Lemon Cucumber Cake with Lemon Frosting

A couple of years ago, I saved a recipe for a kale and apple cake. I mean…kale in a cake!? I figured I had to try it.

…I’ve still never tried it. But turns out that kale cake was a gateway to an awesome baking blog. Veggie Desserts is full of creative recipes, from parsnip cakes to cauliflower popsicles. I got hooked on the blog, and dreamt of the day I’d surprise my friends with vegetables in a cake.

IMG_3753And finally, that day arrived! I made four types of cake for my birthday this year, and simply had to include a veggie cake in the mix. As I pored over all the recipes I’d saved from Veggie Desserts, this Lemon Cucumber Cake caught my eye. It sounded intriguing, refreshing and delicious. It also sounded like it’d go well with cocktails—an important consideration when you’re hosting your birthday at a bar.

Making this cake was so much fun. I couldn’t predict quite what it’d taste like, but figured cucumbers are somewhat sweet, and would complement lemon. The cake turned out great, with a really nice texture and a sunny, tangy flavor. There’s a little bite from the lemon, complemented by cucumber puree.

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Cucumber puree

My friends really loved this cake! No one could quite place the flavor, but lots of people said the cake reminded them of a summery cocktail. I also learned that people were very open to the idea of a cucumber cake. That’s not always with the case with my more experimental recipes…and sometimes I just don’t tell people what’s in something before they take a bite 🙂

I only made one layer cake, then got some cupcakes out of the extra batter. The original recipes calls for gin in the frosting, but I omitted it and still thought the lemon frosting came out great.

Lemon Cucumber Cake with Lemon Frosting

Original recipe: Veggie Desserts. I’ve rewritten things a bit and added commentary.

Yield: One 9-inch cake, two 7-inch cakes or three 6-inch cakes

Suggested equipment: Mixer

Total Time: 75 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

For the cake

  • Half a cucumber, keep the peel on (about 200g)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2/3 cup butter, softened (150g if you can weigh it)
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder

For the frosting

Note that this recipe assumes you’re making a “naked cake” with just the tops frosted. If you want to frost the sides, double the frosting. 

  • 1/3 cup butter, softened (75g or about 6 tbsp butter)
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice OR gin

Directions

Make your cake

  1. Preheat your oven to 325F
  2. Wash your cucumber, then cut it in half lengthways. Scrape out the seeds inside the cucumber. Then cut the cucumber into chunks, and puree until smooth
  3. Stir your lemon juice into the cucumber puree, and set that bowl aside
  4. Use your mixer to cream the butter, lemon zest, sugar and vanilla for a few minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy
  5. Add your eggs one at a time, beating in between
  6. In a separate mixing bowl, mix the flour and baking powder together
  7. Stir 1/3 of your flour mixture into the butter mixture. Then, add in 1/3 of the cucumber puree. Repeat this process until all of your ingredients are combined (puree, wet ingredients, dry ingredients)
  8. Pour your batter into a lightly greased cake tin
  9. Bake 25-30 minutes, depending on the size of your cake tin. Mine took 28 minutes for a 9-inch tin.
  10. Let the cake cool completely before frosting
Make your frosting
  1. Beat the butter, powdered sugar and lemon juice/gin together until it’s smooth and fluffy
  2. Frost away! Store any extra icing in the fridge until you’re ready to use it

 

Lemon Zucchini Olive Oil Bread

My baking tends to skew sweet, but that’s not really on purpose. It mostly corresponds to the fact that I bring a lot of my baked goods to parties and dessert is usually a better fit for that. Also, I noticed that a lot of the savory recipes I save are things that say “serve warm” like biscuits or scones… and I rarely serve baked goods at actual meals vs. bringing them to share with a crowd. I am determined to bake more savory things this year- let me know if you have recipe suggestions for things you can bring to events!

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Final batter prep- folding in the zucchini

I recently threw a birthday and wanted to provide a full range of baked goods for my friends to enjoy (more on that in a future post!). I wanted to make at least 1 thing that skewed savory, but didn’t really have a lot on my list that seemed fitting for an hours-long party at a bar. This recipe caught my eye from my list, and I’m glad I finally gave it a try. Now, to be fair, it does have turbinado sugar on top. So it isn’t 100% savory. But, it still was a nice contrast to a table full of cake and brownies! The bread has a wonderful medley of flavors. Zucchini, lemon zest and olive oil give the bread a lot of depth, and a really nice combo of tastes when you take a bite. It’s rich, but not overwhelming. You taste different flavor notes as you chomp through and the combined effect is rather satisfying. The lemon in the bread adds a little bit of zing to the bread and plays really nicely off the zucchini and olive oil. I truly love olive oil in baked goods– it’s something I plan to experiment more with this year!

