I took two short trips away from home this month. When I got home from the second one on Monday, I found that the better part of half a gallon of milk was right on the edge of drinkability. It was starting to go sour. It's important to remember that just because old milk tastes off, it's not dangerous - so long as we're talking about pasteurized milk. My milk was pasteurized, and it had been in the fridge for a few weeks. There's nothing in pasteurized milk that has soured which can make you sick. It's a great ingredient to cook with.
Aside from the milk, I've had the last two oversized zucchini from the garden sitting in my kitchen for about a month now. They're sufficiently large that they stabilized enough to behave like winter squash, meaning that they won't rot anytime too soon. But they're also tender enough that there's no reason the flesh couldn't be used for baking. I think you see where this is going, right?
I'd heard about chocolate zucchini cake before, and I recently stumbled upon a recipe for chocolate buttermilk cake. Being the foolhardy baker that I am, I saw no reason not to combine and substitute as my supplies indicated. So I whipped up two chocolate cakes in tube pans on Tuesday night. And boy did they turn out well. Here's what I did.
Chocolate-Zucchini-Sour Milk Cake
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa, plus extra for dusting
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups sour milk (or buttermilk)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups sugar
6 oz. (1 1/2 sticks, or 3/4 cup) butter or shortening, at room temperature.
2-3 cups shredded zucchini
Grease two 9" cake pans or one tube pan and dust with unsweetened cocoa. Arrange a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat it to 350 degrees F.
Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together the sour milk and the vanilla extract in a small bowl. In yet another large bowl, cream together the sugar and butter, then beat the mixture for 3 minutes at high speed until it is light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add the two other mixtures into the butter mixture alternately and in stages, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and blending well between each addition. Mix in the shredded zucchini by hand.
Pour the batter into the cake pans or tube pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out mostly clean, with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. The tube pan will require at least 55 minutes of baking. Cool the cake or cakes for ten minutes in their pans. Remove them from the pans and cool on racks for at least one hour for cakes or two hours for the tube cake. Dust with powdered sugar or frost as desired. The cakes can be wrapped with plastic wrap when thoroughly cooled and frozen for up to three months.
I like this recipe because it feels like I made something yummy and even mildly healthy out of materials that might otherwise have been thrown away. The sourness of the milk vanished into the moist luxury of this cake. If anything it just contributed a slight tang to the overall flavor. I'm not partial to frosting, so I just enjoyed the cake as is. It did suggest to me that it would really go nicely with a scoop of vanilla ice cream though. I put in only two cups of zucchini in my recipe, and I couldn't even detect the zucchini in the cake. I will definitely increase it to 3 cups per batch next time. This is a sneaky way of using up this notoriously prolific vegetable, and also of getting finicky eaters to consume a little vegetable. My guess is they'd never even notice if you didn't say anything.
I still have some more sour milk that needs to be used up. I'm reminded of the blini that I enjoyed in people's homes in Russia. Over there they deliberately let the milk go sour so that they can use it in the blini recipe. Then they eat them with berries and honey or smetana, a heavy product similar to creme fraiche. I'm going to find a blini recipe soon and then see how well they freeze!
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