A cake to crush on

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake 2

I saw you at the farmers’ market this weekend. You picked up a kabocha squash – that big, tough-looking green one, with the woody stump – and fairly considered it. You turned it around and around, right side-up and upside-down. It wasn’t without effort, of course – the weight of the thing made your market bag trip over your shoulder blade and careen down your upper arm, at which point you wondered how you’d get the beast home. Then your buddy said, “So, how do you think you get it open?” And I watched you put that poor squash down.

I hate to be Debbie Downer, but you made the wrong decision, sister. A kabocha squash can be a big thug of a thing, but it is not (despite those witchy warts and scars) actually scary or difficult to use.

And I don’t mean to be smug, but I should know. These days, with sore joints, a can opener is my nemesis; I do not cut hard things. The thought of hacking into anything tougher than a bagel (much less quartering a big ol’ squash) brings tears to my eyes. But I love kabocha. So my choices are threefold: 1) stop buying squash and be sad, 2) let my husband finally buy the Samurai sword he’s always wanted, and pray he doesn’t hurt the counters or himself, or 3) skip the farmers’ market and buy pre-cut squash at the grocery store.

tired tanned kabocha squash

But oh, wait. WAIT. There’s a fourth. See, you don’t actually have to cut into a kabocha before you cook it, if you want soft squash. You can just put it in the oven, stem and all, and roast away at 400 degrees. It comes out like I do after a too-long day at the beach—tanned and tired, a bit stinky and maybe a little slumpy. But it’s as easy to cut into as a stick of room-temperature butter. I almost snatched your sleeve to tell you, right there at the market booth, but that would have been so awkward and stalkerish.

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake close

See, if I’d grabbed you, I would have had to tell you about my kabocha-maple bundt cake, too. As if you needed someone yakking to you about a cake that went out of style five decades ago. As if you need more kitchen equipment. I mean really, who owns a bundt cake pan anymore? I certainly didn’t. But last week, after testing a donut recipe for my friend Lara’s upcoming book (it’s tentatively called The Doughnut Cookbook, now who could argue with that?), one with an addictive maple glaze, I had maple glaze on my mind. It tangoed around in my brain with all sorts of ingredients, until settling on—well, drizzling down, really—the sides of a bundt cake hued with the rich, sweet flesh of a kabocha squash.

Bundt pan

I broke into my neighbor’s house to borrow a bundt cake pan. (Okay, maybe there was a key involved, but rifling through her cupboards with no one in the house, it felt like a break-in.) I stirred and whipped and mashed, until I had a butternut-orange batter tinged with maple syrup and spunked with sour cream. Up it baked, in a meticulously buttered and floured pan – in 40 minutes, which was less time than I expected – then out it came, gorgeous and spongy and smooth in all the right places and, I daresay, almost sexy. Aside from the oft-abused line from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I’ve never given the bundt cake a second thought, but goodness, yes, they’re sexy, with all those curves. Add a quick maple-vanilla glaze and a sprinkling of nuts, and you’ve got a head-turner.

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake TOP

But enough about the way she looks. I have to tell you this: She might be my best-tasting cake. Ever.

I’ve told you before that I’m not much of a cake person. I don’t like the way dry edges call out for frosting—in my opinion, a cake shouldn’t need frosting, and frosting shouldn’t need cake. Each should be delicious on its own, but they should complement each other when they’re put together. Like people, I guess. But like people, it’s not always as easy as it sounds. This cake is different. The glaze is diamonds on a woman too beautiful for jewelry: certainly not needed, but once they’re there, how could you take them off?

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake top

I love this cake because it’s equally appropriate for the plate at 8 a.m., 4 p.m., or 8 p.m. (and, I suspect, at 4 a.m., although I didn’t get the opportunity to try). I like it because I let it sit for two days before serving it to a crowd, and it was still perfectly moist. I like it because unlike a regular dessert cake, it’s hard for others to tell how big a piece you’re really cutting for yourself, so you can have ten little slivers, if that suits you, or one giant hunk, without looking like a princess or a pig. I like that it has a rich, dense crumb, all the way to the edges. I love that it’s easy to cut. And most of all, I love that nothing about making it hurts me right now.

The problem with kabocha, in my house, is that we never seem to have enough. Roasting up a soccer ball-sized specimen left me with about a quart of mashed squash, and I’m already panicking about how to use the last of it. Do I make another cake and freeze it for my mom’s visit next week? Or do I whirl it up in the blender with a bit of coconut milk and a dab of curry paste, for a quick lunch soup? Or do I sacrifice an ice cube tray, and freeze the rest into little cubes, for Graham to eat, once he gets past the initial shock of putting something besides milk in his mouth?

