Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Holiday Parties Galore: Fantastic Holiday Party Cake Recipe

Having two jobs means that I've basically got double of all of those job-related things that crop up in life - specifically, I had three job-related holiday parties to go to.  If they had been spread out through the month of December, it would have been fine.  But not only were they in the same week, they were also in the same week as four other holiday parties that I had already said I'd go to.  To be blunt, the second week of December kicked my ass.

I wasn't planning on going to both holiday parties for Job 1, but I miscalculated: when you bake cakes that people like, they want you to come back for other potluck parties.  I got ambushed by the secretary to the Deputy Director a couple of days before one of the parties, and while I was making excuses about why I wasn't going, the Deputy Director popped up and said that he'd loved my cake last year and would I please bring it again this year.

This would normally be complimentary, but I'm pretty sure that the Deputy Director of a federal agency the size of ours doesn't know me from Adam and certainly didn't remember what cake I'd brought to a potluck party with hundreds of people that happened a year earlier.  But his secretary remembered and he's a good boss who tries his best to keep her happy, so I got commanded to show up with the cake.

They got a bit of a surprise when I mentioned that it was a lime-zucchini cake.  Zucchinis are a secret baking weapon: full of water to make cakes moist but they have a weak taste that can be overridden by any citrus fruit.  Lime-zucchini cakes just taste like lime, and nobody can tell that there's zucchinis in it.

Zucchini cakes are just like carrot cakes, where a mild tasting vegetable that holds a lot of water is used to produce a very moist cake.  If the idea of a zucchini cake freaks you out, just remember that lots of people love carrot cakes and don't think that there's anything wrong with using carrots in a cake.

The Secret Awesome Zucchini Cake Recipe is actually "Flora's Famous Courgette Cake" from Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess.  It's a layer cake made with two layers of zucchini cake, sandwiched with lime curd, and topped with cream cheese icing.  That may sound questionable but it's really good.

Tips: don't switch out zucchinis for other types of squash.  Zucchinis have the most mild flavor of the squashes.

You can use any citrus fruit for this recipe.  I love lime but it will work just as well with lemons, oranges, yuzus, etc.  Lime zest tends to be dried than orange or lemon zest so you may need to let the zest sit and dry out for 30 minutes to an hour.

The curd needs to cool and solidify in the refrigerator before layering the cakes.  In the pictures below, you can see that I didn't have enough time and the curd was still runny.  Compare my cake to the pictures from the other two blogs.  It still tasted great but I was bothered by how unfinished it looked.

The curd recipe makes more than you need so you will either end up eating curd plain out of a bowl or you can put it on other baked goods (like drier cakes).

You can grate the zucchinis by hand with a cheese grater (use the larger holes) or using a food processor.  I only have a grater blade on the 11 cup Cuisinart so I grate the zucchinis by hand for this recipe because I don't want to bother washing it afterwards.

Remember to take the cream cheese out of the fridge a couple of hours before you make the icing or it will be difficult to stir.  If you have hard cream cheese, scoop it into a bowl and microwave it in 10 second intervals to loosen it up, stirring in between intervals.  It should only take 20 or 30 seconds total.

I never use raisins in this recipe because I think it's gross, but your mileage may vary.  I am also too lazy to get pistachios just for this cake.

I usually double the amount of lime zest in the curd and icing just because I like the taste of limes.

Some other bloggers have mentioned that they have had problems with the egg whites when making the curd.  Make sure to whisk the egg to blend together the yolk and white before adding it to the curd and you won't have problems with little bits of egg whites floating around.

A note on the curd: when the curd is cooled for long enough in the fridge, it will be quite solid and support the upper cake and icing with no problem.  You can put the cake together before the curd is solid but it doesn't look nice, and you loose a lot of the curd to the sides of the plate.  You need to add in an hour or so before assembly for the curd to cool down.  These two bloggers let the curd cool long enough and their cakes are lovely (and they take better photos than I do):

From Bake or Break: She didn't like the cake because she doesn't like citrus.  Flatter cakes but more solid curd.
From Courgettes and Limes: Firmer curd but runnier icing.

A note on vocabulary: the Brits have a lot of different names for foods than our names.  Many webpages or blogs about this recipe were written by Brits - not surprising, since this recipe was originally printed in a British cookbook.  Vocab to know:

zucchini == courgette
golden raisin == sultana **
white sugar == caster sugar
self-rising flour == self-raising flour
baking soda == bicarbonate of soda 

There are lots (soooo many) other food vocab differences between the US and the UK, but these are what you generally need to know for this recipe.

** Sultana is actually the type of grape used to make raisins, which we call Thompson Seedless.  In the UK, raisins are usually referred to by the type of grape they come from.  You may see both Sultana raisins and Thompson raisins.

Flora's Famous Zucchini (Courgette) Cake
From How To Be A Domestic Goddess
Recipe online at NPR's interview with Nigella Lawson

Ingredients for the cake:
¼ cup raisins, optional
12 ounces zucchini (2-3), weighed before grating
2 large eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ cups self-rising cake flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 8x2-inch cake pans, greased and lined with parchment or wax paper

Ingredients for the curd filling:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large eggs
½ cup sugar
½ cup lime juice (of approximately 4 limes)
zest of 1 lime
2 ½-pint jars

Ingredients for the icing:
7 ounces cream cheese
½ cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
juice of 1 lime, or more to taste
2 – 3 tablespoons chopped pistachio nuts
Make the curd first:
Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan, whisk the egg to blend the yolk and whites, add all the  ingredients for the curd to the saucepan, and whisk to a custard over a gentle heat. Let cool before filling a jar – or a cake – with it. Keep in the refrigerator.

Makes about 1 ¾ cups.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

If you're using raisins, put them in a bowl and cover with warm water to plump them up.

Wipe the zucchini with a kitchen towel (but don't peel them), then grate. The coarse side of an ordinary box grater is the best thing to use: anything too fine or too quick can turn them to a wet mush. When you've grated them, put them in a sieve over the sink to drain.

Put the eggs, oil, and sugar in a bowl and beat them until creamy. Sift in the flour, baking soda, and baking powder and continue to beat until well combined. Now stir in the grated zucchini and add the drained raisins. Pour the mixture into the pans, and bake for 30 minutes until slightly browned and firm to the touch. Leave in their pans on a rack for 5 – 10 minutes, then turn out and let cool on the rack until your filling and icing are ready.

If you don't want to make the lime curd for the filling, then just buy a good lemon or lime curd and sharpen with some freshly squeezed lime juice. To make the cream-cheese icing for the top, beat the cream cheese in a bowl until smooth, add the confectioners' sugar, beating well to combine, and then stir in the lime juice to taste. Now get your cakes ready for assembling. Put one cake on the plate and spread with completely cooled lime curd. Put on the top cake and smear it thickly with the cream-cheese icing. If you feel the icings need firming up a little, put the cake in the refrigerator for a while.

Just before serving, scatter chopped pistachios over the top.

Serves 8.

Grated zucchinis: takes about 10 minutes to grate them by hand.

You must sift the flour.  Don't skip this step!

Right before baking the cakes.  The zucchini will still be visible when the cakes are baked.

Baked.  You can see the large hole I made with a butter knife to test if the cake was done.

The curd is already squishing out the side.
Mixing up the cream cheese icing.

Completed cake.  The curd has really oozed out the sides because of the weight of the second cake.

My little helper.


  1. Hi there. Food on Friday:Zucchini is open for entries. This looks like a good one! I do hope you link it in. This is the link . Please do pop back to check out some of the other links. Cheers