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the wash cycle of the brain

Recipe: chocolate zucchini cake

So much can happen in a few days… or in a matter of moments. I’ve struggled with my feelings since the Boston Marathon bombing earlier this week, just as I do whenever things don’t make sense. In times of crisis, I try to understand what is happening because sorting it out in my head helps me deal with difficult situations. But the truth is, I will never comprehend the motivations of those who willfully do harm to civilians. And while we know that there are always good people who will put their lives on the line to help those in dire need, it makes my heart hurt knowing that someone intentionally set the violence and destruction in motion in the first place.

Upon learning the news on Monday, I scoured around for more information, checking in with friends in the area or those who might have run the marathon. Past the first hour it became apparent that the news was just a cycle of regurgitation, confusion, and sadness. I pushed away from my desk and stepped outside to clear my head and maybe ease some of the sorrow I was feeling. It has been snowing here like gangbusters – all of the snow we should have received in January but will gratefully take now. It’s high enough (about 2 feet) that Kaweah can only go where I break a trail because she’s too weak to bound around me and run off like she did in her prime. I took in the silence of snow falling and muting all sounds. Except there were chirps and flutters that caught my attention.

perched in the aspens

cedar waxwings

many cedar waxwings

I’m no birder, but I enjoy making note of the birds that pass through our woods. Through the falling snow they looked like a dozen or more LBBs (little brown birds) constantly flitting about to find the perfect branch. Only when I examined the photographs could I see the splashes of bright yellow and red in their plumage to determine they were cedar waxwings (thanks Google!). When I went back outside to see if I could get closer (birds are skittish), they had moved on. Still, it was a lovely little gift on such a sad day. Life is fragile, yes. Life is also resilient. Most of all, it is precious.

As you can see, it has been dumping this past week after many ski resorts closed for the season last weekend. Some are re-opening this weekend to take advantage of the 2+ feet of new powder. And while we are always glad to get snow to ski, the mountains and the foothills are breathing a collective sigh of relief because our snowpack is approaching 90% of normal. Hopefully that translates into a less eventful wildfire season, beautiful mountain streams and wildflowers late into summer, and more food for the wildlife. For now though…

we ski

jeremy breaks trail

april in colorado

I’m still in the mood to bake, which will diminish as the sun climbs higher into the sky and dawdles about dragging its bedtime later each day. I was cleaning out a pile of old recipes when I found a chocolate zucchini cake recipe from a friend back in graduate school. The recipe itself didn’t tickle my fancy, but the idea of a chocolate zucchini cake did and so I went searching for a recipe that suited my preferences. I tend to prefer cakes that use sour cream or yogurt or buttermilk because they bake more stably at my elevation.

butter, chocolate, eggs, sugar, oil, flour, cocoa, leavenings and salt, zucchini, buttermilk, espresso powder, and vanilla

shredding the zucchini

Just you wait. Come summer, some of you will be running around trying to give your zucchini away to complete strangers on the street. I don’t discourage that behavior, because I think it’s a wonderful thing to share the love. But do keep this cake in mind because it’s a fast and easy one to mix up and bake. Make two – one for you and one for a friend.

butter, sugar, leavenings

beat in the eggs and vanilla

i used buttermilk

The King Arthur Flour recipe bakes this cake in a 9×13-inch baking pan and serves it out of the pan. I baked my chocolate zucchini cake in a bundt pan because it not only looks nicer, I can give a whole one away and keep my pan. If you decide to follow my lead, then I suggest not only greasing the bundt pan, but also dusting it with cocoa powder for ease of release. I am all for averting disasters.

adding dutch-process cocoa

fold in that gorgeous shredded zucchini

and the chips, don’t forget the chocolate chips

The reason I recommend dusting the pan with cocoa powder is because I didn’t do that the first time and it required a lot of careful prying to get my cake out of the bundt pan. That resulted in a slightly shaggy cake as opposed to the desired clean release. No worries. You can hide minor imperfections with a dusting of powdered sugar. Or if you’re serious about chocolate overdose, you can pour a chocolate ganache glaze over the cake.

smooth the batter and bake

a little struggle to get it out of the pan

dusting with powdered sugar (it covers up any minor goofs)

This cake is wonderful. It’s moist (I don’t understand why people hate this word so much – moist is far better than damp), tender, deeply chocolatey and rich without being heavy. The occasional chunk of chocolate is also a nice surprise. You can’t tell the zucchini is in there unless you’re looking for it. That could be a positive when dealing with people who claim not to like vegetables, but just don’t know better!

make it dessert, breakfast, snack, tea time

making it easy to love your vegetables

Chocolate Zucchini Cake
[print recipe]
from King Arthur Flour

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream, buttermilk, or yogurt
2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cups dutch process cocoa + extra for dusting
2 tsps espresso powder
3 cups shredded zucchini
1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used 1 cup)

1 cup chocolate chips
powdered sugar for dusting

Note: Follow the link to the original recipe at King Arthur Flour for conversions to weights in ounces or grams.

