Kabocha Squash, Tahini and Olive Oil Loaf Cake

A few weeks ago, I was experimenting in the kitchen before Shabbat and uploaded a snap of a cake I’d made to Instagram. It was a loaf cake, an odds-and-ends kind of thing, made with the remainder of a can of pumpkin, a mixture of the oat and buckwheat flours I had in my pantry, and some halva and tahini I’d added for good measure. It was tasty, but lacking something, so when a few of you asked for the recipe, I promised I’d rework it and share it.

Well, here it is- reworked and perfected, a happy accident. I had squash cake on my mind when I walked into a friend’s kitchen for a day of baking, and when I saw she was pulling a kabocha squash out of the oven, it felt like providence. Kabocha, a moss-green skinned squash that’s like a cross between pumpkin and sweet potato, has a honeyed sweetness to it that lends it to baking- in fact, it’s so sweet that it tends to leave caramelly streaks all over the baking sheet, a result of the squash’s natural sugars undergoing the Maillard reaction while roasting at high heat.

Here, roasted kabocha stands in for standard pumpkin and is paired with nutty tahini and sesame seeds for a loaf cake that’s dense and deeply flavorful. Cardamom and black pepper join the usual array of fall spices and olive oil, eggs and brown sugar keep it moist. It’s the opposite of boring- which, let’s be honest, some pumpkin cakes can be- and it’s forgiving enough that you can play around with the flours and spices.

This is the kind of thing I like keeping around during the fall months. It keeps well, and I love having a slice of something comforting to offer friends coming in from the cold. Bonus: it leaves you with enough roasted squash to make soup (swirl with creme fraiche! top with crispy sage leaves and red pepper flakes!) and crispy, toasty seeds that are great for snacking on or tossing into salads.

Yields: one 9×5″ loaf cake

Why I love this recipe: this classic pumpkin loaf is made interesting with nutty tahini and sesame, a plethora of warming spices and a flavorful mix of oat and spelt flours. Brown sugar, eggs and olive oil keep it moist, and the slightly bitter notes in the olive oil and tahini are tamed by the caramelly-sweet kabocha squash. Serve with chai tea, strong espresso, or shots of whiskey.

Notes: to roast a kabocha squash, slice it in half, remove the seeds (save those to roast later!) drizzle both squash halves lightly with olive oil, and roast, facedown on a baking paper lined baking sheet, in a 425F oven for 35-40 minutes. Once cooled, scoop out one cup of the kabocha squash for the cake. Use the rest in soup, cut into cubes for salad, or just eat plain. To roast the seeds: remove any squash pulp from the seeds, dry with a paper towel, toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and some paprika, cinnamon and ras el hanout to taste. Roast at 350F for 10-15 minutes, or until crispy and lightly browned. Snack on plain, or use to top salads or soups.

Variations: use an equal amount of pumpkin or sweet potato in place of the kabocha. Use whole wheat or spelt flour in place of the oat. Add 1/4 cup of halva chunks to the batter and sprinkle on the top. Add 1 cup dark, finely chopped chocolate to the batter.

For the cake:

  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1/2 cup spelt flour
  • 1/4 cup mixed black and white sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup roasted kabocha squash
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cups light brown sugar
  • sesame seeds and turbinado sugar, for topping
  1. Line a 9×5-inch with a sheet of parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: the flours, sesame seeds, leavening agents, spices and sea salt. In another medium bowl, whisk together the roasted and cooled kabocha squash, olive oil, 1/4 cup of the tahini (reserve the remaining tahini for swirling onto the top, eggs and sugars, until very smooth.
  3. Combine the wet mix with the dry, being sure not to over-mix. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bang gently on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles and smooth out the top.
  4. Swirl the remaining two tablespoons of tahini into the top of the cake and top with more sesame seeds and turbinado sugar. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  5. Remove from oven and cool. Serve with glasses of rye or whiskey, or, for a more breakfast or tea time appropriate treat, with shots of strong espresso.

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