I consider myself something of a baking ninja.
By this I mean I can sneak ingredients—yes, especially vegetables—into a variety of dishes, ensuring my family gets their daily greens.
We all know picky eaters, the kind of people who won’t touch a dish that has vegetables in it on principle.
That’s why we baking ninjas have to exist. And that’s why this recipe for chocolate zucchini cake is undeniably one of my favorites.
The zucchini called for in this recipe helps to make the cake incredibly moist (if you know how delicious and moist chocolate zucchini bread is, then you know what I’m talking about).
But that moist, smooth cake texture is pretty much the only way you can tell zucchini is in this cake.
Seriously, you will never notice the zucchini in this cake. You don’t see it; you don’t taste it.
Even the pickiest eaters will assume they’re just shoveling down delicious, fudgy chocolate cake.
And the theory is pretty simple, right?
Take something like vegetables, which kids have a hard time eating, and turn it into one of the most wonderful, exciting, jumping-up-and-down-worthy things in the world: cake.
This easy chocolate zucchini cake allows you to get away with serving a vegetable, while simultaneously receiving praise for serving cake.
Can you say, “best of both worlds?”
This recipe is a summer delight. Zucchini is typically so plentiful in the summer—perhaps you even grow some in your garden.
Served with a little ice cream, it can make the perfect treat to end a hot summer day of grilling or gardening or swimming or whatever it is you do in the summer.
But it’s also true that zucchini is served virtually year-round at the market, and a warm slice of this chocolate zucchini cake is a wonderful winter companion to a mug of hot chocolate or tea.
Serve it year round and discover other great pairings!
I love that this recipe doesn’t have a strong spice flavor. Sometimes, especially with zucchini recipes, there can be a kick from the spices included with the zucchini.
Not so in this recipe.
Instead, every bite will put you in chocolate paradise, with smooth, moist cake as your transportation there.
I’ve seen some versions of this recipe that call for more than a cup of sugar—don’t make that crucial mistake. This recipe is the perfect balance to create a cake that’s not too sweet, but still maintains an unmistakable cake flavor.
The richness of the whole dish will be ruined by including too much sugar.
Sneaking vegetables into desserts is a hard game, one that requires having the best recipes.
This recipe for chocolate zucchini cake is about as good as it gets. It is a delicious dessert that is incredible versatile (see the variations I recommend below).
It’s easy to make ahead of time (in fact, it often tastes better on the second or third day—though it hardly ever lasts that long in my house) and great for parties and potlucks.
Give it a try yourself!
Zucchini: The recipe calls for unpeeled zucchini. This should work with pretty much any zucchini that you buy or grow. However, if you discover that your zucchini has an incredibly tough skin—more like a melon than a gourd—you make want to consider peeling it. Again, this should only occur in rare, rare circumstances.
This recipe is a great way to use up any zucchini you have leftover in your kitchen. In that case, the quality of the zucchini isn’t a huge deal, you get what you get. However, if I’m planning ahead and buying zucchini specifically for this recipe, I’ll usually buy two or three. This is because zucchini is a finicky vegetable. Sometimes it can be really moist, sometimes not. Cutting into the zucchini and discovering that it’s dry is a huge bummer—unless you have a few back-up zucchinis ready to go.
Baking: This recipe for chocolate zucchini cake has two awesome ingredients that contribute to the overall moist texture: zucchini and buttermilk. Because the cake is so moist, however, you need to be very careful not to underbake it. The overall cook time will vary depending on the type of pan you use. Just be careful that you don’t pull the cake out of the oven too soon! Rely on the good ole toothpick technique to assure doneness.
High-Altitude Baking–Anybody who lives in high-altitude areas knows that baking can be tricky. I have a friend in Denver who tried this exact recipe, and it comes out perfectly! So when you’re loading up the van to spend a week in the mountains, don’t forget your zucchini!
Frosting: I’ve included a recipe for a rich chocolate buttercream frosting. This pairs wonderfully with the richness of the cake, and makes for a really cohesive dish.
However, in terms of being healthy, chocolate zucchini cake with buttercream frosting might not be the best option. I adore this frosting, and the zucchini in the cake is healthy enough for me and my family. But here are two alternatives to the buttercream frosting that will lower the overall calorie count:
1. Dust the cake with powdered sugar instead of frosting.
2. Serve the cake with a dollop of whipped cream instead of frosting.
Chocolate Zucchini Bundt Cake: One of my favorite ways to serve this recipe is as a Bundt cake. Really, it’s not much more complicated than pouring the cake batter into a Bundt pan. The only change in the process is that you’ll probably need to increase the bake time a little bit. I usually add five minutes to account for the depth of the Bundt pan (as opposed to something like a sheet pan). Make sure you use a nonstick cooking spray that contains flour so your cake doesn’t stick. I use Pam Baking nonstick spray (not an endorsement).
Usually I’ll drizzle a lighter glaze over top instead of using the full on buttercream frosting when I make this dish as a Bundt cake.
Cocoa Powder: As with any recipe calling for cocoa powder, the quality of the cocoa powder determines a lot. If you buy the cheapest stuff in the store, the taste of the cake will reflect that. I usually try to find a middle-cost cocoa powder.
For a delicious variation on this cake, try using dark chocolate cocoa powder. Dark chocolate zucchini cake is fantastic!
Other Variations: Walnuts are a nice alternative to the chocolate chips. I love the slight crunch the walnuts provide, I’ll sometimes use other ingredients instead. For my nut-sensitive friends, I’ll replace the walnuts in the recipe with chocolate chips. Making a chocolate zucchini cake with chocolate chips is also great for birthday parties and kids.
Or, instead of chocolate chip zucchini cake, try a chocolate zucchini cake with peach halves. The peach halves pair really well with the rich, sweet cake.
To extend the recipe, I’ll pour the batter into a cupcake pan and make chocolate zucchini cupcakes. Just remember to shorten the cook time.
Making this chocolate zucchini cake gluten free requires using your favorite flour substitute. I just use gluten-free flour.
Chocolate Zucchini Cake
- All-Purpose Flour - 2 1/4 Cups
- Unsweetened Cocoa Powder - 1/2 Cup
- Baking Soda - 1 Teaspoon
- Salt - 1 Teaspoon
- Granulated Sugar - 1 3/4 Cup
- Unsalted Butter, at Room Temperature - 1/2 Cup (1 Stick)
- Vegetable Oil - 1/2 Cup
- Eggs - 2 Large
- Vanilla Extract - 1 Teaspoon
- Buttermilk, Well Shaken - 1/2 Cup
- Grated Zucchini, Unpeeled - 2 Cups
- Semisweet Chocolate Chips - 1 Cup
- Unsalted Butter, at Room Temperature - 3/4 Cup(1 1/2 Sticks)
- Confectioner's Sugar, Sifted - 3 Cups
- Unsweetened Cocoa Powder - 1/2 Cup
- Vanilla Extract - 1 Teaspoon
- Whole Milk - 2-4 Tablespoon
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 9 X 13 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, 1/2 cup cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, mix together the granulated sugar, 1/2 cup butter and oil until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Mix in dry ingredients, alternately with buttermilk in 3 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Stir in zucchini and chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared baking pan. Even top of the batter with a small offset spatula.
- Place baking pan in preheated oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, beat 3/4 cup butter until creamy. Add powdered sugar, and 1/2 cup cocoa together until well combined. Add 2 Tablespoons of milk and beat on medium speed for 2-3 minutes. Add milk as needed, 1 tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.