Delicious but not Devastating

Incorporating vegetables into desserts is an appealing way to slip more valuable nutrients into our daily food intake. Carrot and zucchini cakes are solutions, likely loaded with exorbitant amounts of oil and smeared with heavy-duty cream cheese toppings. Any natural benefits have been all but cancelled out.

Delicious but not devastating, that’s my goal. Trying to elevate the plight of vegetable desserts, here’s my latest take on zucchini cake. First, I’ve learned that steaming, rather than conventional baking, can introduce moisture and lower the need for massive doses of oil.

I zeroed in on two other ingredients of interest: chocolate and nuts.  I like the chocolate and zucchini combination—but chocolate easily overwhelms, and I’m not looking for another chocolate cake (probably one of few to so admit). Nuts add deep taste, complexity, and crunch. Then, it made perfect sense: why not keep it simple and go with cacao nibs?  They have all that, and more.

Roasted Cacao Nibs

There is a difference between regular chocolate and nibs. Typical chocolate bars come from cacao seeds, which are fermented, ground, and further processed. Cacao nibs are crumbled pieces from the exterior cacao bean shell, with a bitter chocolate punch and nutty texture. Nibs are rich in flavonoid antioxidants, minerals, and more; they contribute plenty of fiber—but nothing extreme as gnawing on wood.

I’ve included another duo that works well together: coriander and orange. Instead of the usual grated zest, I’ve gone with tiny nibs of minced orange peel (white removed) for a super-charged citrus flavor that’s offset by the exotic perfume of coriander. The backdrop for all of this comes from a huge surplus of green summer squash, rather than zucchini.

Zucchini Cake with Cacao & Orange Nibs

The cake steams in 35 minutes—literally from the inside out—it cooks thoroughly, thanks to the center hole in the bundt pan. You would never guess it had been steamed; once turned out of the pan and cooled, it appears browned and perfectly baked. The cake’s surprisingly light texture is speckled with flavorful flecks from the orange, green squash, and chocolate brown cacao nibs. It’s quite a party!

Update! The pressurized steaming process also softens the cacao nibs. As the cake rests, the nibs seem to bloom (stored in the fridge). Their nubby texture relaxes, and more complex chocolate qualities unfold.  Fascinating… and highly delicious.

Steamed Zucchini Cake with Cacao and Orange Nibs

1½ cups AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp each baking soda and salt
1 tsp coriander
2 eggs
⅓ cup vegetable oil
½ cup each granulated sugar and brown sugar
2 Tbsp plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1½ cups grated zucchini or summer squash, skin on
2 tsp orange peel, white removed, sliver and chop well
⅓ cup roasted cacao nibs


  1. Thinly coat 8” bundt pan with Baker’s or nonstick spray.
  2. Prepare Instant Pot or other multicooker: fill with 1½ cup water and insert trivet. Cut aluminum foil cover for pan and prepare sling for pan.
  3. Combine flour through spices together and set aside.
  4. In mixing bowl whisk eggs, then beat in the oil. Whisk in the sugar to fully combine, and then stir in the yogurt and vanilla. Add the zucchini.  Stir in the dry ingredients just to incorporate and finally add the cacao and orange nibs. Scrape batter into the bundt pan and level the surface.
  5. Begin heating multicooker, set to Sauté More. Add 1 ½ cup water and place the trivet in pot.
  6. Cover filled bundt pan with foil. Fold the other length of foil into a long sling. Wrap it under the pan, up the sides, over the top, and lower it into the pot.
  7. Seal pot with lid, reset to Hi Pressure for 35 minutes. When complete, turn off unit, disconnect and let rest undisturbed for 10 minutes. Slowly release remaining pressure and open the lid. Using the foil sling, carefully lift pan out of pot and onto a rack. Remove foil and cool for 10 minutes. With thin knife, loosen any edges adhering to pan and turn cake out to cool onto rack.  Makes 1 cake, serves 10.