Oh, dear me. I might just have to roast another. I’ve actually just purchased my own bundt pan, so you can guess where the kabocha will most likely go. I want to try the cake with cardamom.

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake CUT

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Bundt Cake with Maple-Vanilla Glaze (PDF)

Kabocha squash has a rich, yellowy flesh that mashes up soft and smooth (like canned pumpkin) when it’s cooked. To roast it, slice a kabocha roughly in half and remove the seeds with an ice cream scoop. Roast cut side-down on a parchment- or silpat-lined baking sheet (no need to oil it) at 400 degrees until the skin is easy to poke with a fork, about an hour. (Timing will depend on the size and age of the squash.) Let the squash cool, peel away the skin and any other tough pieces, and mash the squash like you would potatoes, until smooth.

If you’re afraid of cutting the squash, you can also put the entire thing – stem and all – into the oven, and bake it a bit longer. Just be sure to scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff before you mash the flesh.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: About 16 servings

For the cake:
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter (at room temperature), plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream (8 ounce container)
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 packed cups mashed kabocha squash

For the glaze:
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons water (plus more, if necessary)
2 tablespoons chopped toasted nuts, such as hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously (and carefully) flour and butter a bundt cake pan, and set aside.

Whisk the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl, and set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing between additions. Stir the sour cream, maple syrup, and vanilla together in a bowl. With the machine on low, alternate adding the dry and wet mixtures – first some of the flour, then some of the cream, then flour, cream again, and finally flour. When just mixed, add the squash, and mix on low until uniform in color.

Transfer the batter to the prepared bundt cake pan, smooth the top, and bake (I find it easier to transfer if it’s on a baking sheet) until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs, and the top springs back when touched lightly, about 40 to 45 minutes.

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake DRIPPING

Let the cake cool 10 minutes in the pan, then carefully invert onto a serving platter. When cool to the touch (after about an hour), make the glaze: Whisk the sugar, syrup, vanilla, and water together until smooth, adding additional water if necessary to make a thick, barely pourable glaze. Drizzle the glaze (or pour it right out of the bowl) along the crown of the cake, allowing it to ooze down the inside and outside of the cake. Sprinkle immediately with nuts, if using.

Once the glaze has dried, the cake keeps well, wrapped in plastic, at room temperature, up to 3 days.

MAKE AHEAD: Cake can also be made ahead, wrapped in foil and plastic, and frozen up to 1 month. Glaze after defrosting at room temperature.

Dirty bundt pan


Filed under Breakfast, Cakes, dessert, farmer's market, lupus, recipe, vegetables

36 responses to “A cake to crush on

  1. I love this post, not only because your cake looks so beautiful, but because even without sore joints I nearly impaled myself this weekend trying to hack into a sugar pie pumpkin. I finally had my husband help me because I’d lodged my knife in the thing so tight I literally couldn’t pull it out myself.

    I now realize I probably could have just plopped the whole 4-pound pumpkin in the oven whole. I mean, if it works for kabocha, it should work for any similar sized gourd, yes? I don’t need to poke air holes in the thing to prevent it from exploding??

  2. Thanks, Cheryl. I didn’t poke any holes in the kabocha before baking – but honestly, it’s the only squash I’ve tried whole thus far. You can bet I’ll be trying more! But let me know about any future sugar pumpkin attempts…

  3. Kristen

    This cake looks delicious! Any thoughts about a non-dairy sour cream substitute?

  4. Kristen, I’ve heard coconut cream or cashew cream can be good subs for sour cream, but I’ve never tried baking with either of them. Has anyone else tried these, or perhaps tofutti’s sour cream-ish products?

  5. Karina

    mmmmmm go for the soup!! I too, have a bundt pan and love using it..makes a pretty cake. LOVE the pics and story!

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  7. I made this cake on Friday for a party and it was/is fantastic! I made it vegan with earth balance as a butter replacer, toffuti sour cream and flax seed/water as an egg replacer which I think made the whole cake slightly more dense and a little nuttier tasting.
    Thanks for posting this. I’m getting another kabocha in my next CSA and I’m pretty sure I’ll HAVE to make this again!

  8. Oh my gosh YUM- I love cake and even better when it has some healthy-ish ingredient. Cant wait to try this!

  9. So glad it worked for you, Courtney!

  10. Noelle

    This looks INCREDIBLE, the pictures are amazing and as always, the writing spot-on. Can’t wait to try.

