The process for creating is often really pieced together and loose. You take a little bit of this, a little bit of that, throw in a bit of your personal style, personal taste, and see what happens. My creative process and personal style and taste is always evolving. Going from baking at a clubhouse where desserts had to be large and fit the median taste of everyone, to my town’s first French bakery where I laminated dough for days on end, to NYC where I was trained in the ultimate classic French sweets – and working on the edge of new culinary technology. I’ve done a lot of jumping around. This means I get to pull from everywhere for my inspiration and use a myriad of techniques.
What is really special about this process now, I think, is that I decide to take a regional, seasonal classic, like zucchini cake, and zuzz it up. I get to execute the techniques as well as I know how and mix together unusual flavors. There is no such thing as a simple pastry. Everything can be heightened and made to be just as close to ideal as possible.
My friend’s birthday cake had to be all of these things. She owns Branched Oak Farm and is an incredibly accomplished cheesemaker and businesswoman. She and her team are focused on staying connected to the land they farm, while implementing the best technology for personal and agricultural sustainability. Russell and I both made cheese with Krista for extended periods of time. It’s amazing to hear how she has worked to streamline her process, both in the cheese plant, and with the business.
I wanted her cake to have a strong connection to the land, but also be very fresh and modern. This is a zucchini cake with cashew meal, cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger – and cashew praline. Seriously to die for. The zucchini and eggs came from local farmers, as did the little thistles I used for the middle.
This cake speaks well to my current aesthetic, and one that I think is very fun and relevant. Plus, it’ll be so fun for you to make to show off to your friends! Zucchini cake can get a bad reputation, but you can’t taste the stuff, really, but you end up with green flecks all throughout the cake – which I personally think is frickin’ rad.
Note: I did use a quark cheese icing for this cake, but you can very easily make an icing with powdered sugar, vanilla, and non-dairy milk. I used quark because it was made by Krista and an important homage for her.
1 3/4 c sugar
1 cup oil – I used half olive oil, half vegetable
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c nut flour – I used cashew, but feel free to use what’s on hand
2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
2 1/2 c grated zucchini
Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease a 10-cup bundt pan with, dust with sugar, and tap out any excess. Be sure you grease the pan very well. If the sugar doesn’t stick in some spots, you’ll know it isn’t greased well. Go back and get those missed spots!
Add the eggs and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat well with a whisk attachment for 3 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Drizzle in the oil with the mixer still running, until completely combined. This does need to be a homogenous mixture, so take your time.
Whisk together all dry ingredients and add into the wet. Mix well. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the nuts and the zucchini. Pour into the prepared bundt pan and bake for about 30-40 mins, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Flip onto a cooling rack after two minutes to cool completely.
1/2 c roasted, whole cashews
1/2 c light brown sugar
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 Tbsp non-dairy butter
1 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Combine the brown sugar and the granulated sugar, plus 1/3 c water in a saucepan. Cook on medium-high heat until a candy thermometer reaches 270F. Add in the nondairy butter (remove from heat) and stir ’til melted. Add in the cashews and stir around. This will crystallize, and that is good! I love the mouthfeel. Pour onto a greased sheet pan, or a silicon mat. Sprinkle with the spices while still warm.
Cake + any kind of icing you like (I used 1/4 c quark, 3 Tbsp non-dairy milk, beet food coloring) + crumbled up candied cashews on top! Enjoy this spread love!