Double Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake

Happy Birthday To Me (and The Jewish Table!)

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday dear Leah (and The Jewish Table), happy birthday to…we!

Okay, yes, that serenade to myself and the newsletter was cheesy. But today I am feeling so grateful, and a little baffled, that I am turning 39 (!?) and The Jewish Table is officially a thing in the world. The swiftly-approaching-40 part has hit me with all the complicated emotions you might expect. I don’t really mind the gray hairs, or the near-daily reminders that I need to be gentler and more nurturing towards my body than I was in years past. But there’s something about almost entering this new decade that feels like a solid transition into the next phase. I am no longer up-and-coming, I am here - and that feels a little unmooring. To be honest, I don’t know quite how to be here just yet.

Meanwhile, I am unequivocally proud of this newsletter, which is decidedly still in its up-and-coming phase, but will hopefully soon become a welcome fixture of your week, and something you look forward to catching up with. I have lots of plans for recipes (including a bagel recipe I am so excited about I want to tell you everything right now. But it’s almost Passover, so I guess I’ll wait…), and stories, and finding ways for this community to interact. But before all that, there should be cake. Specifically this Double Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake.

Growing up, my birthday was always marked by a decadent chocolate cake slathered in homemade buttercream and lovingly piped with squiggly roses by my mom. I loved that cake. But somewhere along the way this zucchini cake entered the mix, and honestly it has ruined all others for me. The zucchini all-but-disappears as the cake bakes, but leaves behind an ethereally fluffy crumb and gently offset’s the sweet cocoa flavor. And the chocolate chips generously scattered over top give the hint of fudge-like frosting without overpowering the way a layer of ganache might. It is the kind of cake you accidentally eat half of before the party starts, and then continue nibbling on once your guests go home.

I have asked my mom to text or email me a photo of the cake’s recipe card at least four times over the last decade. She always obliges, and doesn’t seem to mind the repeat request. But it reminds me that my generation has a problem with physical documentation. Our photos are digital, our address books and calendars are digital, and, for most of us, our recipe boxes are non-existent.

A few years ago I created an email folder titled “recipes to try,” where I store dishes I’ve “clipped” from various blogs and food magazines’ websites. It serves its purpose, I suppose. But what will happen, a quarter century from now, when my own kids (God willing) ask me for this cake recipe? *Maybe* this newsletter will still exist somewhere on the internet. But I’m thinking I’d better print this one out and tuck it away.

When she sent the recipe this time, my mom confided: “I use 1 cup of chocolate chips instead of 3/4 cup - what’s the harm?” Hard agree, mom. Meanwhile, even though the recipe is perfect as-is, it also graciously accommodates tweaks. This time, I made the following changes:

  • I used butter instead of margarine, because…butter. But a good quality vegan butter like Miyoko’s or Earth Balance (I like the soy free version) work well too. For a completely dairy-free cake, you could also sub plant-based milk.

  • I dropped the sugar down to 1 1/2 cups.

  • Instead of draining the grated zucchini in a colander, which takes an hour or more to do properly, I gave the shreds a light squeeze to get out the excess water before folding them into the batter.

  • I divided the batter between two 9-inch round cake pans, rather than one large 9x13 baking dish, so that I could serve one right away and tuck the other in the freezer for another time.

As always, it transformed into a fluffy , chocolatey dream of a cake that soothed my birthday apprehension (somewhat, anyway), and is just the thing to officially welcome this newsletter venture into the world.

You can find my slightly tweaked version of the recipe below, and I do hope you will make it! In the meantime, THANK YOU for being here. It means the world to me, truly. If you feel inspired to support this newsletter even more, you can upgrade to a paid subscription here. And if you know someone who might like to be a part of this growing Jewish food community, please send them the link to read and subscribe!

Double Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake

Makes two 9-inch cakes, or one 9x13

2 ½ cups (350 g) flour

¼ cup (20 g) cocoa powder

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ tsp kosher salt

8 tablespoons (113 g) unsalted butter or vegan butter, softened

½ cup (118 ml) neutral vegetable oil (like sunflower or safflower)

1 ½ cups (300 g) sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup (118 ml) sour milk (1 ½ tsp white vinegar in a measuring cup + fill cup with dairy or plant-based milk)

2 cups (TK g) finely shredded zucchini, squeezed of excess water

¾ to 1 cup (135 to 180 g) semi sweet chocolate chips

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 and lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans (or one 9x13-inch baking dish); set aside. 

  2. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

  3. Add the butter, oil, and sugar to a stand mixer fit with the paddle attachment (or use a large bowl and a handheld electric mixer). Beat on medium until pale and billowy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs, vanilla, and sour milk and beat to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in two stages, beating on low until just combined. Add the zucchini and fold in with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until thoroughly combined. Evenly divide the batter between the two cake pans (or scoop it all into the 9x13 baking dish) and use a butter knife or offset spatula to smooth the tops. Sprinkle half of the chocolate chips evenly over the tops of each cake (or all of them over the one cake). Bake until a tester comes out clean and the top springs back when gently pressed, 30 to 35 minutes. (If you are using a 9x13 baking dish, the bake time will be closer to 40 to 50 minutes.) Let cool on a wire rack before cutting.

Upcoming on The Jewish Table!

The next few weeks of posts will be sent to paid subscribers only, and will include:

  • A Passover-friendly “grain bowl” recipe, plus the fascinating history of the time that potatoes were almost outlawed on Passover.

  • The truly incredible bagel recipe I mentioned above, plus my take on the NY Times’ recent assertion that the best bagels are (gasp!) not in New York City.

  • A super verdant, spring-friendly chicken soup recipe that has convinced me that the golden broth should be a year-round dish. (Except maybe in August!)

  • A gorgeous rice dish from the tiny-but-mighty Jewish community in Curacao.

After that, all subscribers will receive a newsletter and an invitation to share your family’s favorite recipes. More on that soon!

If, like Aerosmith, you don’t want to miss a thing, you can upgrade to a paid subscription here.

2 things I’m loving this week.

Dinner: A Love Story. I have been a fan and follower of Jenny Rosenstrach’s blog on the art of the family dinner for years now. And two years ago, I had the pleasure of having coffee with Jenny and confirming she is every bit as lovely in person as on screen. This Thursday (March 25 between 11am-7pm ET), I am excited to join her on the Dinner: A Love Story newsletter for a Passover Hotline. Bring your burning Passover food questions, and we will do our best to answer. It’s going to be a blast - join us here.

LUNAR: The Jewish Asian Film Project

This film series is dedicated to sharing the stories of Asian American Jews. I have learned so much reading through and watching the videos on their Instagram page - everything from learning about the first Chinese-American rabbi (Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin in Oakland) to some Asian-Jewish Americans’ experiences of racism within the Jewish community.