In Your Dreams…

For those looking for a gooey chocolate dessert, here a sure fix that you can have on the table in less than 30 minutes, courtesy of the multi-cooker.

It goes by many aliases: Chocolate Lava Cake, Better than Sex Chocolate Cake, and others.  What they have in common is an inordinate amount of chocolate and butter held together with eggs and maybe a bit of binder. In other words, they have a cake-like exterior and an ooey-gooey center.

You could call this particular variation ‘conservative’.  It has a fair amount of firm, moist cake available to support the ooze that flows forth once cut into—rather than a total collapse swept up in a thick hot chocolate flood.

Although… describing it does sound pretty scintillating.

My point, this as a small, rich cake with warm ganache hidden within, rather than deftly draped over the exterior.  It is ‘suitable for all occasions’.

Either way, it’s a chocolate lover’s dream come true.

Molten Chocolate Cakes, Multi-Cooker

½ cup butter
3 eggs
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup flour
Pinch salt
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Accompaniments:  powdered sugar, ice cream or sweetened whipped cream


  1. Prepare 5 quart multi-cooker or larger:  pour 1 cup water into bottom of cooker.  Place a metallic trivet or steamer insert in bottom.
  2. Place the butter in a medium microwaveable bowl and partially melt the butter on 60% power. Brush the ramekins with a coating of the butter.  Add the chocolate chips and continue to heat for 1-2 minutes. Stir every 20 seconds until mixture is melted and smooth.
  3. Sift the powdered sugar over the chocolate and whisk to blend.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly incorporated. Add the vanilla.
  5. Sift half of the flour plus a pinch of salt over the top of the mixture and fold in with a spatula.  Add the remainder of the flour and fold in just until blended.
  6. Divide the batter evenly among the 4 ramekins and place them on the trivet or steamer basket.
  7. Seal the lid and set to High Pressure for 9 minutes, with steam release knob to sealing position.
  8. When done, do a Quick Release and carefully release pressure.  When float valve is down open the lid and carefully remove the hot ramekins.  Cool briefly.
  9. To serve: invert the cakes and place bottom side up onto individual plates.  Serve warm with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, ice cream, or sweetened whipped cream and any other desired garnishes.  Yield:  4 cakes.

Let Them Eat Cake

Oops! I almost ate the last piece of this incredible cake without taking time for a blog photo. That is what happens when you care more about eating cake than preserving its place in history.

What’s in a name?  Somehow, chocolate-and-zucchini do not incite great waves of excitement.  I don’t know if this is the impetus of Clotilde Dusoulier’s beloved blog Chocolate and Zucchini, but it surely should be. As Clotilde aptly describes her Chocolate & Zucchini Cake, ‘the grated zucchini melds into the batter and the strands disappear… into a voluptuous chocolate flavored cake.’

Admittedly, chocolate is not my thing.  But if there is anything that would change my mind, it would not be a flourless chocolate cake, or a rich chocolate truffle, it would be this cake. Right out of the oven, the charming exterior has a crisp brownie-like crust which is elegantly foiled by its light, well-constructed interior crumb.

Thanks to the mysterious zucchini addition, it is perfectly moist, and for a chocolate cake the butter/oil content is surprisingly low. It is a well-balanced cake, not too sweet, but deeply flavored with cocoa powder, chocolate bits, and a hint of coffee.  Yes, it’s all of that.

Chocolate & Zucchini Cake

From Clotilde Dusoulier’s award winning blog, Chocolate and Zucchini. First published in April 2004 and updated in August 2017.
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, or 1/2 cup olive oil, plus a pat butter or teaspoon oil for the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons strong cooled coffee
3 large eggs
2 cups unpeeled grated zucchini, from about 1 1/2 medium zucchini
1 cup good-quality bittersweet chocolate chips or roughly chopped
Confectioner’s sugar or melted bittersweet chocolate (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 10-inch round springform pan or 8 1/2-inch square pan.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of a mixer, or by hand in a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the vanilla, coffee, and eggs, mixing well between each addition.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the zucchini, chocolate, and about a third of the flour mixture, making sure the zucchini strands are well coated and not clumping too much.
  5. Add the rest of the flour mixture into the egg batter. Mix until just combined; the batter will be thick. Fold the zucchini mixture into the batter, and blend with a spatula without overmixing.
  6. Pour into the prepared cake pan, and level the surface. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Don’t overbake.
  7. Transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes, run a knife around the pan to loosen, and unclasp the sides of the pan. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar or a chocolate glaze if desired.  Serves 12

