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

Ingredients
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

Instructions

  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.

A Natural Wonder: Strawberries and Cream Polenta Orange Cake

This weekend we have finally been able to string a few warm days together.  It’s a welcome reminder that summer is on the way and flats of fresh strawberries are just around the corner.

One of my favorite ways to show off the season’s best berries is with Polenta Orange Cake, a low squat European-style beauty imbued with a slight crunchy-sweet corn essence.  The orange zest and polenta join together in a burnished gold crumb dense enough to welcome a good soaking of orange syrup or juicy berries.

Strawberries & Ricotta Cream Orange Polenta Cake

For strawberries and cream cake, slice the cake in half torte style, fill it with sliced strawberries, and spoon on whipped cream. Or, for my favorite ricotta cream, cut the whipped cream with half ricotta.  It’s a natural wonder.

Polenta Orange Cake

Ingredients
Cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup medium to fine-grained cornmeal or polenta
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 orange, zest and @ 1/3 cup juice
Orange Syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
1 orange, cut in half
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Line a 9″ cake pan with parchment or foil and spray with baker’s spray.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients and set aside.  In a mixing bowl, cream butter until light, slowly add the sugar and beat until light. Add the eggs one at a time, until fluffy.  Add the vanilla, orange juice, the zest and mix. Don’t worry if it curdles. Add dry ingredients, mixing just to incorporate.  Scrape bowl down and spread the batter evenly into pan.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes, until cake springs back when touched.  Remove from oven and brush liberally with orange syrup while still warm.
  4. For the Syrup:  place all but extract in a small saucepan and bring to a boil; continue to boil briskly for 6 to 8 minutes, until it begins to thicken.  Let cool slightly, remove orange and strain.  Add the almond extract and brush over the warm cake.

Strawberries and Cream Cake
4 cups strawberries, rinsed, hulled, sliced (save a few for garnish)
2 tablespoons sugar
Sweetened Whipped Cream topping
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

  1. Prepare strawberries and cream:  combine the berries with sugar and chill; save a few pretty whole ones for garnish.  Whip the cream, add the sugar and vanilla.
  2. To assemble:  slice the cake in half horizontally, brush the bottom layer with orange syrup, layer with some of the sliced berries, spread with whipped cream.  Add the top layer, top with more berries and garnish with whipped cream and few pretty berries.  Serves 6 or more.  The cake can be baked a day ahead.