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Zucchini Cake with Crunchy Lemon Glaze

A few years ago, I was extremely fortunate to meet Gina DePalma, who was (at the time) the pastry chef at Babbo in New York City. Being bakers, we struck up a friendship and she gave me a copy of her gorgeous book, Dolce Italiano. After we had dessert and coffee together, we ambled the streets of New York City for a bit, and made…

A few years ago, I was extremely fortunate to meet Gina DePalma, who was (at the time) the pastry chef at Babbo in New York City. Being bakers, we struck up a friendship and she gave me a copy of her gorgeous book, Dolce Italiano. After we had dessert and coffee together, we ambled the streets of New York City for a bit, and made plans to meet in Rome, where she was moving to work on her second book.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to have our Roman holiday, but I often thumb through her book and dream about how much fun we would have had lapping our way through the gelaterias of Rome and eating all those pastries with little sips of Italian espresso in between bites. Before she could plant her roots too firmly in Rome, Gina was diagnosed with cancer and returned to the States.

It’s been noted that her accomplishments were often overshadowed by the owner of Babbo, whose empire eventually fell. Gina was tough and although I never worked alongside her, co-workers noted that she didn’t suffer fools gladly, but she made such masterful desserts, and was such a talent, that you couldn’t help but have the utmost respect for Gina.

Her book, Dolci Italiano, has become a baking classic and is one of those exceptional cookbooks that makes excellent reading (as well as being an entirely enticing collection of recipes), especially the chapter on Italian ingredients, which isn’t just a rote list of what to buy. She discusses the importance of baking ingredients and what they mean to Italians: Olive oil isn’t just to moisten, it’s a flavor. And why citrus figures into Italian desserts more often than vanilla.

I was reminded of Gina recently when a reader alerted me to some links in this post led to the website of an adult film star who shared the same first and last name as Gina. Gina always got a chuckle out of that but after her passing, it seemed that Gina DePalma’s website (the one for the pastry chef and baker) somehow got co-opted by her, uh…racier counterpart. As I was switching out the links, I remembered how much I loved this Zucchini Cake of hers.

Since it’s summer, people with gardens are often bemoaning they have too many zucchini and are always looking for ways to use up their bounty. With a crunchy lemon glaze, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s the most delicious way to present a zucchini cake, whether you zucchini comes from your garden, or not.

The genius of the glaze is adding granulated sugar, which gives it an especially lemony, sweet, yet tangy crunch. The glaze is not a looker (which finally made me break out my silicone pastry brush for the first time, and I’m never going back to bristles again) but it tastes amazing with the spicy zucchini cake and I’m happy to let looks step aside to give way to flavor.

Zucchini Cake with Crunchy Lemon Glaze
Adapted from Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen by Gina DePalma This is a substantial (and very good) cake. The crunchy glaze with the tang of fresh lemon juice really makes the cake special. Be sure to grease the cake pan well to make sure it slides out easily (I use a non-stick one) and also make sure the cake is fully baked. Gina recommended olive oil in her original recipe, which is very good, but the cake also works with neutral vegetable oil in its place. The best way to invert the cake is to lay the cooling rack over the top of the cake pan, then grasping both the cake pan and the rack simultaneously (if it’s too hot, wear oven mitts), flip them both over at once. Lift off the cake pan, then liberally brush the glaze over the warm cake.
ServingsServes 12-16
For the cake:
  • 1cup (135g) almonds,pecans, or walnuts, toasted
  • 2cups (280g) flour
  • 1teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2teaspoon baking soda
  • 1teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 2teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1teaspoon dried ground ginger
  • 1/2teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 3 large eggs,at room temperature
  • 1 3/4cups (350g) sugar
  • 1cup (250ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2cups (300g) grated zucchini
For the lemon glaze:
  • 1/4cup (60ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3cup 65g) granulated sugar
  • 1cup (140g) powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  1. 1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Grease a 10 cup (2.5l) bundt or tube cake pan* with non-stick spray (preferably) or butter, dust with flour, then tap out any excess.
  2. 2. Pulse the nuts in a food processor until finely chopped.
  3. 3. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Set aside.
  4. 4. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, 1 3/4 cup (350g) sugar, and olive oil for 3 minutes on medium speed, until light and fluffy. Stop and scrape down the sides of the mixer, then add the vanilla.
  5. 5. Mix in the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the mixer bowl to make sure everything is mixed in well, then beat on medium speed for 30 seconds.
  6. 6. Stir in the chopped nuts and zucchini.
  7. 7. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan, smooth the top, then bake the cake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan. Do not underbake the cake.
  8. 8. During the last few minutes of the cake baking, make the glaze by whisking together the lemon juice, 1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar, and powdered sugar.
  9. 9. Let the cake cool for 10-15 minutes, then carefully invert it onto a cooling rack. Brush the glaze over the cake with a pastry brush and let the cake cool completely.
Recipe Notes

Storage and Notes:

-This cake is very good served on its own, but it could be accompanied by whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, cherry compote, or honey ice cream.

-The cake can be wrapped (or put under a cake dome) and will keep for a few days. You can freeze the unglazed cake. However to apply the glaze, you’ll need to defrost the cake, then warm it so the glaze will adhere properly.

-If you don’t have a bundt or tube pan, I noticed that both Adam and Sara made the cake in a regular round cake pan with good results.

-I haven't baked it in two loaf pans, which would likely work just fine. You may need to reduce the baking time to compensate for the smaller pans.

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