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.
- 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
- 1/4cup (60ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/3cup 65g) granulated sugar
- 1cup (140g) powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
Storage and Notes:
-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.
-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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