We made zucchini marmalade tea cake last week. I just want to put that right out front, there.
Zucchini marmalade tea cake is not the only headline, a week being what it is, variegated, capacious. There were thunderstorms, three separate, significant ones, each intense enough to constitute a watering. Not as newsworthy as it would be, in, say Kansas, whose shade on the drought map is downright fierce. Actually, the whole drought map is downright fierce. Ohio's had an easy time of it. Still, our lawn resembles fried chicken. A little real rain was a pretty big thing.
First sleepovers were organized, anticipated and held. Being new to such things, we were full of questions. Would the usual good vibes hold, given the unusual timing and duration? Would the play stall after a few hours? Would they ever get to sleep? Would we? What time to wrap up? What time to begin? (Answers: yes, no, yes, yes, later, earlier. Much much earlier.)
Turns out the day leading up to a sleepover is The Longest Day Ever. Longer than the wait for fireworks, which at least comes with parades, prior. Longer than Christmas Eve, which is all abuzz, anyway. There was much egg-separating and clock-watching to wile away the waiting hours. There was mourning the day after, for its premature finish. And a discussion of what a fine thing it is to have friends whose company you don't tire of, after some seventeen-plus hours.
Lemonade was made. The first tiny green beans, picked. And boiled and buttered and inhaled. The Sweet 100's and Sungolds began truly producing. The skies went ridiculous with surgically-enhanced clouds. I went ridiculous with a few days finally south of ninety. (The storms freshen everything, skies, lawns, vegetables, spirits.)
We set off on adventure! A headline, for sure. Albeit a headline for another day.
The cone flowers and lillies gave up the ghost. Close inspection of trees revealed seed pods galore. The grass grew fancy. The hydrangea got a bronze. The hellenium and anemone veered toward bloom.
I think of those last two as back-to-school flowers, so much so I immediately ran out and bought lunch boxes. Not because I'm ready for them to return. Just because I'm ready for the weather that goes with it. I'm too superstitious to drop the f-word just yet, but see for yourself:
HIP HIP HOORAY.
Actually, that's as apt an intro as any:
In an olive oil cake. HIP HIP! And holy cow.
This particular cake hails from Tartine, which probably tells you everything you need to know. Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt are, after all, the engineers behind our go-to lemon bars. Indeed, it was while baking a batch for said sleepover that my eye corners caught the enigmatic pair. Zucchini, Marmalade, page 106, wha ?! I tucked in a marker, to investigate later.
Now, two weeks ago, I would have told you that I'm no more a zucchini bread person than I am a weird chip one. I adore zucchini. I grow what I can. I buy extras, just to fill in. Unload zucchini on me any time; fleeing the scene, completely unnecessary. I'll use it all, in savory preparations. But zucchini in baked goods? Meh. I am a baker of some things, cookies, breads, sometimes cakes. And not so much of others, muffins, cupcakes, quick breads. I've just never felt the love, never seen the point. Always preferred my butter on my bread, rather than in it.
Note the past tense. I am reformed.
The marmalade also shoulders partial blame, and by partial, I really mean ample. Zucchini bread can be a plain, pallid thing. Zucchini marmalade bread cannot. The bits of peel add jolts of color, jollying up an otherwise green-leaning loaf. But far better still is their signature bittersweet, intense nubbins of edgy, addictive orange. Not enough to overwhelm. Just enough to delight.
And then there's the olive oil. Let's talk about the olive oil. I habitually alt+Tab when I see sweets baked with olive oil. Somehow, they always seem overly earnest, bent on being Interesting or Healthy. I like Interesting in books and friends and Healthy in walks and naps, but find little use for either in baked goods. Besides, I prefer olives in salads, not cakes.
That said, I've been making granola with olive oil exclusively, ever since that landmark July 2009 day when Melissa Clark wrote up Early Bird's recipe. I adore the crisp loft it lends to the oats. Also, I was completely out of canola. In went olive. I'm reformed there, also. It was, how shall we say, exquisite. I've long (and maybe heretically) preferred oil to butter in cakes and quick breads, for the way its 100% fat content guarantees a richness 84% butter sometimes can't. This held true, here, but better texture was only the beginning. The olive oil brought flavor, not at all olive-like or savory, but warm, thrumming, sunny. Buttery. This makes no sense at all, but I tested it repeatedly. First heel to last? Buttery it was.
All told, you wind up with quite a crumb, rich and tender and rimmed with crisp sugar. Did I mention the rim? Paved with turbinado? Which half-melts, half-caramelizes in the long slow oven? It forms a brittle ridge, a bit like burnt cream, which winks and tugs as you debate bites. Not that you can go wrong; you can't; you won't. There are no dry corners, no bland deserts. Each bite has it all, gentle squash and soft nutmeg, whispery with melted marmalade, punctuated by peel. In a week abundant by all counts, this cake still headlines my memories.
Zucchini Marmalade Olive Oil Cake
adapted from Tartine, by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson
A few ingredient notes: This doesn't need a fancy marmalade, but it does need a serious one. Something more about bitter peel than orange jam, a marmalade with a stiff upper lip. I love Dundee, classic and reasonable. As to the olive oil, I used our go-to, the 2 Liter Extra Virgin house brand from Costco. If you use a particularly large zucchini, wring the grated shreds in a clean kitchen towel, or drain in a colander, half an hour before using. The original called for toasted walnuts and cinnamon; I omitted the first and swapped in nutmeg for the second, and like it this way, very much. Finally, I used all white flour, but imagine this would be a fine place for half and half, wheat and white. Or all wheat. Or a bit of buckwheat. Be playful.
Also. Thick slices, toasted golden and buttered. Make a note.
1 3/4 cups + 2 Tbs unbleached all-purpose flour (or mix of white and wheat)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground
2 large eggs
1/2 cup + 2 Tbs mild extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup orange marmalade
2 1/2 cups grated zucchini
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2-3 Tbs demerrera (raw) sugar, for topping
Place oven rack one rung down from middle position, and preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour (or oil) a 9 x 5" loaf pan, and line the wide side with a strip of parchment paper.
In a small bowl, add flour, baking soda, baking powder and nutmeg, and whisk to combine. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, olive oil, sugar and marmalade until combined. Add zucchini and salt, and stir well with a spatula or wooden spoon, until combined. Add flour mixture and fold into egg mixture, until just combined.
Pour batter into the prepared pan, smoothing surface with your spatula, and sprinkling top with demerrara sugar to cover. Bake 60-70 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. This cake is difficult to over-bake, so moist it is; err on the long end of the recommended time. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes, then run knife along short sides to loosen and remove with the parchment "ears" to a rack. Let cool completely, 1-2 hours, if you can manage. Keeps beautifully, well-wrapped, at room temperature, several days.