I come from a family of people who think they can make vegetables taste good by hiding them. My grandfather used to stir his children’s spinach into their mashed potatoes in hopes that they’d eat their greens that were covered in buttery starch. (They wouldn’t.) My mother once mixed several cups of grated beets into a chocolate cake and, when my father asked why the cake was pink, tried to convince him that it was red velvet. (He was not fooled.)
The lesson — not that the Kaplans have learned it — is that you can’t exploit delicious things like butter and chocolate when trying to sneak vegetables into a picky eater’s diet. Butter and chocolate deserve better than that.
Instead, consider what qualities vegetables can bring to butter and chocolate: texture, moistness, a satisfying yet hard-to-define earthy flavor.
That’s the secret to this chocolate zucchini cake, which we’ve served at family dinners summer after summer without raising a single eyebrow. Peeled zucchini’s inoffensive pale yellow color is much less suspicious than bright red beet juice, and the high-moisture squash keeps the cake from drying out.
This dessert probably has too much chocolate in it for anyone to pass it off as healthful (not that I haven’t tried). But that’s not the point. The important thing here is that the vegetable elevates the cake, rather than ruining it.
And as long as you keep this recipe hidden, your resident picky eater will be none the wiser.
Chocolate Zucchini Cake
12 servings (makes one 10-inch Bundt cake)
This is a go-to summer dessert for the Kaplan family. The cake batter can be stirred by hand as well as a mixer. MAKE AHEAD: The cake can be covered and stored at room temperature for 3 to 5 days. Adapted from a 1995 recipe in Bon Appetit.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
2 1/4 cups flour, plus more for the pan
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup brewed, cooled espresso or strong coffee
2 cups peeled, grated zucchini (from 2 medium zucchini)
1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Generously grease the inside of a 10-inch Bundt pan with butter, then coat with a generous amount of flour. Shake out any excess flour.
Whisk together 2 1/4 cups flour, the cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a bowl.
Combine the 8 tablespoons of butter and the granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Beat on low, then medium speed until well incorporated and creamy. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, then the oil and vanilla extract; beat on medium speed until well blended and smooth. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the following ingredients, beating until well incorporated after each addition: 1 cup of the flour mixture, then 1/4 cup of the espresso or strong coffee; 1 cup of the flour mixture, then 1/4 cup of the espresso or strong coffee; then the remaining flour mixture.
Use a wooden spoon to stir in the zucchini and chocolate chips until they are evenly distributed. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, smoothing the surface. Bake for 60 minutes or until a tester inserted into the thickest part of the cake comes out clean.
Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert on a plate (still in the pan) for 15 minutes. Dislodge the cake (right side up) on a wire cooling rack. Before serving, dust with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.
Per serving: 450 calories, 5 g protein, 58 g carbohydrates, 24 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 50 mg cholesterol, 170 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 36 g sugar