  11. I made this cake this weekend using sugar pumpkin instead of kabocha. The batter was excellent! Such promise for the cake. The cake’s taste is good but the texture is a little curious. First off, it didn’t rise as much as I would have expected and although the cake is light and moist, it seems dense at the same time. And the crust wasn’t much of a crust at all…it is very spongy. I did a few things differently that could have been the cause. I wanted to try out the “convect” feature on my oven. The oven automatically revises the temperature that you set so a recipe that calls for 350 degrees might get knocked down to 325 degrees by the oven’s logic. I’m wondering if I really got the full heat effect. And secondly, I used silicon bakeware which I’ve long suspected is subpar but haven’t had enough of a need for a bundt pan that I’ve actually wanted to spend the money to replace it. Oh, and third: I used cake flour instead of WW Pastry flour because that’s what I had.

    So, don’t do what I did and even if you do, you’ll end up with a decent cake.

  12. PS. I did the sugar pumpkins just like Jess suggested with the squash and I did poke a few holes in it just to be sure that I didn’t have an explosion in the oven. But in retrospect, the skin gets so wrinkly that I can’t imagine that the holes were really all that necessary to release steam pressure.

    Jess, Thanks for the great idea. It worked so well that I kicked myself for buying canned pumpkin all of these years.

  13. Ooh, Laura, hard to say with all your changes – but I can say that I’ve never had great luck with silicon pans for anything that has to rise much. So that might be a place to start…

    But FYI, it is great with 1 tsp cardamom mixed into the dry ingredients. I’ve also tried it with fat-free buttermilk instead of sour cream, and it works but it’s not as rich. I’ll do sour cream next time again.

  14. I am sorry to hear that you are hurting. Postpartum flare?

    I use the “roast it whole” technique with all of my winter squash. It works fabulously for pumpkin, acorn, and butternut squash. I have never tried a kabocha…but the cake looks so wonderful I think I shall be buying my first one very soon. I have to admit I am a cake person, and own a ridiculous array of cake pans including a bundt pan and a mini bundt pan. Now I am thinking, how cute would mini bundts of this cake be at a dinner party or Thanksgiving?

  15. Kristen

    I made this cake on Friday for a party and had a similar problem to Laura even though I didn’t make any changes. The batter was delicious and the cake was perfect looking coming out of the oven, but as it cooled the entire surface sank about an inch. I think the cake was done: I cooked it for an extra 10 minutes and it didn’t sink in the center only, instead the entire surface sank perfectly evenly. Tasted good, but the texture was off– dense and a little too sweet (likely from the density). Any idea what went wrong?

  16. Akk! Kristen, I do not like the idea of a sinky cake – I’ve made it twice with no sinkage, so it seems weird. What is your pan made out of?

    • Kristen

      Not sure– some thin metal with a “non-stick” white coated inside. It’s a cheap pan from Target 🙂 Think that’s the culprit?

      • Oh, Kristen, hard to say – but that could be it. Let me know if you try again with another pan… I used dark nonstick the second time and it worked fine…

  17. Really superb cake, would be interesting to see how it is without the icing and have warm chocolate melted over it or perhaps just some dairy cream.

  18. your entry made me smile AND really hungry! This cake looks amazing! I always love finding new recipes and I’m really happy I came across this one :).

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  20. Jess,
    I’m not sure how I missed your work all my years in Seattle, but I’m so happy I’ve found it now, 2,500 miles from home. Your cake (tweaked a touch — per my last post) made my birthday. Many thanks,

  21. Brilliant idea for baking your way into the squash itself, and what a magnificent cake. This is now on the top of my holiday “to do/to cook” list, thanks to you. This blog is the most amazing and satisfying read — the kitchen inspiration is simply a bonus, like icing on a really good cake.

  22. Hi Jess,

    I’ve been reading your blog for a little over a year now, and I’m pretty sure I have developed an unhealthy attachment to kabocha squash. I will certainly be making this cake when I travel from Seattle to NC for Christmas–if it is available over there. This really looks amazing! Happy Christmas,


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  25. Megan

    I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for almost a year up to this point, and now that it’s October and lovely autumn, I can’t wait to make it. Although, I was wondering if I could get away with using a loaf pan instead of a bundt pan… would there be any major changes that I would need to make for it to be successful?

    • Megan, I’d try it using two 8×5 loaf pans… I haven’t done it before, so keep an eye on the time, because it might take less time. Let us know!

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  27. Michele

    fyi — an easy way to cut any winter squash is to microwave it whole for a few minutes first — just enough to create a little interior steam, which will soften up the skin and let your knife in. Also, try cutting around the stems and prying them off, which will give you a nice skinless patch to start your knife in. Roasting it whole will not explode it, by the way — rather, it will implode eventually, which can make separating out the seeds and strings a bit messy…

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  30. Dave Sutherland

    Making this cake again Jess– my fave for the holiday season.

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