I suppose you could skip the turbinado sugar on top- the bread itself is really delicious and you definitely don’t need the sugar. I considered ditching it since I didn’t have any, but decided to just spend the $3.50 and buy some Sugar in the Raw. I do think the sugar added a nice effect to the top because it bakes into a sort of sugary crust on the top of the bread.

This bread takes a long time to bake, so make sure you plan for that. You’ll also want to wash and prep your zucchini a bit ahead of time so you can press out the extra water. You don’t want to throw in super watery zucchini- it will change the texture of your batter.

More birthday party recipes will come soon- I made 7 things, so there’s plenty more to share with you!

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Letting it cool in the pan

Lemon Zucchini Olive Oil Bread

Original recipe:  Not Without Salt; I’ve edited the steps and added some commentary below 

Yield: 1 9×5 loaf (or smaller) 

Suggested equipment: Nothing special 

Total Time: 1.5 hours

Cook Time: 70 minutes 

Ingredients

  • 3 cups grated zucchini (from 1 pound zucchini)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups (about 256 grams) all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for the pan
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Zest from 2 large lemons
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (You can buy Sugar in the Raw for this. It is pretty easy to find and not super expensive. I don’t think the effect would be as nice with regular sugar but I bet you sea salt sprinkles would work nicely, just with a different end result than the sweeter turbinado sugar) 

Step by Step Directions

Prep your zucchini 

  1. Grate your zucchini
  2. Blend zucchini with 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  3. Give the zucchini time to strain so your zucchini isn’t super watery when you add it into the batter. To do this- transfer the mixture to a strainer and set it over a mixing bowl. I then put a bowl inside the strainer on top of the zucchini to help push water out. The original instructions suggest to fill that bowl with water so it pushes more heavily but you don’t have to. You also can softly blot the zucchini with paper towels

Make your bread 

  1. Put a rack in the middle of your oven, and preheat the oven to 350F
  2. Grease or line a 9×5 loaf pan. I only had a 9×4 so I used that and just made sure not to use every bit of batter- you don’t want your bread to overflow!
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, and nutmeg
  4. In another bowl, whisk together the 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, eggs, lemon zest and vanilla until well blended
  5. Add the olive oil in 3 increments. Between each increment, whisk the mixture thoroughly so it is totally combined before you add in more oil
  6. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no white spots remain. You’ll want to make sure to “flip over” the mixture thoroughly- sometimes dry spots hide on the bottom and the top looks mixed… but the bottom is not remotely mixed. Make sure you flip it over until you don’t find any patches of dry ingredients
  7. Do one last “wring out” of the zucchini moisture, either with your hands or using the paper towel blotting technique
  8. Then, add zucchini into the batter and stir it in gently with a spoon so it’s evenly distributed
  9. Pour batter into your prepared pan
  10. Sprinkle the top evenly with the turbinado sugar
  11. Bake for 70-75 minutes. Mine took exactly 70. Use a toothpick in the middle to check if it’s done- the toothpick should come out totally clean when your bread is done
  12. Cool the bread in your pan for 20 minutes, then turn it onto a cooling rack to cool completely

The original recipe suggests toasting slices of the bread and topping them with butter and sea salt. I didn’t do that but it sure sounds delicious!

 

Lemon Basil Chocolate Chip Cookies

This cookie’s flavor is much bigger than the sum of its parts.

You know how most cookies with additions taste just like you’d imagine? Add M&Ms to a chocolate chip cookie, and you know what you’re going to get. But this cookie is a stunner, and far exceeded any expectations I had. It doesn’t taste like lemon, it doesn’t taste like basil. It just has this most delicious, inexplicable essence that I can’t quite describe. It feels sophisticated, fresh, satisfying. I guess you’ll all have to try it yourself to find out!

I had been eyeing this recipe for a while, and finally got to try it when I had leftover basil sitting around. This cookie takes some extra prep and waiting than other chocolate chip recipes, but it is definitely worth it. The recipe’s creator, Izy, calls it the “best ever chocolate chip cookie”- and I totally agree that this takes chocolate chip cookies to a whole new level.

