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Monday, September 2, 2013

"Squash Surprise"--for Dessert





Year after year, one of my gardening daughters-in-law harvests lavish, overwhelming, crops of zucchini and yellow summer squash. This summer has been no exception to the pattern, with the yellow crooknecks especially prolific.

After a certain point, however, the family becomes sated with variations of "squash surprise" dishes, but no one wants to just let the rest of the harvest go to waste. Time for some kitchen creativity. A web search for zucchini recipes produces a zillion hits, for everything from appetizers (this year it seems to be zucchini "chips" in the oven) to side and main dishes to breads and desserts.

As I reviewed some of the options available for cakes, I realized that I have a proven winner, so why look further. My recipe is one I discovered over 35 years ago, though I have actually never made it as written. The original called for zucchini and crushed pineapple, but I am not a big pineapple fan and never have that in the house. Instead, over the years, I have included zucchini, carrots, applesauce, and even plums.

Especially plums.

One of my first tries was for a 4th of July pool party in Arizona. The plums were at their peak in the stores, and I had lots of carrots in the refrigerator as usual. The cake baked up nicely, with a golden brown crust. I added the powdered sugar frosting but left it in the pan without cutting it at all before we went to our friends' home. Imagine my horror, then, when it came time to serve the cake. When the first piece was lifted from the pan, the interior color emerged--bright, lime green! My adult eyes saw this as a major appetite suppressor. The kids at the party, however, thought it wonderful, and the entire cake was gobbled down quickly.

A few weeks later, my own family asked me to repeat the recipe, and I dutifully obliged. Imagine our disappointment, then, when the cake came out...golden brown. Not a horrible color for a spice type cake, but definitely not the green we had expected. Over the next few years, I tried repeatedly to get back the specific combination of fruit and vegetable that had caused that original hue, but it never worked. My only explanation is that I did not make note of the variety of plums I used in that first try. Unlike apples and pears and peaches, plums come in such a wide range of types and colors, and I apparently never again found just the right variety to get back to the bright green.

Regardless of the color, however, this is a great cake. This week was the perfect time to try it with yellow summer squash. In combination with carrots, it turned out to be a lovely light golden color.  Sometimes, when I have made it with zucchini, even the finest kind of grating still leaves tail-tell speckles of green throughout; the yellow squash did not reveal itself in this way.  I did cook the carrots for this version; I found myself with several pounds of organic carrots and had cooked and mashed them for other uses. However, you could easily use raw grated carrots as well. (If the batter seems very thick using all raw vegetables, you may wish to add a tablespoon or so of water.)

The original recipe included no spices, but that too has never been tried. For us, a cake like this begs for the addition of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, or even cloves and allspice--try out a variety of these flavors for yourself and see. The nuts are optional, as are raisins or dried cranberries but either of these additions will just make the cake more special. And though the illustrations here show only frosting, feel free to sprinkle on chopped walnuts or colored sprinkles for a little more pizzazz.

So here it is, a great basic cake recipe for anyone looking for ways to use up those super large harvests of crookneck squash or zucchini. Enjoy.



Squash Surprise Cake


1/2 c butter
1/2 c canola oil
2 c sugar
3 eggs
2 t vanilla
1 c cooked, mashed carrots (baby food carrot puree could be used)
2 c finely grated yellow crookneck squash, lightly packed
3 c flour
1 t baking powder
1 t soda
1 to 2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 to 1 t ground ginger
1 c chopped walnuts.
1/2 c raisins or dried cranberries (optional)

1. Cream the butter, oil, and sugar until fluffy. Add the carrots, eggs, and vanilla and continue beating for another minute or so.  Stir in the squash.
2. Sift the dry ingredients together and fold into the squash and carrot mixture.
3. Add the nuts and raisins, stirring just enough to distribute them evenly.
4. Pour batter into a well-greased 9 X 13 pan and bake at 325 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (If you are "overly generous" with some of the veggies, the cake could take a little longer to bake.)
5. Frost with a basic cream cheese frosting. Sprinkle with more chopped walnuts if desired.





Variations:

You can use your food processor to puree the carrots; cook them until very soft and then use the plastic mixing blade to process them to a smooth puree. You can then just proceed with step 1, without removing the carrots from the bowl. Be careful not to over-mix when the dry ingredients are added.

For the two cups of grated squash, substitute two cups of either of the following:
  • grated zucchini
  • grated raw carrot
For the one cup of cooked, mashed carrots, substitute one cup of any of the following:
  • applesauce
  • chopped plums, firmly packed
  • chopped apples, firmly packed
  • chopped pears, firmly packed
  • who knows, maybe crushed pineapple might even work!
(And though I have never tried it, I would guess that you could use a cup of pumpkin puree with two cups of zucchini too.)

Increase the spices as desired, or substitute pumpkin pie spice or apple pie spice, using at least two teaspoons of these mixtures.

Substitute chopped pecans, slivered almonds, or even coconut for the walnuts.

If you are a big ginger fan, a small amount of finely chopped candied ginger could also be added with the nuts.

This may also be made into cupcakes, with the recipe yielding about two dozen. The original recipe suggested that a Bundt pan could also be used, but I have never tested the recipe that way. As open as this recipe is to variations, however, I can't see why this wouldn't work.

Since this batter is so similar to many zucchini and fruit breads, you could probably also make this into two full sized loaves for slicing. With added ginger, it could be wonderful spread with cream cheese mixed with some orange juice. 

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By the way---if you ever find a combination that results in a bright green cake, please let me know--I would love to be able to recreate that one!