I’ll admit that sheer curiosity and not an expectation of great results drove me to try this cake. After all, I eat squash, but I wouldn’t call myself a “fan” of squash. It is OK. It is healthful. It is fun to grow and pick. But, I wouldn’t say that it sings to me. Recently, though, I found a recipe for squash cake and the title alone had me on board. That recipe had nuts and raisins in the batter which wasn’t going to happen on my watch, but other than that it looked quite workable. I found the recipe in the “Superlatives” Junior League of Oklahoma City, Inc 75th Anniversary Cookbook. It is credited to one Jane Clark Crain who I now hold in completely high regard. Have I written about how much I love Junior League cookbooks? I’m sure there are many good reasons to celebrate the various Junior Leagues across the nation, but my number one reason is their cookbooks. Then again, I love all community cookbooks. They exemplify the meaning of pie.
This cake is ridiculously good. It is totally inappropriate for a cake full of squash to be this good. It just doesn’t make any sense. But it is. My kids scarfed it down (though admittedly, they do not know what was in it) and my husband, Pitts, has been found several times hovering over the cake plate with a fork poised in attack mode, peeling back the plastic wrap. I have visited it at least 40 times over 3 days sneaking bites as though that doesn’t add up to 8 pieces. I have monkeyed with the recipe, doubled the frosting, added a splash of vanilla and played with dried squash circles for decoration. I cannot encourage you enough to give this cake a try. I am over the moon about it. It has a certain Indian Summer appeal and would also be something great to keep in mind as we head towards the holidays. It also keeps like magic so it is a great cake to make a day ahead. And, this one is for all my people who think they cannot bake. It is easy and it is great.
3 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups chopped yellow squash (do not peel)
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
(optional: 1 cup chopped pecans and 1 cup raisins…perhaps even golden raisins)
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 8 oz. package cream cheese
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
chopped pecans for decoration
dried sugared squash slices for decoration (optional)
In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir with a whisk. In a food processor, pulse approximately 4 to 5 yellow squash until they are evenly chopped. I chopped small because I needed to hide the nature of the cake from small people. I chopped them into chunks before putting them in the processor because they were being stubborn.
In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, oil and vanilla. Add the squash and mix well.
Add the squash mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until combined. This is a very thick batter and I suggest that you use a large scraper/spatula. (If using nuts and raisins in the batter, this is when you will add them and stir them in to combine).
Pour the batter into a well greased 9″ X 13″ pan. If you are going to turn it out, you might try putting down a piece of parchment on the bottom of the buttered pan and buttering it on top, too. Mine turned out OK without parchment, but it took some coaxing, and scraping around the edges. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes to an hour or until a toothpick pierced into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Mine was perfectly baked at precisely 50 minutes. I suppose this would also make a great sheet cake, but I can’t opine on baking times or whether the icing would go far enough. Let me know if you try that.
When finished, allow the cake to rest in the pan for at least 10 minutes. You can either frost it in the pan or turn the cake out onto a large plate. I use a wire cooling rack to turn out the cake and then place the plate on top of the inverted cake and then carefully turn it over again so that the round side is up.
Allow the cream cheese and butter to soften thoroughly. Beat them together in an electric mixer. Add the confectioners’ sugar, one cup at a time until fully combined. Ice the top of the cake with the cream cheese frosting. Decorate the top of the cake with chopped pecans and squash slices (see below for instructions on drying the squash).
I decorated my cake with dried squash slices. To make these, slice a squash very thinly. Dip each slice in a combination of cinnamon and sugar (1/2 cup sugar to 1 teaspoon cinnamon). Bake on a rack in a 200 degree oven for an hour and a half. Turn the slices half way through. They will drip sugar and moisture so make sure there is a cookie sheet underneath the rack. At the end of the baking time, these were dry but still pliable. They are roughly the texture of dried apples. Remove to a piece of parchment and cool.
Note: as always, if you are looking for a great source for pecans, try the Pecan Shed. Also, I have been longing for years to purchase a mandoline to slice vegetables and I finally did it. Recently, Cooks Illustrated touted a plastic OXO model as a great buy ($39.99) and I’ve been considering it. I found it at Macy’s recently during one of their sales and and couldn’t resist it any longer. I believe Williams-Sonoma also carries them. Though, I use mine with dangerous wild abandon, I’m here to tell you it is not a toy. But, man is it fun!