My Favorite Cake To Make For A Crowd

Zucchini-Olive Oil Snack Cake with Lemon Icing

I first tasted a version of this snack cake at a culinary event sponsored by Bertolli Olive Oil. It was love at first bite. Thanks to the olive oil in the batter, this cake is remarkably moist, and stays that way for days—a great boon, since this do-ahead recipe makes enough for leftovers. As a matter of fact, zucchini cake tastes even better the next day and it freezes well. For a sturdy snack cake, bake this in a large, rimmed baking sheet and cut the cake into 36 or more bars. It’s always welcome at potlucks, meetings, and sporting events. Whenever and wherever I serve it, someone asks for the recipe. While this is a great way to use zucchini that’s proliferating in your summer garden, I wouldn’t discourage you from making Zucchini-Olive Oil Cake all year long.

Secrets

  • Soaking raisins before adding them to the batter rehydrates and plumps them. Water would do the trick here, but to infuse them with great flavor, soak them in rum, whiskey, or a liqueur with a complementary flavor. My favorite booze for this is apricot brandy. For the best infusion, I begin soaking the raisins the day before I make the cake. Or, if time is short, warm the brandy and soak the raisins as you prep the other ingredients. After straining the raisins, I keep the apricot brandy, covered, in the refrigerator to use for my next zucchini cake.
  • When baking cakes with olive oil, use 1/4 less olive oil than the amount of butter or shortening called for in the recipe. In addition to fewer fat grams, you’ll also benefit from olive oil’s legendary antioxidant properties. Because of the way it’s extracted, extra virgin olive oil has the best nutritional profile of other olive oils. You could certainly use a bold, fruity extra virgin olive oil in this recipe, but I prefer to use one that is more delicately flavored, especially in the icing.
  • Sifting dry ingredients results in a fluffier cake. When baking with olive oil, it’s also important to sift the dry ingredients to prevent clumping. My preferred “sifter” is a medium-mesh strainer (see Illustration, page xx).
  • For the sweetest flavor, choose the smallest zucchini. Some gardeners and fine cooks swear that a zucchini whose blossom end is either flat or protruding has fewer seeds, causing it to be less bitter than one with a more prominently dimpled blossom end. It works for me.
  • To prevent the cake from doming in the center as it bakes, and to achieve an even, flat surface, spread batter out from the center of the pan, up into each corner and out along the sides. It’s okay if the batter is concave in the center when you slide the pan into the oven; gravity will even things out as the cake bakes.

Serves 12 or more, depending on size of pieces and pan size

Cake

1 1/2 cups raisins

1 1/2 cups sultanas (golden raisins)

About 2 cups apricot brandy, dark rum, orange-flavored liqueur, or hot water

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon fine salt

3 large eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup mild-tasting extra virgin olive oil

3 cups shredded, unpeeled zucchini, about 1 3/4 pounds

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped (see note at end)

Icing

2 medium lemons

1 tablespoon mild-tasting extra virgin olive oil

2 cups powdered sugar

Soak the raisins: Measure raisins and sultanas into a 4-cup liquid measure. Add enough hot water, brandy, or other liqueur to cover raisins. Cover and set aside for 20 minutes to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 (or 325 Convection) degrees F. For a thin snack cake (to eat out of hand), butter an 11- x 16-inch rimmed baking sheet. If you prefer a denser cake (more suitable if you plan to serve the cake on a plate), butter a 9- by 13-inch baking pan; set aside.

Prepare the cake: In a large bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs lightly. Add sugar and stir to combine. Whisk in olive oil, zucchini, and vanilla extract. Add egg mixture to dry ingredients and stir to combine. Strain raisins, reserving soaking liquor for another use. Add raisins and nuts to batter, and stir just to combine. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, cake springs back when touched in the center, and cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 45 minutes for the 11- x 16-inch pan. If using a 9- x 13-inch pan, bake 50 to 55 minutes. Transfer cake (in the pan) to a cooling rack, and cool to room temperature.

Prepare the icing: With a zester or the small holes of a box grater, remove the zest from the lemons and finely chop 2 teaspoons of zest. Squeeze the lemons and measure out 1/4 cup of juice. Reserve any remaining zest and juice for another use. In a medium bowl, combine lemon juice, olive oil, and lemon zest. Sift powdered sugar into bowl and stir to combine. Cover icing with a piece of plastic wrap placed directly on the surface (to prevent a crust from forming), and set aside until cake is cool.

Ice the cake: Leave cake in the pan and spread the top with icing. To prevent the icing from “cracking” when you cut the cake, score the cake into bars or squares before the icing hardens. After serving, cover any remaining cake with plastic wrap and store at cool room temperature for up to 3 days, refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 1 month.

Testers’ Comments: “Very moist and tender, tastes great…I loved the way the raisins plumped up as they baked…The brandy flavor was not at all overpowering…I loved this cake and will make it again. It’s great for a crowd or a potluck, as it serves a lot of people and keeps well… I might make it a tad sweeter next time…Even at 9×13, it’s a big cake…I forgot to turn down the oven after toasting the walnuts. I ended up baking the 9×13 cake at 350 degrees F (instead of 325) for 45 minutes. It was just fine…Great appearance: evenly browned, visible texture from the raisins and nuts…I really liked the lemon flavor of the icing. It was sweet, but tart, and complemented the other flavors nicely…My husband really liked it. No, he loved it.”

Toasting Nuts

Toasting nuts magnifies their flavor by releasing their volatile oils. For the best crunch, be sure to toast nuts ahead of time, so they have a chance to cool completely before you chop them or add them to a recipe.

There’s more than one way to toast nuts. While some people swear by toasting nuts in a sauté pan on top of the stove, I’m consistently disappointed with this method. I always seem to end up with under-toasted nuts (because I’m afraid they’re going to burn), or unevenly toasted nuts with some edges almost burned, while other sides are barely bronzed. I prefer to use an oven, toaster oven, or microwave to toast nuts.

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees F. Place nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast nuts until golden brown and fragrant, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 10 minutes, depending on the size and type of nuts. Transfer toasted nuts to a cool plate and set aside to cool completely.

Or, toast nuts in a single layer on a rimmed plate in the microwave (use high power) for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size and type of nut. Be sure to stop the microwave to stir nuts at 1-minute intervals, and remember that the microwave cooks foods from the inside out. If nuts smell fragrant, but they’re not quite brown enough on the surface, set them on the counter for a minute or two before you determine whether they need more time.

Whichever toasting method you use, the nuts will become crunchy as they cool.

Copyright 2004, Linda Carucci. All rights reserved.

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