Baked Chocolate Zucchini Doughnuts with Cream Cheese Frosting

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Do you have a million zucchini squashes in your garden right now? It’s the time of the year where they are everywhere, people are giving them away, and trying to figure out different ways to use them.

Though usually thought of as a vegetable, zucchini is actually a fruit that grows from a flower (which can also be eaten). The popularity of zucchini in the United States actually came about in a circuitous way. Zucchini squash has been part of the diet in Mesoamerica for centuries, dating back to at least 5500 BC. Seeds for the squash were likely brought back to Europe with Christopher Columbus, after his travels to the Central and South American coasts. But the particular variety of zucchini that we know in the States was likely not cultivated in northern Italy until around the late 1800s. Shortly afterward, Italian immigrants brought the new varietal of the squash back to North America, around the late 1900s. (The word Americans now use for the fruit, “zucchini,” is the diminutive of the Italian word “zucca” or “gourd,” and is the plural of “zucchino.”)

By the 1920s, people in the United States were being advised to grow the “Italian squash” in their own gardens. When citizens at home were asked to plant “victory gardens” during World Wars I and II, the hearty zucchini was prolific, raising its popularity. Most early recipes for zucchini from the 1920s called for the squash to be boiled and stuffed with bread crumbs and tomato sauce. Popularly used to make zucchini bread now, zucchini baked into bread has only really existed since the 1960s. During this time,  health fads called for the use of zucchini in desserts (as well as brown sugar instead of white) as a healthy way to lose weight.

And, while zucchini may seem to be the most innocent of vegetables, some varieties of zucchini have a toxin in them called cucurbitacins. It is technically a steroid that is present as a defense mechanism for the fruit. The varietals found in the supermarket have had the toxin bred out, but in Germany in 2015, a couple was hospitalized after eating an heirloom variety of zucchini from their neighbor’s garden. (I hope this doesn’t scare you away from your own neighbor’s zucchini bounty!)

With zucchini on the brain, and in the backyard, and on sale at the grocery, I thought I would use up some zucchini in a recipe that mid-century dietitians would have called healthy…chocolate donuts? They’re baked too, so, yes, they’re definitely a health food.

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Baked Chocolate Zucchini Doughnuts with Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 12 doughnuts.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup strongly brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature
1 cup zucchini, finely shredded (1-2 medium-to-large zucchinis)

4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
6 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1/3-1/2 cup heavy cream
Chocolate sprinkles, chocolate shavings, or mini chocolate chips, optional (but recommended)

Instructions: 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly coat two six-hole doughnut pans, or one 12-hole doughnut pan, with cooking spray. Set aside.

Cut both ends off of a medium-to-large zucchini. Finely shred, then place the shredded zucchini in two paper towels, or on a cheese cloth. Squeeze out excess water. If the zucchini isn’t completely dry, that’s OK. Measure zucchini for volume after it has been wrung out.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugars, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine.

In a smaller bowl, combine the buttermilk, egg, vanilla, vegetable oil, coffee, and zucchini. Whisk to combine.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined, so that no white streaks remain.

Fill a pastry bag with the batter, snip off the end, and fill the cups just over 3/4 of the way full. (You can also carefully spoon the mixture into the pan holes, just be sure to smooth the batter evenly around the holes before baking.)

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Once a toothpick inserted into the doughnuts comes out clean, they’re done.

Allow the doughnuts to sit in the pan to cool for five minutes, before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Beat together cream cheese, confectioner’s sugar, and heavy cream. Transfer the frosting to a shallow bowl.

Dip each doughnut halfway into the frosting, then top with chocolate sprinkles, chocolate shavings, or mini chocolate chips, if you wish.

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I’m not sure if a recipe where you hide zucchini in a chocolate doughnut actually counts as a seasonal zucchini recipe, but this is a dessert history blog, so here we are. Happy zucchini season!

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