Little Black Dress of Desserts

We love our nuts in the Pacific Northwest, especially hazelnuts. When you throw in a little chocolate even the French would agree life doesn’t get much better.

Here’s a chocolate-nut torte I have been making for so long, I have no record of the original source.  What I do know is this combination has been making folks happy for quite a while.  A chocolate center is surrounded by a bottom citrus laced cookie crust and crowned with a gooey, crunchy, layer on top.

choc-nute-torteIt is easy on the cook because it is made in three simple steps.  The crust is a snap with the help of a food processor. It’s pressed into the bottom of a springform or other easy access pan and briefly baked until set.

Hot out of the oven, a few handfuls of excellent chocolate are scattered across the crust, left briefly to melt, then spread evenly across the bottom.

Meanwhile, the top layer is whizzed up in the same food processor bowl. A couple of eggs are whipped well, brown sugar, a few dry ingredients are added to stabilize the batter, and chopped nuts are thrown in to pull it all together. In the blink of an eye, it is spread over the chocolate and back in the oven it goes for a brief 20 minutes.

Beyond this simple execution, the torte is nearly indestructible—especially if kept in its protective pan for transport. It does not need to be refrigerated for a day or so. Take it down the road to a potluck or dessert at a friend’s house. Unmold to a platter, give it a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar, and finish with a sprinkling of nuts. You’ve got a dessert for all occasions.

Chocolate Hazelnut Torte

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange rind
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chilled butter, cut up
1/2 package semisweet chocolate chips (6 oz.)
2 large eggs
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts or walnuts, chopped (6 oz.)

Additional:  powdered sugar for dusting,  toasted nuts for garnish


  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. For crust, combine flour, sugar, grated rind and salt in food processor; cut in butter and whirl until crumbly.  Press evenly on bottom of 8″ or 9″ springform or tart pan.  Bake at 375° F for about 10 minutes, until firm to touch.
  3. Sprinkle with chocolate chips, let stand 2 minutes to melt the chocolate; spread evenly over the crust with spatula.
  4. For filling, beat eggs until frothy; add sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and vanilla, and stir until smooth.  Fold in nuts.  Spread over chocolate.  Bake at 375° F for 20 minutes longer, until the top is firm and golden.
  5. Cool completely.  Remove from pan and dust lightly with powdered sugar and top with nuts. Store in cool place up to 24 hours, do not refrigerate.  Serves 8.

Ultimate Chocolate Cookie

Many of my friends have a perennial list of holiday cookies that they religiously prepare consisting of heritage recipes and family favorites.  They are tried and true treasures that everyone looks forward to receiving.

I have a few regulars, but I also like to throw in a little variation, too. Often there is some sort chocolate cookie, since an assortment is not complete without at least one, and I can never settle on one that completely thrills me.

That could have all changed this year.  In One Sweet Cookie, Tracey Zabar offers a Flourless Chocolate Cookie from Francois Payard Patisserie that speaks my language.

choc stack Granted, I’m probably one of the few who is not completely knocked out by chocolate.  For most folks, the more chocolate, the more intense, the better.  I have absolutely no problem with the delicious flavor and nuances of chocolate, it is that heart arresting wallop that most chocolate sweets seem to offer.

ice cream sandIf you had to categorize this cookie, I suspect it would fall close to a macaroon.  The beauty of Payard’s cookie is that it simply consists of  a few egg whites, dutched cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar, a big hit of vanilla extract, and plenty of nuts.  With the addition of egg whites no further leavener is required. And much like an old-fashioned macaroon the whites are not beaten into a fluffy mass, they are simply stirred into the batter.  This recipe mixes up in a hurry!

