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.

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)


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!

Baked Pumpkin Doughnuts with Spiced Chocolate Glaze

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Clearly, I’m a little late with my first October recipe. We were out of town for three weeks in September and the early part of October, which is a crazy time to be away from your bed (and your kitchen). We’re back now, though, just in time for the chilly weather, which means more incentive for staying in and baking! Also, even though the cold weather is hitting a little early this year, October is still my absolute favorite month for a lot of reasons: 1) It’s family history month 2) Our anniversary is this month! 3) Halloween!!! and 4) Pumpkin everything!!!

Obviously, we have PSLs now, but pumpkins themselves have been an important part of the North American diet for much longer. Pumpkins are a fruit native to the Americas. Seeds of the pumpkin family dating back to between 7000 and 5500 BC have been found in Mexico. In the beginning they were probably used to store items, due to their hearty exterior, but the pumpkin’s high nutritional value and the edibleness of the entire fruit (even the stem) meant it became an important food source. It is thought that about 10,000 years ago, pumpkins, as well as other varieties of squash, were on the verge of extinction. Luckily, the people of the time valued pumpkins enough to domesticate them, which likely led to their survival. Pumpkin, calabeza in Spanish, is still important ingredient in Mexican cuisine too, with dishes from mole to calabeza en tacha, or candied pumpkin, being created using every part of the pumpkin from the flower, to the pepitas, to the flesh.

The name pumpkin is derived from the Greek word for “large melon,” pepon. This changed to “pompon” in French (France became early importers of pumpkins from North America), then into “pumpion” in England, which eventually became the modern word “pumpkin”.

For us in the U.S., pumpkins are associated with autumn, and particularly Thanksgiving. They were likely part of the first Thanksgiving dinner, but probably as a savory dish, instead of the pumpkin pie we are used to today.  Pumpkins, already a staple in the diets of the Wampanoag at the time, were vital to the colonists, who likely wouldn’t have survived winter without them (and many didn’t–by the time of the first Thanksgiving dinner in 1621, more than half of the original colonists had died of starvation or disease).

Sweet pumpkin pies were likely first made in England with pumpkins imported from the States, then adopted by the colonists. France was an early importer of the fruit and recipes for sweet pies date to as early as the 1650’s in France. The earliest recipe for “pumpion pye” in England dates to Hannah Woolley’s The Gentlewoman’s Companion, from 1675.

In the United States, more than 50 million pumpkin pies are consumed during the Thanksgiving holiday, and there is a good chance that the pumpkin you’re eating is from Illinois. Illinois is the top grower of pumpkins in the United States. My friend Jennifer wrote a fascinating piece for Slow Food last year about the Dickinson squash, the heirloom variety of squash that is used by Libby’s, located in Morton, Illinois, for their canned pumpkin puree.

For my recipe today, I decided not to go with a traditional pumpkin pie, but to make pumpkin doughnuts instead. I love doughnuts. LOVE them. But I have noticed, in my early thirties, that I can no longer chow down on fried foods the way that I once did because I get heartburn. (Hi, I’m 100 years old.) With that in mind, these doughnuts are baked, which does mean you have to buy a doughnut pan, but also means you don’t have to deal with doughnut frying clean-up so… win?

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Baked Spiced Pumpkin Donuts with Cinnamon Chocolate Glaze
Makes 12 doughnuts.

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground clove
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp unsalted butter, browned

For chocolate glaze:
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
8 oz. chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cayenne powder, optional


Move a rack to the top 2/3 of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, coriander, and clove. Set aside.

In a small skillet or saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter until browned. You’ll know it’s done when it’s changed in color, it smells nutty, and it has stopped “popping”. Allow to cool.

In a large bowl, beat the buttermilk and egg together thoroughly. Stir in the pumpkin puree. Stir in only 2 tablespoons of the browned butter.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir until everything is just combined. Don’t overmix, or your doughnuts could come out chewy.

Lightly grease two 6-doughnut pan, fill each indentation 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 4 minutes, turn pan 180 degrees, and continue to bake for 4 more minutes.

Allow the doughnuts to rest in the pan for about 5 minutes, before removing to a cooling rack. Repeat with additional batter.

To make glaze, heat the whipping cream until it’s just starting to steam, but not yet boil.

Put the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl, and pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then mix the chocolate into the cream until full combined.

Add the cinnamon, and cayenne if you don’t mind a little spice.

Dip the bottom half of each doughnut into the bowl, twisting until it is covered by chocolate.


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Warning: You will be tempted to eat all of these doughnuts straight from the oven, before they’ve properly cooled, and before you glaze them. While you won’t be disappointed because the doughnuts are pretty great on their own, I highly suggest you try them with the glaze. Pumpkin-chocolate is a genius combination, maybe because both ingredients originated from the same area? On top of that, these doughnuts are not only scrumptious, they are essentially Halloween-colored. And I’m a big proponent of delicious foods, color-coordinated with my favorite holidays. I hope you are too. Happy October, and happy baking!

Baked Yeast Doughnuts with Matcha Cream and Chocolate Ganache


Happy Halloween! It is my most favorite of holidays. I can’t wait to see all of the little kiddos running up and down the block in their costumes. And it’s supposed to be a beautiful day, so they won’t have to deal with any jackets over their costumes, cramping their style.

Let me start by getting something off my chest. Look, it’s really great that the Cubs went to the World Series. It’s been a long time coming, and Chicago is all aflutter with baseball fever. My biggest problem with it is that I live about two blocks from Wrigley Field (for reasons I still can’t explain), and we were basically trapped inside our apartment on Saturday, when we were supposed to be at Weegee’s Lounge, rocking out Twin Peaks-style. We had our outfits all picked out: We were going to be Nadine and Big Ed Hurley from Twin Peaks. (It was perfect because Alex looks so much like Big Ed, and I really wanted to wear an eye patch.) But alas, it was instead Game 4 of the World Series and I had settle for watching on TV and, because of a slight delay, hearing the crowds cheer slightly before I could see what had happened. Bummer. But they’re still in it! Good job, Cubbies!

