Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Zucchini-Pecan Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

I feel like some milestones have passed in the last month or so. I feel like I've stepped across some threshold, and now, here I am, back and better than ever.

What have I accomplished?  Well, this blog, for instance, turned 1 back at the end of June. One whole year of photographing my dinner and sharing it with the world. I feel guilty that I didn't properly celebrate, but I had just started a new quarter of school, and my head was wrapped up with calculating the heat capacity of metals and exploring themes in modern fiction. It's difficult to schedule my blog posts to coincide with dated events when school is in session.

Then there was my birthday. My 30th birthday, in fact, was just several days after The Weather in Cascadia's. I have to say that I wasn't freaked out (and still am not) by reaching the three decade mark. It's satisfying to be thirty.  It feels empowering, although people now feel the need to tell me that I "look good".  I'm pretty sure I didn't get a single "You look great!" the entirety of my twenty-ninth year, but as soon as the word 'thirty' hits people's ears, they seem to think I need the encouragement. It's true that I'm "older". Not old, mind you, but apparently no longer wearing the badge of youth that came along with my twenties. 

Beyond the birthdays this month, I've also made it past the halfway point of summer quarter.  Summer school is an intense 8 weeks of class into which 11 weeks worth of material is crammed.  The classes are longer, but there isn't really any time to lag.  This is also my first quarter of chemistry since my junior year of high school -  I'll let you do the math on that one.  So far so good, though.  Just four weeks to go, and then a month off to catch the final bit of Seattle's fleeting summer.  I'm really looking forward to it.

In the mean time, between essays and exams, I'm still finding time to spend in the kitchen.  When I want to take a break from my school books, I pour over cookbooks and food magazines instead and daydream of shopping sprees at kitchen supply stores.  Kitchen Aid mixer... Wusthof knife set... All Clad cookware...  And visions of Cuisinart danced in her head... 

Back in the reality of my mixerless kitchen, I've found some interesting and delicious-looking recipes in this month's Bon Appetit.  They feature a zucchini-themed section that includes a recipe for zucchini cake.  Hmmm.  When was the last time I baked a cake?  I honestly couldn't tell you.  As the daughter of a once professional cake baker, I think I've shied away from cakes.  My childhood sort of burned me out on them.  This cake however was instantly intriguing.  I know from eating my fare share of carrot cake and zucchini bread that adding veggies to baked goods is a sure-fire way to end up with moist, delectable treats.

The holes you see were left over from the birthday candles
used to  celebrate a good friend's birthday.
I had 3 other Cancer friends turning 30 this year.

Since I've recently determined that I have a gluten sensitivity, I needed to adapt this recipe to be gluten-free.  I immediately turned to a leavened, gluten-free flour mix called Pamela's Pancake and Baking Mix.  It's a blend of rice flours that already contains the necessary xanthan gum and some baking powder.  This mix had turned out some excellent chocolate chip cookies, so I figured I'd give it a shot.  In the end, I was far from disappointed.  It was so, so good.  My gluten-eating friends didn't even know the difference.   I highly, highly recommend this cake.  You can tell I'm serious when I start doubling up on my adverbs.

Gluten-Free Zucchini Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Bon Appetit, August 2010
makes 1 - 9" cake

for the cake:  
canola oil spray
1 1/2 C. Pamela's Gluten-Free Pancake and Baking Mix
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 C. olive oil
3/4 C. packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 C. coarsely grated zucchini
3/4 C. chopped pecans 

for the frosting:
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
3 T. unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 C. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 F with rack in center.

Line 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper and coat parchment paper with non-stick spray.

Whisk Pamela's Mix, baking powder, sea salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg in medium bowl to blend well.  In a separate, large bowl, whisk oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until well combined.  Fold the dry ingredients into the wet, then fold in the zucchini and pecans.  Don't over-mix!  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack, about 1 hour.  Cut around the sides of the pan to loosen cake.  Turn the cake out onto a serving dish and peel off the parchment paper.

While the cake is cooling, commence the frosting making.  Using an electric mixer*, beat the cream cheese and butter until blended.  Beat in sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon.

Once the cake has cooled and been transferred out of the pan, spread the frosting over the top and sides of the cake.  Slice and serve**.

*If you lack an electric mixer, a food processor works just as well.  Simply add all of the frosting ingredients and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until the frosting is smooth.

**This cake tastes just as delicious cold as it does at room temperature.  If there are leftovers, just wrap the serving platter and cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Toothpicks inserted into the top of the cake can prevent the plastic wrap from touching the cake and sticking to the frosting.

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