The beauty of using cocoa powder is there is no melting or tempering of chocolate.  Dutched cocoa powder also produces a well flavored, darkly colored product.  In the dutching process much of the fat is removed and alkali is introduced to adjust resulting bitterness and acidity.  You get a big chocolate hit without the damage.

Thanks to the hefty amount of nuts (I substituted pecans for the suggested walnuts) the final cookie turns out rounded, very moist and chewy—much like a brownie.  I can’t imagine this cookie without the nuts.  I also reduced the humongous size of Zabar’s cookie to a manageable 2-1/2 to 3 inch cookie.  It is still a heavenly mouthful!

Flourless Chocolate Cookies

Inspired by Francois Payard Patisserie, from One Sweet Cookie, Tracey Zabar

1/2 cup + 3 Tbsp cocoa powder, Dutch-process, (I used Guittard)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 3/4 cups walnuts, toasted, roughly chopped (I used pecans)
4 large egg whites, room temperature
I Tbsp vanilla extract (I used 2 Tsp vanilla paste)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place racks in upper and bottom thirds of oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
  2. Combine cocoa, sugar, salt, and walnuts in bowl of electric mixer with paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed for 1 minute.
  3. With mixer running, slowly add the egg whites and vanilla.  Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes until it has slightly thickened.  Do not over mix, or it will thicken too much.
  4. Using 1 oz scoop or large tablespoon, scoop the batter onto the sheets to make 2-1/2 to 3″ rounded cookies, about 2″ apart.    If there is extra batter, wait until first batch is baked before scooping 2nd batch.
  5. Place cookies in oven and immediately lower temperature to 325 degrees.  Bake 10 minutes and rotate the sheets, bake an additional 8 to 10 minute until cracks begin to form on surface. Don’t over bake.  Carefully remove cookies with spatula onto baking rack to cool.  Yield: about 20, 2-1/2 to 3” cookies.

Code Red: Chocolate Torte

cake cutting redluxYes, the picture says it all.

Instead of Happy Birthday, there should be a warning stamped on the top of this cake:  Hazard to One’s Health.  Standard symptoms:  lightheaded, dizzy, blurred vision (and not from the wine).

I started out this month working diligently on genoise and other cakes with the specific goal of creating a chocolate cake for my daughter’s birthday, and this is where it brought me.  In fact, I was not going to even blog about it, because I would not recommend making this cake; it is too deadly.  But at my daughter’s urging, I am giving it a mention.

Irresistible, mercilessly entertaining, menacing…” certainly apply here.  In fact, these descriptive were picked from the cover of a book that my daughter just loaned me:  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, a popular head-spinning thriller.  I didn’t mean to scare everyone at my daughter’s dinner, but this cake really did the trick.

So Happy Birthday, ChyAnn, your mother really does love you.

Choc Bday cakeThe recipe follows with the best directions I can give.  Standard warnings prevail.

Chocolate-Almond Raspberry Torte

Inspired by America’s Test Kitchen.


  • 8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 12 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 -1/2 tsp vanilla extract or paste
  • ½ tsp almond extract
  • ½ tsp instant espresso powder
  • 4 oz almond meal
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • ¾ cups sugar
  • Raspberry Syrup
  • Chocolate Ganache (divided)
  • 12 fresh raspberries


  1. Line 2 – 9” or 2 to  3 – 8” cake pans with parchment (see below).  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2.  Melt the chocolate and butter in large heat proof bowl over simmer water, stir until smooth. Allow to cool for 30 minutes and stir in vanilla and almond extracts and espresso powder.
  3. Process almond meal until fine in food processor; add flour and salt and pulse to combine. Transfer to medium bowl.
  4. In bowl of mixer, beat the eggs to combine then add the sugar and beat until thick and light, about 3 minutes.
  5. Gently fold the eggs into chocolate mixture until nearly blended; sprinkle in the almond-flour mixture and gently combine.
  6. Divide the batter into pans and smooth with spatula. Bake until center is firm when pressed and toothpick inserted comes out with a few moist crumbs, 14 to 16 minutes.  Transfer to wire rack and cool in pan about 30 minutes.  Run sharp knife around edge to loosen cake and turn out on to cake boards, right side up.

