This one came highly recommended by my sister, who lives in Sydney, Australia, and is currently languishing in a Coronavirus lockdown. Such things as chocolate cake have been essential in getting us through lockdowns and the pandemic in general. Chocolate and cake are two such reliable morale boosters.
I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but as anyone with small or particularly demanding children will know, it’s hard to get much done in the school summer holidays. In England, they last about six weeks, but it might as well be sixty-six, or six months.
We’ve had another weird climate crisis summer here. We had a drought in southern England earlier in the year and summer was skewed into May and June. Then when it was the actual summer holidays in July and August, it was mostly mild and purgatorially grey with occasional downpours. Now the kids are actually back at school, the sun is out again. Our crop of courgettes, aka zucchini, has been a bit weird as a result. Small courgettes would arrive, then be ravaged by slugs and snails. A few would suddenly swell into more marrow-like beasts, which are less tasty, more watery, and not so good for this recipe.
Indeed, working with vegetables in cake recipes can be tricky due to the variations in water content. I found the bigger courgette-marrows still worked OK if you put the grated veg in a tea towel and squeezed out as much water as possible. I also tweaked and standardised the recipe my sister sent me into grams. She discovered the cake via a local bakery but it may have originated with this US blog, so thanks Sally.
Anyway, overall this is a delicious, rich chocolate cake, and like a good carrot cake, you’re not distracted by any particularly vegetably flavours.
I’ve made a few versions, one covered with a butter cream, then another just sandwiched with some butter cream. The latter was a more practical option as I took it on the first step of Coat of Hopes, a climate action pilgrimage. Our friend Barbara Keal and collaborators are walking from Newhaven on the south coast of England to Glasgow in Scotland for COP26. Their goal is to try and raise awareness and put pressure on world leaders to do more about the climate crisis.
Our summer might have been choppy, but a lot of people round the world have had unprecedented temperatures, wild fires and floods. I was chatting to a friend in Rome and they’d been to Puglia, the heel of Italy, where it tipped towards 49C (120F). These are highest temperatures ever recorded in Europe. Humans simply cannot function with these extremes, let alone grow food for ourselves. Something comprehensive, assertive and right now desperately needs to be agreed at COP26, but I’m preparing myself to be deeply disappointed.
For the cake
250g plain flour
62g cocoa powder
6g baking soda
3g baking powder
3g fine salt
200g vegetable oil
175g granulated sugar
130g soft brown sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
80g sour cream or plain yogurt, at room temperature
6g vanilla extract
350g courgette, coarsely grated
180g dark chocolate, chopped into chips, or chocolate chips
For the icing. Halve these quantities if you just plan to use a filling:
280g unsalted butter, softened
400g icing sugar
65g cocoa powder
3g vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Grease two 22cm round tins. Ideally deep tins but basic sandwich tins seem to work OK.
3. Sieve together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the salt.
4. In another large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer, beat the oil, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, sour cream or yoghurt and vanilla until combined. Add the courgette.
5. Pour into dry ingredients and beat until completely combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
6. Pour batter evenly into cake tins. Bake for around 35-40 minutes or until the cakes are baked through. Test with a skewer. If it comes out clean, it is done.
7. Allow cakes to cool completely in the tins on a cooling rack.
8. Make the icing by beating the butter until soft. Sieve together the icing sugar and cocoa then add to the butter along with the vanilla. Beat until smooth.
9. Ice the top of one, make a sandwich, then ice the top and sides. You can level the tops if you like a perfectly flat cake, but, really, why waste the goodness? Or if you’ve just made half the butter cream, just fill and sandwich. You can then dust the top with icing sugar. It’s not as indulgent this way, but certainly less messy taken on the first five miles of a 400 mile-plus (700km-plus) pilgrimage.*
* I do see the irony of talking about making an indulgent chocolate cake, featuring politically and environmentally problematic ingredients like chocolate, while mentioning involvement with a climate action. But being part of the movement to prevent total environmental and climatic meltdown isn’t synonymous with being entirely ascetic. The way I see it, breaking away from fossil fuels and generally improving our footprint on the planet is a profound moment for economic recovery and social health. The opportunities for growth and employment are huge in the green energy industry, education, sustainable housing (retro and new build), improved travel and transit infrastructure, better agricultural practices etc etc.