This week I did something I’m not proud of: I flipped through Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook Deceptively Delicious in the cookbook section of my local library. When her book came out not quite 10 years ago, I scoffed at its premise. Hiding vegetables in foods? I shook my head at parents who served their children pizza and chicken fingers for dinner. Just feed them what you eat; enough with the coddling of palates.
Of course, now I look back at the childless me and shake my head at my ignorance and naiveté. My toddler subsists on a diet of Cheerios, fruit, yogurt, cake, cheese, pizza, fish, rice, farro (?!), and plain pasta. It has to be plain: last week Rich deigned to put a pat of butter on her noodles and Lilli promptly announced it was now “garbage.”
I asked the pediatrician for advice. And you know what she said? Make sauces of things and hide them in foods she will eat. So there I stood in the library, looking through Mrs. Seinfeld’s cookbook. Let me be clear: Lilli loves helping out in the kitchen. She loves going to the grocery store with me and requesting mushrooms and broccoli and carrots. She loves choosing cookbooks off the shelf and bringing me photos of recipes that look good to her. She loves pulling up her Kitchen Helper to watch me slice summer squash and helps move it into a bowl. She just won’t eat what we cook.
But then it occurred to me: She loves learning about new foods, loves preparing vegetables and adores baking. Why not combine those things into one dish? And that’s how I found myself having her press the “on” button on my food processor as we grated zucchini for a very nice chocolate zucchini cake.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: is chocolate cake really the right sort of thing to be sneaking veggies into? But my approach was validated this week by our Shabbos dinner guests. Ellie, a very bright political science student at UMass, exclaimed that her mother Deborah used to do the exact same thing when she was a kid. Considering that Ellie seems poised to run the government some day, I think I might be on to something.
We found our recipe in Marcel Desaulniers Death by Chocolate Cakes: An Astonishing Array of Chocolate Enchantments. This book was handed off to me by my friend Gayle, who, if I’m not mistaken, just posted a recipe for chocolate zucchini cake on her own blog. I’d never heard of this baker, but Rich tells me there used to be a television show with the same name.
The recipe is called Mimi Montano’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake, and it is pretty simple to throw together, although you have to wait a bit for it to cool down. Although the recipe says to bake for about an hour and 50 minutes, I found it was done in about an hour. I suspect it meant to say bake for 50 minutes to an hour. Whenever I see the direction to sift dry ingredients, I always whisk them in a bowl a few times. Works like a charm every time. I melt by chocolate in a glass in the microwave in 20 second spurts. If you use Earth Balance instead of butter this recipe can be parve.
And did it work? Did we succeed in Lilli eating food with zucchini folded into it? Not really, and really chocolate cake is not a healthy vehicle for even the most virtuous of vegetables. But Rich and I enjoyed slices for breakfast, trimmed slices whenever we walked by it in the kitchen, and were also happy to have it on hand when friends stopped by unexpectedly.
If you don’t need to sneak any vegetables, consider this a recipe to get rid of some of the zucchini your neighbors have been leaving on your front porch.
Mimi Montano’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 large zucchini (about ¾ pound), washed and stem removed
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 ½ cup vegetable oil
3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, coarsely chopped and melted
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (one 12-ounce package)
Preheat oven to 325F. Liberally coat the inside of a 9 ½ x 4-inch nonstick Bundt pan with the 1 tablespoon melted butter. Set aside.
In a sifter combine 3 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt. Sift onto a large piece of parchment paper (or wax paper) and set aside until needed. (Or, just mix all these ingredients in a bowl and stir with a whisk a few times.)
Grate 1 large zucchini in a food processor fitted with a medium grating disk (or use a box grater). Set aside.
Place 1 ½ cups sugar and 4 eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Beat on medium-high speed for 2 minutes until light in color and thickened; then use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Operate the mixer on medium while slowly adding 1 ½ cups vegetable oil in a steady stream (it’s a good idea to use a pouring shield attachment or to cover the top of the mixer and sides of the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap to avoid splattering oil outside of the mixing bowl). Combine to mix until the batter is yellow in color and thick, about 1 ½ minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the melted chocolate and mix for 30 seconds on medium speed.
Continue to operate the mixer on medium speed and slowly add the sifted dry ingredients. Mix until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add the grated zucchini and mix on low for 15 seconds. Add 2 cups chocolate chips and mix on low for another 15 seconds. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to finish mixing the batter until thoroughly combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared Bundt cake pan, using a rubber spatula and spreading evenly.
Place the pan onto a baking sheet with sides on the center rack in the preheated oven. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted, between 50 minutes and an hour. Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan for 30 minutes at room temperature. Unmold the cake from the pan. Place the cake, baked top facing up, on a cake circle (or onto a cake plate) and cool at room temperature for 1 additional hour before slicing.
To Serve: Heat the blade of a serrated slicer under hot running water and wipe the blade dry before cutting each slice. Serve immediately, or wrap in plastic wrap and take a piece or two of cake along for the ride.