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This Kabocha, Olive Oil & Bittersweet Chocolate Cake Is Genius

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Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Founding Editor and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


If you’ve ever found yourself in the company of a pumpkin bread cobbled with chocolate chips, you know the visceral joy of pulling off soft fistfuls, well past the allotment of a single neat slice.

Now imagine that same squishy loaf, glowing a deeper orange, with a fluffier crumb. The chocolate chips are now bittersweet chunks; the glaze extra glossy and, instead of pow-in-the-kisser sweet, faintly savory; the top a-crackle with toasted pepitas and cacao nibs.

This thoroughly modern pumpkin bread is the brainchild of pastry chef Nicole Rucker—who now runs Fat & Flour, a tiny, glorious pie shop in Grand Central Market in L.A.—from her days as Gjelina restaurant’s general manager and pastry chef (and sometimes barista).

Starting from a pumpkin tea cake recipe in the Tartine cookbook, which Nicole calls “a perfect recipe in itself,” she set to deepening the flavors everywhere she could, turning to the staples she had ready access to at Gjelina: notably, crates of local kabocha squash (then used in an agnolotti dish) and lots of good-tasting olive oil.

Something you want to eat.

Photo by JAMES RANSOM. PROP STYLIST: GERRI WILLIAMS. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG.

Roasted kabocha squash has almost-neon orange flesh that’s uniquely dry and creamy, making it ideal for baking tender, fluffy cakes (more moisture can lead to more gluten development, aka tougher, drier cakes). (1) And, as I’ve said time and again, oil in cakes also acts as a buffer against overzealous gluten, leading to batters you’re less likely to accidentally overmix and loaves that defy going stale for days. Olive oil, specifically—unlike vegetable oil and its ilk—tastes like something you want to eat.

Which brings us to that glaze, which might be the most genius takeaway of all. Because why would we whisk just powdered sugar and water, when we could be drizzling in a few buttery spoonfuls of olive oil too? As Nicole told me, “The oil in the glaze makes a really rich and viscous shiny glaze for the surface of the cake,” emulsifying effortlessly and anchoring the straight sweetness with a little fruity heft. (2)

As much as this cake will bring joy in your own home for days, it will really sparkle dropped on a neighbor’s doorstep or in other distanced hand-offs to loved ones. While I haven’t tried shipping it myself, I imagine it would pass the test, given that, after baking two cakes for the video above, I finished the last slice over a week later and it was still squidgy as ever. In fact, I love the flavor most on days two and beyond, though I’d never stop you from cutting into a warm cake dripping with sticky glaze, if that is what your heart desires. (3)

Your giftees will be just as happy as if a cozy, classic pumpkin bread sidled up next to them, and one bite will send them ringing you up for the recipe. What is the deal with this pumpkin bread??? (4) I predict the texts will say. And you’ll have plenty to share.

(1) Kabocha is great for pies, too! Nicole’s pumpkin pies at Fat & Flour are actually Caramel Kabocha pies. If you can’t find kabocha, red kuri is a good substitute.

(2) Nicole has used the same glaze-emulsifying trick with brown butter and coconut milk before. Mm.

(3) If you’re not feeling loafy or you want the cake in an even more shareable form, here’s a tip from Nozlee Samadzadeh, one of two genius tipsters who sent in this recipe: “I’ve never actually made it in a loaf pan—I’ve made it in a Bundt and, memorably, in a mini-cupcake pan, with the glaze and one pepita per cupcake, to take to a friend’s Prospect Park wedding reception!”

(4) Others will disagree, but in cases like these, I think “bread” and “cake” are completely interchangeable.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what’s so smart about it) at [email protected]-thanks to Nozlee Samadzadeh and Ali Slagle for this one!

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

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