Garden Fresh: Blackcurrant Chocolate Zucchini Cake


This luscious, spicy, fragrant cake with heavenly-decadent chocolate and winey-rich blackcurrant tones is anything but usual. Kids love it, adults rave about it and guests will be mooching you for the recipe every time you would make this cake for birthday party (speaking of, with its consistency, this cake is born to have some candles in it) or any other celebration… 
Let’s put it this way: with 2 ½ cup of fresh zucchini and 1 ½ cup of fresh blackcurrant berries (still retaining its antioxidants upon baking) inside you will forget frozen Sara Lee cakes or those hasty chocolate things made from the box for a while. Just a bit of an effort and the sweetly rich reward will be a highlight of your next celebration.
Although most of our currants have been eaten by the birds this year (not only humans are trying to benefit from the summer bounty – farmers know it big time), I still managed to salvage some and was excited to make something really good out of little glossy black spheres known for their alluring tart flavor and sublime aroma. I also managed to pick a few baby zucchinis at their prime before they would turn into some giant monsters after all this rain. Naturally, I got a nail in my head to use both in some amazing combination: chocolate cake idea came first and last.
The blackcurrant berries add delicious tang to the food of the Gods (aka chocolate) and neutral zucchini in the cake. When cooked in desserts (see the British Eccles cakes recipe, for example), syrups (think famous French crème de cassis and a delectable ‘Kir’ drink with champagne), jams or coulis (for savory dishes, including steaks and stews), the currants’ aggressive tartness becomes well muted releasing the berries unique aroma and their astringency creates an added woodsy and piquant flavor.
I’ve been baking chocolate zucchini cakes before, but, somehow, always wanted to have a better formula for the cake to be: more dense or moist; with more balanced spices or sugar; have a foolproof baking time, etc. Many recipes I’ve tried had ridiculously short baking time for the temperatures of 325F to 350F and the amount of zucchini in them: I found it quite annoying having had to check the readiness again and again. 
The last one I’ve tried from otherwise quite good recipe book, didn’t have any salt in it and had the amount of ground cloves enough to stop the toothache of four people. The smell of baking ground cloves made a long-lasting potpourri effect in the house though, which was OK with me.  Naturally, I dialed the cloves back in the subsequent recipe along with other adjustments, including:
– adding blackcurrants;
– squeezing dry shredded zucchini;
– replacing just white sugar with half and half  brown and white;
– adding 1/2 teaspoon sea salt;
– adding 1 teaspoon finely ground Blue Mountain coffee (to enhance the chocolate flavor);
– cutting the 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves to 1/4 teaspoon of cloves;
– adding 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
– adding 30 minutes of baking time 

Oh that HAPPY KAYKEY! Moist, slightly fudgy, dense with chocolate chips and currents still intact on top for an extra punch… I could taste a hint of the coffee which I found boosted the chocolate flavor in a right direction. As usually, buttermilk plays a big role to have the best results with any soda cake – make sure you have it among your ingredients when ready.
Voila, the simple visual steps:

SUBSTITUTES: If you can’t get currants, feel free to sub with gooseberries, sour cherries or cranberries (frozen are OK too) – each would add a different tone and character, but approximately same level of tang and freshness. Equally, you can swap zucchini for the same amount of shredded tart apples and tart berries for neutral blueberries to have a Chocolate Apple Berry Cake. Well, if you won’t, I will for sure in one of those next posts, this recipe is worth to play with.
Currants of all kinds are now available at all farmers markets – don’t miss this short season to try the wonderful, unique taste of these berries. I’m sure you won’t have problem to find a way to use some of those extra zucchini, but if you are short of ideas for the currants, here are some other interesting recipes from fellow bloggers, Food Network and New York Times in which you can use them successfully: 
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Black Current Jam, recipe from David Leibovitz

Black Current Sorbet, recipe from New York Times

Grape Black Current Granita, recipe from Food Network

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BLACKCURRANT CHOCOLATE ZUCCHINI CAKE
Yields: 15 to 20 pieces

Ingredients:

Unsalted butter, for the pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon finely ground coffee (optional)
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups grated zucchini, squeezed dry
1/2 cup fresh blackcurrants
10 inch diameter spring form for baking

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 10-inch round spring pan. Dust the pan with flour, tapping out the excess.

Toss 1/3 cup chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon flour in a small bowl. Whisk the remaining flour, the cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and coffee in a medium bowl; set aside.

Beat the butter, sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed until smooth and pale, about 3 minutes. Add the flour-cocoa mixture; beat on low speed until combined, about 2 minutes (the batter will be thick). Fold in zucchini and beat until combined, about 2 more minutes. Fold in the flour-coated chocolate chips with a wooden spoon.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Distribute blackcurrants and 1/4 cup chocolate chips on top of the cake carefully.  Place in the oven. After 10 minutes of baking, reduce the oven temperature to 325F. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, for about 1 hour and 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool completely.

Adapted from: The Vermont Farm Table Cookbook by Tracey Medeiros, The Countryman Press, 2013

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