Note:  prepare the raspberry syrup and the ganache.  The filling will be whipped, the glaze is the same recipe, but will be poured over the cake and sides to finish.  The ratio of chocolate and cream  is 1:1. It can be made in one large batch if making the same day.

If using 8 inch cake pans, fill 2 pans evenly, or fill one pan with twice as much as the other and adjust the baking time with a difference of 5 minutes or longer.  You will slice this one in half to make 3 layers.  (this is dumb, but 3 layers does make a nice, albeit rich, torte)

Raspberry Syrup

  • 12 ounces fresh raspberries
  • ½ cup water
  • Sugar, approximate 1 cup
  1.  Combine raspberries, smash with a fork or potato masher in small pan, and bring to a boil. Simmer until soft and juicy, 3 to 4 minutes.  Strain through a fine sieve.
  2. Rinse out the pan; measure the raspberry liquid and return it to the pan with an equal amount of sugar. Simmer until slight thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.  Add 1/3 cup Chambord, rum, or brandy and simmer briefly.  Strain mixture again, removing any foam as well.  Pour into a clean container to cool and set aside.

Chocolate Ganache  divided, for filling and for glaze

Filling for 3- 8 or 2-9” layers

  • 5 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate (60% or more cacoa butter), chopped in food processor
  • ½ cup plus 1 Tbsp heavy whipping cream
  1.  Chop the chocolate and place in a bowl. Heat the cream to a simmer; do not boil. (In microwave, about 40 seconds to 1 minute. )  Pour the cream over the chocolate and let is set briefly, for a minute or two.  Gently stir with a fork to melt the chocolate and it is silky smooth.  Let stand to cool, about 30 minutes.
  2. To lighten the filling, beat with a hand mixer for 1 to 3 minutes, depending on the volume desired.

Finishing Glaze

  • 8 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate 960% or more cacoa butter), chopped in food processor
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 Tbsp butter (optional, for sheen)
  1.  Chop the chocolate and place in a bowl. Heat the cream to a simmer; do not boil. (In microwave, about 1 minute.)
  2. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let is set briefly, for a minute or two. Gently stir with a fork to melt the chocolate and it is silky smooth.

To assemble the torte

  1. If cutting one of the layers in half, use a long serrated knife to slice into 2 equal layers. Have an 8`springform pan ready as a mold to hold the torte in place.
  2. Brush the cut surface of one of the layers evenly with a light coating of syrup. Spread it evenly with about ½ of the whipped ganache filling, then place it in the springform pan, filling side up.
  3. Repeat with second layer, using cut side to coat with syrup and then with chocolate filling and place it in mold. Brush the third layer keeping the bottom of the layer to the top of the cake and coat the cut side with syrup.  Place it in the springform with the bottom side up.
  4. Cover the cake and chill well; up to 24 hours.
  5. To finish to the torte. Unmold the cake and brush any loose crumbs off the exterior of the cake.  Coat the cake lightly with ganache using an offset spatula or knife to seal both top and sides.  Chill to set, about 5 minutes.
  6. Place cake on wire rack and crumb coat the cake by spreading top and sides with a thin layer of the ganache glaze to cover. Let set in fridge 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, keep the ganache over warm water, stirring occasionally to keep it from thickening too much.
  7. For final glaze, pour some of the ganache into center of the cake, using offset spatula, spread with broad strokes so that residue will to run down the sides; spread to evenly coat any uneven spots.
  8. Add a circle of fresh raspberries around the outside edge of the torte. Chill for 30 minutes or several hours before serving.  If made ahead, allow to come to room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.  Serves 10 to 12