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 56 Comments

  • Indy

    We picked up a pack of zucchini that didn’t hold up well after just a week in the fridge. Just as I was about to toss out the ones we didn’t manage to eat, I remembered that I had this recipe bookmarked. Just had my first slice, and love it!

    I made a few changes:
    1 1/2 cups of sugar instead of two just because we prefer to control the sweetness with the frosting and I chose the following spice combination based on your suggestion to to be creative:
    1 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon of all spice
    1/8 teaspoon of dry ground ginger

    I include the zest of one lemon, too.

    Last of the cake changes was related to the actual mixing. I did it all by hand. It was a workout to say the least!

    Finally, since we’re a lactose-free home, I made some frosting with 4 oz of toffuti cream cheese, 1/4 cup of I can’t believe it’s not butter, a cup of powered sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla.

    I took the cake out at 40 minutes and did the toothpick test. the toothpick came out clean around the edges, and clean in the middle but wet so I put the cake back in the oven for 3 and a half more minutes. Came out perfect – at least the one edge we’ve already devoured.

    Thanks so much for sharing your grandma’s recipe! I’ll definitely make this again.

  • Jeannie

    I chose this recipe from many online, the ingredients seemed familiar to a recipe I used to use. I wanted to try crushed pineapple in it so I added half the oil and added a can of pineapple, it was delicious. I LOVE that you show your Grandma’s hand-written recipe, I think that may be what caught my attention. Thank you for sharing!!

  • Lily

    The taste is acceptable, but the cake is quite ugly on top. I suspect that I did not ring out enough liquid from my zucchini, because the top is lumpy and the edges carmelized. Even before adding the — somewhat squeezed dry zucchini — the batter was very runny. Is that suppose right? I wasn’t planning on icing it, but now I may.

  • Margie Dana

    Made this cake last night—-Fantastic! Or should I say, “Cake-tastic!” Moist and light, rising perfectly, and cooking as directed. Icing was perfect. Might be my favorite spice cake ever. Definitely a keeper.

  • Lorrie

    I made this cake this afternoon and it is absolutely delicious!!! My husband is not a cake person and even he loved it!! I will be making this again! Thanks so much for sharing your Grandma’s recipe. I love the pictures of her original recipe with the little notes. I am sure you treasure it!

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