You brown your butter with pieces of basil and lemon in there so that all those flavors meld into the butter. Then that butter becomes the base of a nicely balanced cookie. I was a little worried that my dough was so crumbly, but all fared fine once baked. The texture IS different than many other cookies- it’s still a little more sandy when it’s baked up. But it just adds textural intrigue rather than causing any issues.

I love the story behind these cookies, too. Lacoste asked Izy to create a recipe that mirrored the flavor notes of one of their perfumes. That perfume included verbena, chocolate and basil- so she decided to try those same “ingredients” in cookie form and loved how it turned out. I couldn’t find verbena so I followed Izy’s suggestion and subbed in lemon zest.

I took the first batch to a dinner party, and the second batch to work. I found that people were a bit split on whether they wanted to give it a shot: mentioning basil definitely scared some people away. But once someone actually tried the cookies, they were usually on board. I’d suggest keeping the ingredients a secret upfront and seeing what people say before you reveal that basil is in there! Often, people’s conceptions of ingredients steer them away from trying it, or even liking it once they DO try- so why not just keep it a secret and see what happens? It’s a very unique flavor but I doubt anyone could guess what’s in there if you don’t tell them upfront!

PS My final photos turned out terribly so if you want a better idea of what it will look like, check out Izy’s original post. Please. Because I want you to want to make these!

Lemon Basil Chocolate Chip Cookies

Original recipe: Top with Cinnamon;  I’ve changed the instructions a bit and added commentary 

Yield: ~20 cookies 

Suggested equipment: Mixer makes it easier but you don’t need one 

Total Time: ~45 minutes plus however long you let it chill (minimum of 1 extra hour for that) 

Cook Time: ~10 minutes 

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup (4 tbsp) fresh basil leaves
  • Zest from 1/2 a lemon
  • 10 tbsp butter (aka 2/3 a cup. Or you could just weigh your butter and aim for 5 oz, which is what I did)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1¾ cup all purpose flour
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup + 3 tbsp light brown sugar, packed
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 egg
  • 7 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. (I used Trader Joe’s semisweet chocolate chunks but you could use regular chocolate chips or chop up chocolate if you’d prefer something else)

Step by Step Directions

Get your add-ins ready

  1. Wash and pat dry the basil. It’s better to do this a bit early on so it’s not sopping wet when you add it into the butter
  2. Zest your lemon

Brown the butter

  1. Roughly chop your basil
  2. Add butter to a small saucepan and turn it to medium-low on the stove
  3. Add both the basil and lemon zest to that saucepan
  4. Brown the butter until it starts to smell nutty and gets sort of foamy. Butter burns fast so you really need to keep a close eye on it as it browns
  5. Once it’s browned, add the vanilla extract and stir it altogether
  6. Let the butter cool for 10 minutes before adding it to the dough

Make your dough

  1. Use a stand mixer or bowl to combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and salt
  2. Once the butter is cool, strain the butter through a sieve so that you’re left with just the liquidy part and any browned butter specks; you want to strain out pieces of basil or lemon
  3. Add the butter into your dry ingredients and mix it all until it looks like “moist clumpy sand with no floury patches.” (Don’t worry if it looks really crumbly and like it won’t hold together. I was worried at this point in the recipe but it all came together just fine. It just won’t “come together” like most cookie doughs do)
  4. Add the egg and mix for a few seconds
  5. Add the chocolate and mix by hand so it’s distributed. Don’t over mix!

Form your cookies

A note: resist the urge to chill the dough in the mixing bowl instead of in pre-formed cookie scoops. I tried it in the bowl the first time and it was such a mess when I went to scoop the cookies later. It’s better to just chill them in the shape you want to bake with 

  1. Line your cookie sheets
  2. Scoop dough into a 1/4 cup measuring cup until it is full. You really will need to scoop it in because this dough is so crumbly
  3. Turn the scoop onto a lined cookie sheet, spacing them a bit apart so they don’t meld together when they bake
  4. Cover your tray with plastic wrap and refrigerate it up to 3 days. I did it for 1 day and it worked great but the longer you let it chill, the better flavors will blend

