Grandma’s Zucchini Cake

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Rummaging through my mother’s old recipe file recently, I stumbled upon a photocopy of a handwritten recipe for zucchini cake. The recipe is in my grandmother’s hand, my dad’s mom.

She was the baker in the family (a title now passed on to my father). She moved from St. Paul to live with us in Los Angeles when I was four.

Mom, being rather busy with all the kids (6 kids in 8 years!) and working as a head start teacher, didn’t have much time for crafts or baking.

Grandma's Zucchini Cake

It was grandma who taught me to sew, to knit and crochet, and to bake. She made cherry pies, angel food cakes, apricot jam, and the best oatmeal raisin cookies. We fought for the rights to lick the batter bowl of whatever cake she happened to be making.

When we moved to Sacramento, she would send my mother recipe clippings and notes. I think that’s how we must have ended up with this recipe for zucchini cake.

It’s a lot like zucchini bread, moist and somewhat crumbly, but in sheet cake form, with more egg and sugar, and with a cream cheese frosting. Great for summer potlucks!

Grandma's Zucchini Cake

Grandma’s Zucchini Cake Recipe

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  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: Makes about 20 pieces.

The frosting amount assumes that you are going to keep the cake in the pan and only frost the top. If you plan on removing the cake from the pan and frosting the sides, you'll want to up the frosting amounts.

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon (can sub 1 teaspoon with other spices such as allspice and nutmeg, go easy on the cloves though)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups white, granulated sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional, my addition)
  • 2 cups (from about 3-4 regular sized zucchini) grated un-peeled zucchini (place grated zucchini in a sieve and press out some of the excess moisture before measuring)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (my grandmother recommends black walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)

Frosting:

  • 3 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature (Philadelphia cream cheese recommended)
  • 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups of powdered sugar

Method

1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9x12 or 9x13 baking pan (I used a pyrex pan).

2 In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

3 In a mixer, beat the 3 eggs on high speed until frothy. Lower the speed and beat in the sugar, vegetable oil, vanilla, and lemon zest (if using). Stir in the flour mixture, a third at a time. Stir in the zucchini and chopped nuts and/or raisins.

4 Pour mixture into a 9x12 or 9x13 baking pan. Bake at 350°F for 40 to 45 minutes. (My grandmother's notes say you can also bake in an angel food pan for 1 hour.) Remove from oven and let cool completely before frosting. (While the cake is cooling, let the frosting's cream cheese and butter sit at room temperature to soften.)

5 To make the frosting, beat together the cream cheese and butter. Add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth.

Frost the cake and serve. Store covered with aluminum foil.

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Links:

Zucchini cake with crunchy lemon glaze from David Lebovitz

Spiced zucchini cake from My Baking Addiction

Grandma's Zucchini Cake

It's so eerie to look at my grandmother's notes. She mentions that "black walnuts are good". Black walnuts are pretty hard to find, but there was a black walnut tree on our block that she and I would pass on the way to the grocery store. If there were any nuts on the ground, she would gather them and we would crack them open with a hammer when we got home.

Her hand got shakier as she got older. By her 90s she had the symptoms of Parkinson's. There's a more recent note to my sister advising her to drain the zucchini, where her handwriting is noticeably more wobbly.

Showing 4 of 64 Comments

  • Heidi Sabourin, Ottawa Canada

    What a lovely recipe, and thank you for sharing! I am a volunteer with Dinners Unlimited, a small group which hosts a large community dinner for underprivileged people, and we serve about 800 meals in 5 hours. We held such a dinner two days ago in a church hall. Most of the desserts are provided by the volunteers who come to serve, and this cake was such a hit that people were asking for the recipe, and some of the guests waited around so they could get a second piece! Kudos!

  • Irina

    We have an overload of zucchini this year, and God only knows how many times I made this cake! The recipe is just fantastic, and everyone who tried this cake can never believe that it’s with zucchini (zucchini cake does not sound like something tasty, at least not in my country :)))). I usually does not do icing, it’s perfect without, but sometimes I use sour cream bitten with sugar, sour cream gives a lightly sour note which suits perfectly to this delicious cake.

  • Pauline Lalonde

    I made these for my coworkers for Christmas gifts. Everyone love them. Thank You so much . This is a winner.

  • Samaneh

    Thanks to u and your grandmother, this recipe is now one of our favourite hits.even though my husband is not fond of zucchini he absolutely hadn’t any idea of hidde ones in the cake so it’s a good way to put them in others diet.
    I have to say i only halved the suger since we take precaution about the amount of suger we consume. And it turned great.

  • Elena

    I just had to write to you after I made this cake. The only thing I did not have were the black walnuts so I omitted this and not just because I didn’t have any but also in case of any people with nut allergies. Let me just say this was a big hit at a work thing for morning tea today and my gosh was everyone salivating at every mouthful. I boasted how excited I was to make your grandmothers recipe. This truly was a hit with everyone . Unfortunately I quit sugar almost a few years ago but really felt today was the first time I could fall off the wagon with this cake. I thank you for sharing this recipe with all of us.

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