espresso powder, set aside. In a liquid measuring cup mix the milk and vanilla together, set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, oil, and sugars until light and fluffy, about 5-6 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk mixture. Starting and ending with the flour. Be sure to scrape the bowl down when necessary and make sure not to over-mix the batter.
Remove paddle attachment and gently fold the zucchini into the batter with a rubber spatula. Pour into the cake pan and spread flat. Top with toasted walnuts and chocolate chips. Bake for about 35-45 minutes. A cake tester should come out with a few dry crumbs clinging to it. This cake keeps extremely well. I think it’s almost better served the day after it is made. Make sure to enjoy it with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Source: Inspired by recipes in cookbooks from my hometown of Regent, North Dakota.
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