Bake your cookies

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400F
  2. Take your cookies out of the fridge and sprinkle each cookie with a moderate amount of sea salt. I did a very light sprinkle… but I don’t love tasting lots of salt
  3. Bake for 8-12 minutes until the cookies are a bit browned with set edges and a puffy center
  4. Let cool on the tray for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack

White Chocolate Lemon Bars

Whenever I make a lemon recipe, I kick myself for baking with lemon so infrequently. It adds a splendid flavor to many kinds of treats, from cakes to cookies to cakey bars. I usually bake with lemons when I’ve bought them for cooking and have extra. This time, though, I had extra lemons from a different lemon-involved recipe. I’m not going to tell you what it was- because I’m still tweaking the recipe and plan to share it with you soon (how’s that for suspense?). In the meantime, let’s talk about these White Chocolate Lemon Bars. Because when you have extra lemons, you should always make lemon desserts, and these White Chocolate Lemon Bars should be a strong contender for your lemon-y scheming.

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The recipe’s author describes these as “bold,” and she’s not kidding. There is a lot of lemon happening here between juice in the batter and a lemon glaze on top of it all. White chocolate goes into the actual batter, rather than studding the batter with chips. This adds an almost creamy taste to the lemon base, and the subtle hint of white chocolate adds something special to the standard zesty taste of lemon batters. Once you’ve baked up the bars you add a lemon glaze on top. Overall it’s a smooth treat, if that makes sense- the flavors just work, the textures work, and it’s refreshing to bite into.

I brought this to a Christmas dinner along with 2 other desserts I’d made that day (day off from work = baking madness). But there were only 10 people at the dinner, so some of these did come home with me. I threw them in the freezer to save for my first day of work in the new year. They never made it to my office. Instead, the boyfriend and I learned that these taste really, really good frozen… And ate the leftovers before 2016 even began. I’d say whoops but in reality, I’m quite pleased with our decision.

This recipe comes from a blog called Averie Cooks. Averie’s recipes are consistently excellent, so it has become one of my go-tos for recipe inspiration. I broke Averie’s recipe into a few more steps and included some of my own commentary below.

White Chocolate Lemon Bars

Source: Averie Cooks

Yield: One 8×8 pan so depends on how you slice- I cut it into 24 smaller pieces vs. the original recipe’s yield of 9 bigger pieces 

Suggested equipment: None needed 

Total Time: ~1 hour 

Cook Time: ~30 minutes 

Ingredients

Bars

  • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • pinch salt

Glaze

I halved Averie’s measurements for the glaze and still had extra because I glazed more conservatively than she did. It was just the right of glaze for me, but you’re welcome to lather on more glaze if you want even more tang! 

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • about 1/6 cup lemon juice, or as necessary for consistency
  • about 1/2 tablespoon lemon zest, or to taste

Step by Step Directions

Make your bars 

  1. Line an 8×8 inch baking pan with foil and spray with cooking spray
  2. Preheat your oven to 350F
  3. In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine the white chocolate and butter. Heat them in the microwave on high power, stopping to check after 1 minute and then adding 20 seconds spurts as necessary to melt them all the way. You should stir the mixture between each spurt to smooth it out. Be watchful of the mixture- don’t let the chocolate scorch!
  4. Let the chocolate mixture sit for a moment and cool. If you mix in the eggs while the mixture is too hot, the eggs will scramble. Seriously, they will- I’ve had it happen before with other recipes!
  5. Add to the chocolate mixture: the eggs, granulated sugar, lemon juice
  6. Whisk the mixture until it is combined entirely
  7. Add to the mixture: flour, salt
  8. Stir the mixture until it is just combined- don’t overmix!
  9. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top with a spatula so you get an even top
  10. Bake the bars for ~27 minutes, checking to make sure a toothpick comes out mostly clean. There may be a few moist crumbs but you should not see any more “liquidy” batter when you stick in the toothpick

Make your glaze 

  1. In a medium bowl, mix the powdered sugar and lemon juice
  2. Whisk until smooth, adding additional glaze or sugar as needed to reach the texture you want- it should be thin and pourable. I added a pinch more lemon juice to mine but you might want to taste it and see how it’s shaping up before you add more ingredients
  3. Pour the glaze over your bars, smoothing as needed. It may slip and slide into any nooks or crannies and you should definitely let that happen to add even more yumminess
  4. Sprinkle the top of your bars with lemon zest. I did this pretty conservatively vs. covering the entire top with zest, and really liked how it turned out
  5. Let the bars cool in the pan, uncovered, for at least a couple hours. If you let them cool overnight, make sure to cover them with foil so they don’t dry out. This step is mainly so the glaze sets up- it should harden on top before you cut and serve the bars

Averie says these keep in an airtight container for a week, or frozen for 6 months. Of course, I can’t confirm that, because like I said- we ate them all the week I made them!

