A light yet rich zucchini cream cheese pound cake with fluffy cream cheese frosting. (Jump to Recipe)
I’m very excited to report that after years of trying, and failing, I have conquered one of my culinary nemeses: soggy shredded zucchini. Amid all the great problems of our day, I know this was something you were very concerned about.
Hear me out. Zucchini is one of those plants that everyone tries to hide in food, although I’m not really sure why. I’m personally of the opinion that zucchini is excellent on its own, whether in grilled, roasted, or fried form, or turned into crispy baked fries. We’ve done our fair share of all of that this summer. But the thing is, zucchini is not a summer star like tomatoes or corn or peaches or cherries. It doesn’t have the bright and bursting acidity of a ripe heirloom tomato or the sweet-tart juiciness of a freshly picked peach. Zucchini is just…zucchini. It’s very plant-like. And because of that, there comes a time right around mid-August that I like to call “zucchini fatigue”. That time when you’ve made zucchini in every friggin’ way possible, and there’s just no more you can do to make it appetizing for the 12th day in a row. This is when I start to understand why people take to hiding it in cakes and muffins and brownies – there’s just no other way to get people to eat the stuff.
Please don’t misunderstand me – there is nothing wrong with adding some nutrients to chocolate cake or brownies. We could definitely use it, or at least I could. The problem for me has arrived when I attempt to add my dutifully shredded zucchini into the batter of an otherwise lovely cake. Without fail, for the past 3-4 summers, every dang zucchini bread/cake/muffin I’ve made has turned out horribly heavy and soggy. Every time, I’ve gone into it with such optimism. Every time, the finished product has gone in the trash. Brian told me just the other day that he would never forget the defeated *thwap* sound the last zucchini bread made when it landed at the bottom of the trash can.
This could not stand. I’d wasted hours of time and plenty of perfectly good cake batter over the years on these scraps of shredded vegetable matter, and I was bound and determined to finally get the best of them. So I did what every good lawyer does: I researched, got distracted, watched some Game of Thrones, researched, answered emails, pretended to work, researched, and postured to myself about why I hadn’t figured out the answer yet. In the end, it was the Kitchn, as usual, that led me to the answer. In the past, I’d always just shredded the zucchini in my food processor and thrown it straight into the batter, as recipes usually don’t specify anything beyond “shredded zucchini” in their instructions. Turns out, zucchini is 95% water, and when you just shred it and throw it in your batter, that water has nowhere to go. Ergo, soggy sadness.
So – I didn’t take any pictures of it because I was still skeptical about the outcome, but this time, once I shredded the zucchini (using the grating blade of my food processor), I let it sit in a mesh strainer over a bowl for a good 45 minutes while I preheated the oven and made the cake batter. Lo and behold, a whole lot of greenish water pooled underneath the strainer in the bowl, more than I would have expected from a cup and a half of zucchini. Then I pressed down on it with paper towels, and even more water came out. Then I squeezed the strained zucchini between another double layer of paper towels, just to make certain they got good and dry. Only then did I add that green confetti to the batter – and my oh my, what a difference it made.
A miracle, I tell you. The cake was soft, rich, spiced, and fragrant, and NOT SOGGY AT ALL! Look at those flecks of zucchini in there. Curse = officially broken!
I did a happy dance around my living room, where I take all these photos by myself, usually wearing last night’s pajamas. We live in a high-rise with floor to ceiling windows, so I’m pretty sure my neighbors have seen these antics and chalk it up to insanity. They might be right. But this time it was so appropriate!!
I brought this bad boy with us to visit my parents at their new condo in South Bend, and it’s safe to say it was well-received. Having a vacation home in South Bend seems like an oxymoron, I know, but truth is stranger than fiction, and here we are. Having zucchini cake on the patio on a July morning in Indiana.
What really makes this cake is not just the non-soggy zucchini, but the addition of cream cheese. During our time of zucchini fatigue, it becomes necessary to dress up this plant with butter and sugar and spices to make it exciting again. Adding cream cheese to both the batter and the frosting just takes it over the top, giving it a complexity that many overly sweet zucchini breads do not possess. Cream cheese, in my mind, makes everything better. See, e.g., these cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing. Few things are not improved with the addition of cream cheese. It’s just a fact.
You’ll definitely need a mixer for this one – preferably a stand mixer, but a hand mixer will do as well. Most of my recipes can be done mixer-free, but this one isn’t one of them. Whipping air into the batter and the frosting is essential for that fluffy texture and the beautiful swirls in the frosting.
And who doesn’t want swirls in their frosting?
A light yet rich zucchini cream cheese pound cake with fluffy cream cheese frosting.
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch nutmeg
- 4 ounces cream cheese softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini*
- 4 ounces cream cheese cold
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan or line with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar together on medium speed until fully incorporated. Increase speed to high and cream the mixture for about a minute - it should turn light and fluffy.
Add the egg and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until fully incorporated. Turn the speed to low and slowly stream in the melted butter (make sure the butter is not super hot or it will cook the egg!). Increase speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is very smooth.
Add the flour mixture, and beat on low speed until just combined. Do not overmix. Fold in the zucchini using a spatula or spoon, until well incorporated.
Scrape batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 45-48 minutes, until your kitchen smells amazing and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.
While the cake is cooling, make the frosting. Beat cream cheese and butter at high speed until pale and very fluffy - this should take 2-3 minutes. You want to incorporate as much air as possible into the mixture to make it light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt, and beat at medium to high speed until fully combined and light.
Spread cooled cake with cream cheese frosting. Top with pecans or walnuts if desired. Serve!
*I use the grating blade of my food processor to shred the zucchini. To ensure your cake does not turn out soggy, place shredded zucchini in a mesh strainer over a bowl and let drain for 30-45 minutes, then squeeze in paper towels to get out as much moisture as possible.
Adapted from the zucchini cream cheese bundt cake in the Joy the Baker Cookbook.
Cake keeps well-wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
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Zucchini fatigue, be gone!