Grandma's Zucchini Cake

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

Grandma's Zucchini Cake
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
Elise Bauer

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
Elise Bauer

Grandma's Zucchini Cake

Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 60 mins
Servings 20 pieces
Yield 1 (9x13) cake

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 all-purpose 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 large eggs

  • 2 cups sugar

  • 1 cup vegetable oil

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, optional

  • 3 to 4 medium zucchini, grated, and with the moisture pressed out through a sieve to equal 2 cups

  • 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 unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups 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.

Links:

Zucchini cake with crunchy lemon glaze from David Lebovitz

Spiced zucchini cake from My Baking Addiction

Grandma's Zucchini Cake
Elise Bauer

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.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
355 Calories
20g Fat
43g Carbs
4g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 20
Amount per serving
Calories 355
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 20g 25%
Saturated Fat 4g 19%
Cholesterol 38mg 13%
Sodium 264mg 11%
Total Carbohydrate 43g 16%
Dietary Fiber 1g 5%
Total Sugars 32g
Protein 4g
Vitamin C 6mg 28%
Calcium 31mg 2%
Iron 1mg 6%
Potassium 173mg 4%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.