 

Strawberry Lemon Cake Bars with a Lemon Glaze

Summer brings to mind the outdoors: picnics, hikes, jumps in the pool. That is, if you live someplace where it gets warm during the summer. For those of us in San Francisco, summer can be the coldest time of year. There are flocks of confused tourists wondering how their vacation to California got so chilly. And the locals love to whine about it, too. People like to repeat a quote that’s wrongly attributed to Mark Twain, but funny nonetheless: “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

The benefits of San Francisco far outweigh its unfortunate weather. But sometimes I need to add a little more summer to my world. And when you want to bring that summer feeling inside, eating seasonal food is the perfect conduit. For a recent “girl’s night” potluck,  I looked for recipes with strawberries. They’re in-season right now so they’re really juicy and fresh – plus you’re likely to find them on sale. I thought strawberries and lemons sounded nice together: the tang of the lemons, the juice of the berry. When I saw this “cake bar” recipe on Pinterest, I knew I’d found my winner.

This recipe was the perfect find. Light, refreshing, with just the right amount of tang. It’s a cakey texture but the bar format makes it much more versatile than a regular cake would be. The cake looks lovely drizzled with the lemon glaze, plated for each person you’re serving. But it also looks right at home being served from the pan, and I think it’d hold up well for a standing event as long as the glaze had some time to settle. My friends and I ate this after a delectable meal that included a cheese course, salad and delicious salmon. I was a little worried people would be too full for dessert. but my fears were unfounded. My friends probably don’t want me to tell you this, but we ate the entire thing, save 1 tiny little piece… and there were only 4 of us at dinner. Don’t judge us, though. Just make this cake and you’ll see that it’s so good, you’ll want to eat it all too.

From Edesia’s Notebook, because my photos came out terribly. Don’t you wish you could snag this piece of cake through your screen?

Strawberry Lemon Cake Bars with a Lemon Glaze 

Source: Edesia’s Notebook

Yield: 9 bars, though serving sizes always depend on how you cut so this could easily make more than 9 pieces if you wanted it to

Suggested equipment: No special machines or equipment needed

Total Time: ~1.5 hours, including cooling time

Cook Time: 35-50 minutes. Mine took longer to bake than the recipe suggested, but that usually happens with my oven  

Italics below are my own comments on the Edesia’s Notebook post. I broke the directions into a few more steps, too

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 tbsp lemon juice (from about 2 lemons) (My lemons were pretty small so I ended up using 3 lemons overall for this recipe. I always suggest buying more lemons than you think you will need, just in case you don’t get enough juice or zest. And I always go by the measurements of juice/zest vs. the recipe’s approximation of how many lemons you need!)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice and 2 tbsp lemon juice, divided (from about 1.5 lemons) (this means you will use it in two different steps so make sure to measure out just what you need at the appropriate time) 
  • 2¼ cups flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¾ cup fresh strawberries, diced (I upped this to 1 full cup because I thought the berry ratio looked a bit sparse) 
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Step by Step Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° and coat an 8×8” glass baking dish with baking spray
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together
  3. Add egg, lemon zest, and ¼ cup lemon juice. Stir until combined.
  4. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  5. Add dry ingredients (the flour mixture) to wet ingredients (the lemon mixture) and stir until just combined.
  6. Gently fold in strawberries (be gentle so the berries don’t get too smushed)
  7. Press dough into the bottom of the pan.
  8. Bake for about 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean
  9. Let the cake cool all the way before icing it

Make the glaze 

  1. Combine the powdered sugar and remaining 2 tbsp lemon juice
  2. Pour over cooled bars (I decided to keep my glazing on the light side,  but I brought the extra glaze to dinner and let people add more if they wanted to. They really, really wanted to.) 
Our half-eaten cake. It looked so pretty in person but my phone takes the worst photos!

Our half-eaten cake. It looked so pretty in person but my phone takes the worst photos!