Easter baking: chocolate courgette cake
With a few simple swaps, it’s easy to make baking better for you, says healthy’s food expert Rebecca Seal.
‘Like most of us, I find chocolate almost irresistible at this time of year. But rather than gorging on high-fat, high-sugar Easter eggs, I like to make things like this, which is halfway between a brownie and a traditional chocolate cake. It is unashamedly luxurious but, for a cake, it’s relatively low in sugar.
‘Chocolate with a high cocoa content (70 per cent or more) is rich in antioxidants and minerals. Avoid dark chocolate sweetened with xylitol, though, I find it lends a strange texture to baked goods. Using dates, almonds and seeds in the truffle-style mini eggs adds a little more goodness, as does swapping the traditional cream in the ganache for coconut cream.
‘You can tailor this cake to your own needs. For a show-stopper, make the date truffles, cover in melted chocolate and cacao, or gold, silver or white lustre, to pop in the chocolate nests and drench the cake in the ganache, as we have here. Or, for something simpler, leave the cakes un-decorated and cut into small pieces, like a brownie, use the ganache, and leave out the nests.’
Makes 1 cake, around 12 slices
450g or 2 medium courgettes, trimmed and finely grated
250g butter, at room temperature
250g soft brown sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp vanilla extract
50ml vegetable oil
300g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
40g chopped almonds
40g chopped hazelnuts
40g chopped walnuts
100g 70% dark chocolate, chopped
Icing sugar, to serve (optional, if not using frosting)
For the truffle eggs (makes approx 20):
100g dried dates, chopped
20g mixed seeds
75g ground almonds
Pinch of fine salt
2 tbsp cocoa or cacao powder, plus more for rolling (optional)
100g 70% dark chocolate (optional, if covering in chocolate)
Edible lustre powder in gold, silver or pearly white (optional)
For the nests:
40g shredded wheat, crumbled
75g 70% dark chocolate
For the ganache:
200g 70% dark chocolate, broken up
200g coconut cream
1 Preheat oven to 200°C/180°C fan/ gas mark 6. Grease and line bases of two shallow 20cm tins, ideally loose bottomed.
2 Put courgette flesh into a sieve over the sink, and squeeze out as much liquid as possible, using your hands. Set aside. Beat together the butter and sugar until soft and very creamy in texture. Gradually add eggs, scraping down sides of bowl or mixer each time you add one, until combined. Add vanilla, milk and oil, and mix again.
3 In a separate bowl, sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder, then mix thoroughly.
4 Fold the dry ingredients into the wet, in a swiping motion using a metal spoon or spatula, along with the courgette, nuts and finely chopped chocolate. As soon as it’s all combined, stop, as over-mixing can make cakes firm and rubbery.
5 Divide the mix between the prepared tins and smooth the tops with a palette knife or spatula. Bake for 30 mins; they will have risen slightly, and be glossy and cracked on top, a little like brownies. Cool in the tins for 15 mins or so, then turn out to cool completely on wire racks.
6 For the truffles: soak dates in hot water for 10 mins, to plump up. Drain and put in a food processor with the seeds, almonds, salt and cocoa powder. Blitz until smooth. Line a plate with a sheet of baking paper. Shape mix into small eggs, about 1.5cm long. Use your palms to roll the eggs smooth and place on the paper. Chill for 20-30 mins to firm up.
7 To dip some or all of the eggs in chocolate (optional): melt chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of just simmering water, but don’t let it overheat as it will become grainy. Set aside to cool slightly. Use a cocktail stick to pick up a truffle egg and dip into the chocolate; use a spoon to pour the chocolate over the egg rather than turning it in the chocolate, which may spoil its shape. Use a cocktail stick again to lift it out of the chocolate and allow all the excess chocolate to drain off. Place on the lined plate to set, and cover the hole made by the toothpick with a little dab of melted chocolate. Leave for at least a couple of hours to harden.
Decorating your cake
To roll eggs in cocoa: put the cocoa in small bowl, gently roll eggs in it; return to lined plate.
To coat eggs in lustre: using a small, clean paintbrush, thoroughly dust eggs. Do this over the sink to avoid mess; return to lined plate.
For the nest(s): melt chocolate in a bowl over a pan of just-simmering water; add shredded wheat. For one big nest, flatten a paper cupcake case slightly around the edges; arrange ‘twigs’ in a large nest shape. Or, make several smaller nests in cupcake cases. Chill to set for 30 mins.
For the ganache: heat coconut cream to almost boiling (don’t boil). Take off heat, add chocolate; stand for 5 mins, to melt chocolate. Then stir until smooth, silky and thick.
To decorate: cover 1 cake in just under half the cooled ganache; it will have the consistency of soft butter. Put second cake on top and cover with remaining ganache. Top cake with the chocolate nest(s) and fill with the truffle eggs.
With thanks to Rebecca Seal.
Photographs Steven Joyce.
Food styling Emily Jonzen.
Prop styling Joanna Levitas.
Hair and make-up Natalie Bennett.