Preheat oven to 325°F. KAF greases a 9×13-inch baking pan, but I opted to use a 12-cup bundt pan. If you use a bundt pan, I suggest not only greasing the pan, but dusting it in cocoa powder for easier release because I had some trouble getting a clean release with only greasing the pan. Beat the butter, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together until creamy. Mix in the vegetable oil and vanilla until smooth. Add the eggs and beat until smooth. Stir in the dairy (sour cream, buttermilk, or yogurt – whichever you are using), alternating with the flour. Mix in the cocoa and espresso powder and beat until smooth. Fold the zucchini and chocolate chips into the batter. Pour the batter into your baking pan and bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes. If using a 9×13-inch baking pan, the cake should be ready when you press on the top and the cake springs back. You can ice the cake by spreading 1 cup of chocolate chips on top of the hot cake (right out of the oven) into a smooth layer. For the bundt cake, mine baked for 55 minutes before it was done. Let the cake cool about 20-30 minutes before releasing from the bundt pan and dust with powdered sugar. Serves 24.

more goodness from the use real butter archives

chocolate bourbon cake chocolate stout cake chocolate chip banana bread zucchini bread

19 nibbles at “the wash cycle of the brain”

  1. Twila says:

    This reminds me of a chocolate beet bundt cake recipe (easily google-able) that I discovered and used _often_ when we were getting way too many beets from the CSA. I also used extra cocoa powder and chocolate chips for that cake.
    Your bird photos in the snow are fantastic! Mountain bluebirds have arrived in SW Montana, along with continued snows. I also hope that the Rockies are spared some of the wildfire destruction of last year.

  2. Theresa says:

    Love your cedar waxwing photos! They usually show up briefly in my yard this time of year too, and then they’re gone just as quickly as they appeared. I love their striking colors and bandit-like face masks :)

    I so wish I had a slice of your cake sitting in front of me right now! I’m glad you’re enjoying the snow, but it’s making me glad I put off my trip to CO until September! haha

  3. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar says:

    I love a good zucchini cake! This sounds sooo delicious!

  4. Melissa says:

    Gorgeous cake.

    As for Monday, I did the same. I walked away from the news for about 36 hours. Wednesday morning was the first time I was able to give it my true heart, as I felt all my gratitude for my health pour out during my run, on top of the sadness I felt for everyone who was harmed. Only then did I start really reading the news story parts.

  5. Dani H says:

    My late mother made a truly decadent chocolate zucchini cake ~ her legacy is her recipes. She had a recipe in an old cookbook that we thought was the one she used, but when we made it there was no comparison. She also used chocolate chips so I am thinking between that, and the looks of it in your photographs, this might just be the one! I can’t wait to try it! What kind of chocolate chips did you use? I’m thinking either dark chocolate or semi-sweet?

  6. Kristin says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about Monday. The cake looks amazing. I absolutely love the cedar waxwing shots. They’re very much like a watercolor print we have. Just lovely.

  7. laura h says:

    Love the waxwing shots!

  8. ska says:

    The waxwings look like tree ornaments! You both look so happy and adorable in your matching jackets.
    Enjoy the late snow.

  9. Michael Frye says:

    Love the cedar waxwing photos! Very delicate and painterly.

  10. Olive says:

    Love the waxwing shots, Jen. Are you going to make them available for prints?

  11. sara says:

    Yum! My mom made zucchini cake a lot when I was a kid…I guess to disguise the veggies! We always loved it. :)

  12. L. says:

    Thank you for your marathon tweets. It has been hard to see and hear some people in other parts of the country act as if nothing much has been happening. So your words and concern mean a lot to us out here. (I’m not directly affected but my family has been right next door to it all and my mother has said how much everyone is grateful for concerned thoughts from across the internets.)

    I feel the same way. I look for the helpers but I can’t ignore the horror of those who committed the evil.

    But, it is a great relief that the scariest part is over.

  13. L. says:

    sorry, not tweets, thoughts! I have been spending a lot of time on twitter today, unsurprisingly, and haven’t had much sleep!

  14. farmerpam says:

    So happy for you folks. Our snow is just about gone. I’ve come to terms with saying good-bye to winter…finally starting to feel a twinge of excitement for Spring. Spent most of Monday blissfully unaware, one of the last days of sugaring. So sad.

  15. Irene from Rollinsville says:

    Gorgeous photos! I wish the waxwings would wing over here. I’m glad the drama in Boston has settled — why do people keep doing this?

  16. Marcy says:

    We only moved here from the East Coast about 2 years ago so last spring was our first in Colorado. Last year, what seemed unusual (no snow) to natives seemed normal to us but then the fires came and now this spring, much more normal by Colorado standards, has all of our East Coast friends wondering if we’ve gone nuts being so happy about snow in late April.

    I thought Monday’s snow was rather fitting for the events of the day. As if Mother Nature was reminding us that there was still peace to be had.

  17. jenyu says:

    Twila – oh, I’ve seen recipes for that too. I just haven’t gotten around to trying it yet. But it’s good to know that you like it! Thanks, I am hoping all of the mountain west is spared this summer. xo

    Theresa – September will be a good time of year to visit Colorado. The leaves will be changing in the last week.

    Katrina – :)

    Melissa – xoxo

    Dani – I used Ghirardelli semi-sweet (60% cocoa). I actually prefer Guittard semi-sweet.

    Kristin – these birds really do look like watercolors.

    laura h – thanks!

    ska – :)

    Michael – thank you!!

    Olive – I think I can make smaller prints. If you are interested, please email me and I’ll see what I can do!

    sara – smart mom!

    L – xo

    farmerpam – I keep thinking I’ve come to terms with saying goodbye to winter and it keeps coming back like an ex boyfriend who won’t get the hint ;) Not that I’m complaining (about winter, not ex boyfriends)!

    Irene – I don’t know… I don’t know.

    Marcy – ha ha, I think everyone who isn’t in Colorado thinks we’re nuts ;)

  18. Jennifer says:

    Long time lurker. I made this, and it was amazing! I love how moist it is. Thanks for sharing, can’t wait to try more of your recipes!

  19. Cinnamon and Orange-Spiced Chocolate Zucchini Cake Recipe says:

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