Thursday, September 2, 2010

Zucchini for Dessert

photo by Anthony Palatta

When I serve this delicious dessert, either as cupcakes or cake slices, part of the fun is asking friends to guess the key ingredient in what they're eating. They rarely believe me when I tell them it's zucchini.

I first made this zucchini cake when I was living in Italy in the month of August, prime zucchini season there. (I was lucky enough to be doing a writing residency at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Umbria.) Every day we ate zucchini, sliced and sauteed, stuffed with bread crumbs, and shaved over pasta.  But of course it takes an American to think of grating it up and adding it with brown sugar to cake batter.

When I made this in Italy, it was fun searching for the Italian translation for ingredients like "confectioner's sugar," which you need for the cream cheese frosting. By the way, "cream cheese" in Italian is "Philadelphia," as in the brand name.  It's the only kind available there, and the packaging is exactly the same as it is in the States.

The recipe, a reader contribution to Everyday Food, couldn't be simpler. (Click here for exact instructions.) I omit the nuts and sometimes vary the dark brown sugar with light brown. Also, I find the cooking time called for (40-45 minutes) is WAY too long. 25 minutes were plenty in my oven for cupcakes. 30 minutes is good if you're making this as a single layer cake.

The taste of zucchini cake is very similar to that of carrot cake, only a bit lighter and sweeter, and the texture is fluffier. The warm cinnamon-brown sugar flavor of the cake makes for a perfect pairing with a rich cream cheese frosting. And it's a great way to sneak in an extra vegetable serving to your day.

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