There’s something fine and wonderful about a chocolate cake. I much prefer the sturdy, yet tender, straightforwardly deep chocolate kind — the sort that begs for a glass of cold milk – to a cake with any more embellishment than a lick of frosting.
Come to think of it, that’s how I like my chocolate bars, too: dark and plain. Ted, on the other hand, goes for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Cadbury Dairy Milk Fruit & Nut bars. Food for thought, there …
Like a lot of people, before Pinterest — before the Internet, in fact — I cut out recipes to try from food magazines, arranging them in clear plastic sleeves in what is now a bulging three-ring binder. Despite my current Pinteresting habit and a library full of cookbooks, that dog-eared, purple notebook is often what I pull off the shelf for cooking and baking. My go-to Christmas cookie recipes are in there; so is my favorite chimichurri sauce from a long ago issue of Gourmet and a plum upside down cake I’m thinking I need to make again soon. Over time, I’ve added hand-written recipes to its pages, such as June Elderkin’s Maine Blueberry Cake, my mother’s breakfast strata and the pumpkin-chocolate chip cookies I bake a huge batch of every year around Halloween.
I don’t know where the recipe that inspired this cake — Chocolate Zucchini Cake with Bourbon Ehlen — came from but if I had to make a guess, it would be Gourmet, mid-1990s. I Googled it and came up with other chocolate zucchini cakes, but none attributed to whoever “Ehlen” was, or with this cake’s distinctive, bourbon/orange juice glaze (the original recipe had a cream cheese/butter frosting too, but I recall from baking it years ago that truly seemed over the top). For this variation, I lowered the sugar from 2 to 1 1/2 cups and upped the cocoa powder from 1/2 to 3/4 cup to cut sweetness and boost the chocolate factor.
If you leave off the bourbon glaze, this would be a good cake for kids, who will never know there’s zucchini in there. The executive editor of the newspaper I work for nearly swooned over it — and he doesn’t like “green things” either.
That glaze is a big part of what makes the cake, however (and I’m sure part of what made the editor so happy). Five minutes after you pull the cake from the oven, you poke holes in it and slosh on the glaze, then cool it completely before you remove it from the pan. The glaze will appear to be drowning the cake, but fear not, it will all soak in, adding extra dampness in a good way, what Nigella Lawson would call “squidginess.” Because I’m not Nigella, I’ll call it lusciousness.
The glaze does make the cake a bit sticky, so be sure you grease the pan thoroughly — I used baking spray with flour in it.
It is perfectly pretty dusted with a little powdered sugar (just before serving because it will disappear), and if you want to serve a scoop of ice cream or dollop of softly whipped cream alongside, no one will blame you.
- 2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup plain yogurt (nonfat is fine)
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups shredded zucchini, drained on paper towels
- 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup bourbon