I’m writing about this lovely pumpkin olive oil chocolate cake from my new kitchen in London. Now, if I lift my head from the computer screen and glimpse at the little back garden just outside the kitchen door I see a quintessentially English photogram. The weather is cloudy, a bit gloomy, chilly but not cold. There’s a mild wind that makes the vine growing along the wooden fence bounce and dance – a slow waltz, maybe. Earlier I saw a squirrel jumping over onto our portion of pebbles. I suspect it’s hiding its acorns in our yard, but I might need to investigate further.
It feels good to be here. This autumn feeling has a soothing effect on me – it slows my pace, makes me more focused. I have skipped this season twice this year. Now I realise that I missed wishing for the comfort of a woollen blanket, of a pot of stew bubbling on the stove for the good part of an afternoon. I now have many such days to look forward to here. Which is why, so as not to arrive unprepared, with me I brought a few recipes to match the spirit of the upcoming season. Long braises and spiced cakes I am eager to try.
But first, this cake.
It’s the last recipe I’ve made while at home in Veneto. The weather had just turned cool enough to encourage some baking, and I was keen to put our small platoon of pumpkins to good use. Dad had planted some gourds in the garden this year – a few butternuts and many squatty Delica. Aunt, for her part, had cultivated some suche baruche – the knobbly kind one finds all along the Venetian lagoon. Hers were particularly athletic. By the time they were ready for harvest, one had climbed a few metres up the pine tree, and another was trying to escape its fate by jumping over the fence. It didn’t make it. Not just that, it was also the first to be sampled. And, as everything that had room and time to grow, it was the best of its kind.
A large portion of this fugitive pumpkin was turned into a slightly adapted version of Gjelina ‘s Kabocha, Olive Oil and Bittersweet Chocolate Cake. It was a recipe I had been eyeing for a while, and I was just waiting for pumpkin season to start to fire off the oven. The sugar-laden flesh of this particular type of pumpkin worked wonderfully in this context. It gave the cake some earthy sweetness, but without getting in the way of the grassy note of the olive oil. Its sweetness complemented the slight bitter accent of the dark chocolate – a personal deviation from the original, which called for bittersweet chocolate – producing an intriguing jigsaw of contrasting flavours.
The olive oil glaze is, of course, rather sweet. But being studded with balancing elements – bitter dark chocolate and savoury pumpkin seeds – it doesn’t seem as sugary. The crisp nature of these elements also produces a pleasant contrast of textures; they partially reiterate what happens in the cake crumb, where the bigger chunks of chocolate remain whole and give a bit of bite to the slice.
It really is a wonderful cake, easily one of the most well-conceived, most fulfilling cakes I’ve tried in a long time. And if the thought of it is already tingling your imagination, I encourage you to give it a try. Yes, it’s a bit laborious; but very, incredibly rewarding as well.
Pumpkin Olive Oil Chocolate Cake
Adapted from ‘Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California’, by Travis Lett (Chronicle Books)
The original title of this recipe is ‘Kabocha, Olive Oil & Bittersweet Chocolate Cake’ (page 342). Below I report my adapted version, with less oil (replaced with yoghurt), slightly less sugar, and very dark chocolate. Skip the glaze for a wholesome cake that sits comfortably at the breakfast table. Or don’t, and you’ll have a fine dessert or tea cake.
455 g | 1lb piece of pumpkin (kabocha, delica or other dry-fleshed, sweet pumpkin)
125 ml | 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling the pumpkin*
125 ml | 1/2 cup plain full-fat yoghurt
180 g | 1 1/2 cup plain flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
200 g | 1 cup raw or light brown cane sugar
3 large eggs
200 g | 7 oz dark (75-85%) chocolate, finely chopped
For the glaze (optional):
150 g | 1 1/4 cup icing sugar, sifted
30 ml to 45 ml | 2 to 3 tablespoons hot water
45 ml | 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons cacao nibs (OR more finely chopped dark chocolate)
3 tablespoons raw hulled pumpkin seeds
Preheat the oven to 220°C | 425℉. Set the pumpkin (cut side down) on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Drizzle with a little bit of olive oil. Cook until very soft and beginning to caramelise around the edges, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Scrape out the pumpkin flesh and mash with a fork (or transfer to a food processor and pulse until smooth).
Wrap the pureed pumpkin in a tight bundle in a doubled piece of cheesecloth. Put in a colander set over a bowl, and let drain for about 2 hours, or overnight (the exact time will depend on the type of pumpkin and its moisture content). Every now and then, squeeze the cheesecloth to drain more water. (You can do the same using a fine-mesh sieve, too). Unwrap the drained pumpkin and measure out 225 g | 1 cup. (Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to 5 days; use in any other recipe that calls for puréed pumpkin).
Preheat oven to 170°C| 325℉. Grease and line a 23x12cm | 9x5inch loaf pan.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl whisk the sugar, olive oil, yoghurt, pumpkin puree and eggs. Whisk the pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until springy and browned and a toothpick comes out clean – about 75 to 90 minutes. Let the cake cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes, and then unmold it and set it on a cooling rack to cool completely.
If you’re making the glaze, toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet set over a low heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Set aside.
Next, whisk the icing sugar with a tablespoon of hot water at the time until you have a smooth glaze that has the consistency of honey. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking all the while.
Pour the glaze over the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Sprinkle the glaze with the cacao nibs (or chopped chocolate) and the toasted pumpkin seeds. Let the glaze set completely before serving.
More Pumpkin Cakes:
Flourless Pumpkin Cake
Pumpkin Pistachio Bundt Cake with Ricotta Frosting