A few years ago, I was extremely fortunate to meet Gina DePalma, the pastry chef at Babbo in New York City, thanks to the matchmaking efforts of Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg.
Being bakers, we struck up a friendship and she gave me a copy of her gorgeous book, Dolce Italiano. And after we had dessert and coffee together, we ambled the streets of New York City a little and made plans to meet in Rome, where she was moving to work on her second book. Unfortunately we didn’t get to have our Roman holiday, but I often thumb through her book and dream about how much fun we would have had lapping our way through the gelaterias of Rome and eating all those pastries with little sips of Italian espresso in between bites.
Her book is one of those exceptional cookbooks that makes excellent reading (as well as being an entirely enticing collection of recipes), especially the chapter on Italian ingredients, which isn’t just a rote list of what to buy. She discusses the importance of baking ingredients and what they mean to Italians: olive oil isn’t just to moisten, it’s a flavor. And why citrus figures into Italian desserts more often than vanilla.
Come winter, I plan to make her Chocolate and Date Pudding Cakes, but since it’s summer, people with gardens are often bemoaning they have too many zucchini and are always looking for ways to use up their bounty. And with a crunchy lemon glaze, I had a hard time resisting making this recipe and sharing it. The genius of the glaze is adding granulated sugar, which gives it an especially profound sweet-lemony sour crunch. The glaze is not a looker (which finally made me break out my silicon pastry brush for the first time, and I’m never going back to bristles again) but it tastes amazing with the spiced zucchini batter and I’m happy to let looks step aside to give way to flavor.
Us city-dwellers have to buy zucchini, which probably seems like folly to those of you out there with gardens exploding with zucchini of all colors, shapes, and sizes. And although I know you’d be happy to send me your surplus, I’d rather you bake one of these cakes for yourself. Or two. Or three.
Zucchini Cake with Crunchy Lemon Glaze
Adapted from Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen by Gina DePalma
I used the fine grating disk for my stand mixer but Gina recommends if grating the zucchini by hand, use the fine holes on a box grater. I also think since you’ve got the grater out, you may as well add a few swipes of lemon zest to the cake batter, since you’re using the juice for the glaze, which I’m going to do next time.
The best way to invert the cake is to lay the cooling rack over the top of the cake pan, then grasping both the cake pan and the rack simultaneously (if it’s too hot, wear oven mitts), flip them both over at once. Lift off the cake pan, then liberally brush the glaze over the warm cake.
For the cake:
1 cup (135g) almonds, pecans, or walnuts, toasted
2 cups (280g) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups (350g) sugar
1 cup (250ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (300g) finely grated zucchini
For the lemon glaze:
1/4 cup (60ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup 65g) granulated sugar
1 cup (140g) powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Grease a 10 cup (2.5l) bundt or tube cake pan* with non-stick spray or butter, dust with flour, then tap out any excess.
2. Pulse the nuts in a food processor until finely chopped.
3. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Set aside.
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, 1 3/4 cup (350g) sugar, and olive oil for 3 minutes on medium speed, until light and fluffy. Stop and scrape down the sides of the mixer, then add the vanilla.
5. Mix in the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the mixer bowl to make sure everything is mixed in well, then beat on medium speed for 30 seconds.
6. Stir in the chopped nuts and zucchini.
7. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan, smooth the top, then bake the cake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan.
8. During the last few minutes of the cake baking, make the glaze by whisking together the lemon juice, 1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar, and powdered sugar.
9. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then carefully invert it onto a cooling rack. Brush the glaze over the cake with a pastry brush and let the cake cool completely.
Storage: The cake can be wrapped (or put under a cake dome) and will keep for a few days. You can freeze the unglazed cake. However to apply the glaze, you’ll need to defrost the cake then warm it so the glaze will adhere properly.
*If you don’t have a bundt or tube pan, I noticed that both Adam and Sara made the cake in a regular round cake pan with good results.
This cake batter could also be baked in two loaf pans, which is easier for gift-giving, if you’re trying to share your zucchini bounty. You may need to reduce the baking time a little to compensate for the smaller pans.
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