Grandma’s Zucchini Cake

DessertBakingCakeZucchini

My grandmother's recipe for a gently spicy sheet cake, made with freshly grated zucchini.

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.

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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

  • 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.

Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

More from Elise

160 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Melody

    OM, I just LOVE this cake. Its sooooo good. Thsnk you for sharing.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  2. Susan

    It was delicious and moist! My husband took it to work, and it was a hit! I didn’t have lemon zest, so used about 1/2 tsp of pure lemon extract, which added a mild lemon tang. Iced it with a butter cream icing since I didn’t have cream cheese.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  3. Debbie

    This was my first zuchinni cake ever. It turned out very tasty I wouldnt change the receipe a bit. I used fresh zuchinni that was frozen for only maybe 2 weeks. It will take3 cups of the previously frozen zuchinni to get the 2 cups needed for the receipe. Thank you for sharing❤️

    xxxxxyyyyy

  4. Carey

    Very moist and delicious! I used 1 1/2 t of cinnamon, and 1/4 t each of ginger and nutmeg. When I was icing the cake, I felt that there wasn’t quite enough icing but when I served the cake, it seemed adequate. I will make this again.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  5. Jella

    This cake is absolutely delicious! I have made it plenty of times over the summer even though it highlights fall flavours! Simple, quick and delicious!

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