Let’s get back to the doughnuts, shall we?

Unless I’m far sneakier than I thought, you probably noticed that these are baked doughnuts. Not only that, they aren’t even baked cake doughnuts. They are yeast doughnuts, allowed to rise, then baked to soft, but chewy, perfection. What I was going for was “little clouds of heaven, filled with decadent cream and topped with silky ganache.” These are pretty close. Frying things in my home just totally bums me out. I have to watch the glug-glug-glug of the gallon (!!) of oil going into the pan. Frying at home to me is liking watching a hot dog be made: I want the end product, but for the love of God, don’t show me how it’s done. If you have to, you can fry these. Seriously, though, it’s such a pain and these are delicious, so why bother? Plus, you can do as I did and tell people that they’re good for them because they aren’t fried and you’ll only be kind of a bad friend for it.

I’m also baking, instead of frying, as part of King Arthur Flour’s #bakeforgood campaign. October is Bake For Good month. During October (you have one day left!), if you pledge to bake for others, you can receive a coupon for $0.75 off a 5 lb. bag of King Arthur Flour, plus King Arthur will donate the cost of one meal to Feeding America. Everyone wins! If you’re interested in making a last-minute pledge, you can learn more about that here.





Baked Donuts with Matcha Cream and Chocolate Ganache

Doughnut Ingredients:
2 1/1 tsp active dry yeast (1 package)
1 cup whole milk
3 1/2 cups flour, plus more to roll out dough
1/4 cup sugar, plus a pinch
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs, beaten
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Matcha Pastry Cream Ingredients (I followed this recipe from The Kitchn and added matcha):
1 cup whole milk
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
1 tbsp matcha powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients:
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (chips or a chocolate bar)
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp of espresso powder (optional)

In a small bowl, mix the packet of yeast, warm water, and pinch of sugar together until frothy. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, additional sugar, and salt. In a separate medium bowl, combine the vanilla, eggs, and melted butter. Then add the yeast mixture to the large bowl of dry ingredients, then immediately add the wet mixture. Stir until just combined. The dough will be sticky.

On a well-floured surface, knead the dough for about 5 minutes. Then place in well-oiled bowl and cover with a clean towel. Allow the dough to rise for about two hours.

While dough is rising, make your pastry cream. Begin by combining one cup of milk, with 1/2 cup heavy cream. Heat until you just starts to steam. It should not be boiling.

While milk is heating, combine sugar, flour, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Mix well. Add in four egg yolks and mix until very well combined. Add matcha powder and thoroughly combine.

Set a large bowl with a strainer over it next to your cooking space.

When the milk is done heating. Slowly add a small amount of the milk to the egg mixture in the bowl. Whisk together thoroughly. Continue to add the remaining milk to the bowl, while whisking continuously. You can add the milk in small amounts and and incorporating the milk completely each time, if that’s easier. The mixture should look frothy at this point.

Add the mixture back into the sauce pan over medium heat. Stir continuously until the mixture begins to thicken. When the mixture is done, it will look thicker than pudding and large bubbles will appear at the surface, if you stop whisking for a few seconds.

Pour the mixture into the strainer over the bowl and whisk in the strainer until almost all of the mixture is into the bowl. The strainer will catch any clotted bits.

As the mixture is cooling, either whisking or using a hand mixer, whip the remaining heavy cream in a separate bowl, until peaks form.

When the pastry cream mixture is still warm, but not hot, fold in the whipped cream and stirring to combine thoroughly. If you notice any bits of egg or matcha as you’re stirring in whipped cream, strain the mixture once more.

Cover the mixture with plastic wrap, completely covering the top of the cream, with the plastic wrap directly touching the surface. Otherwise, the cream will develop a skin.

Refrigerate until needed. Remove from refrigerator approximately 10 minutes before using.

When your dough is done rising: On a well-floured surface, roll the dough out to about 1/2-inch in thickness. Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut out about 12-18 doughnuts, re-rolling any unused dough scraps until it’s gone. Place on two parchment paper-covered, floured, baking sheet. Cover with a clean dishtowel and allow to rise for another 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place doughnuts in the oven for about 8-9 minutes. (Even when fully-cooked, the doughnuts will not brown the way that they would if they were fried.)

While the doughnuts are cooling. Heat the the heavy cream over a double boiler, or in the microwave, just until it begins to steam. Add chocolate, vanilla, and espresso powder. Stir until glossy. Set aside to cool slightly before using.

When the doughnuts have cooled to warm, use a chopstick or small steak knife to poke a hole in the side of the doughnut, turning slightly to create space within the doughnut. Be sure not to poke all the way through the other side.

Fill a plastic bag with a cake decorating tip in the corner through the corner of a plastic bag with matcha cream. Work the tip into the doughnut hole and begin filling with cream, slowly removing the bag as the cream fills the doughnut. Repeat for each doughnut.

Take each doughnut and swirl the top of the doughnut lightly over the surface of the ganache. Allow to set for a few minutes before eating. Repeat for each doughnut.


Can we talk about how perfect these are for Halloween? With their dark ganache and green filling, I’ve been calling them my “witch donuts.” Speaking of Halloween, I’d like to give a very special happy birthday shout-out to my dear friend Kaitlyn, who is lucky enough to have a Halloween birthday! Way to be born, girl! You’re the best!

I hope you all have a spooky day! Seriously, get scared. See a ghost or something. It’s Halloween.