Kabocha, Olive Oil & Bittersweet Chocolate Cake From Nicole Rucker & Gjelina

December  1, 2020
14 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom. Prop Stylist: Gerri Williams. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.
  • Prep time 1 hour
  • Cook time 2 hours 15 minutes
  • makes 1 loaf cake
Author Notes

You know that classic squishy, cozy pumpkin bread? This is that same lovable loaf—except pastry chef Nicole Rucker ratchets up every flavor, then splashes a genius, extra-glossy glaze over the top. And just like the classic, it makes a very happy gift that keeps astonishingly well for days.

As former Gjelina chef Travis Lett wrote in the Gjelina cookbook of Nicole’s cake, “This cake goes down equally well as a breakfast pastry, tea cake, or simple dessert. The deep mineral flavor of the kabocha, and the rustic crumb it produces is swirled with dark bittersweet chocolate.”

A few more tips: If you’re wondering if you can bake this cake ahead, yes—not only does it keep extremely well, but I happen to love the flavor most on days two and beyond. If you can’t find kabocha squash, red kuri squash is a good substitute, or other dry, creamy squash varieties. If you needed to substitute butternut or other more watery varieties, Nicole recommends adding in this step from the original recipe: “In a large piece of cheesecloth, wrap the pureed squash in a tight bundle. Put in a colander set over a bowl, and let drain at least 4 hours. Squeeze by twisting the cheesecloth to remove extra water.”

Recipe adapted slightly from Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California (Chronicle Books, October 2015).

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What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Kabocha, Olive Oil & Bittersweet Chocolate Cake From Nicole Rucker & Gjelina
  • Kabocha Cake
  • 1 (1-pound / 455-gram) piece kabocha squash, seeded
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling, plus 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (255ml)
  • 1 1/2 cups (180 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/3 cups (265 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 8 ounces (230 grams) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons raw pepitas (for the glaze)
  • Olive Oil Glaze
  • 1 1/4 cups (150 grams) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons crushed cacao nibs
  1. Heat the oven to 425°F (220°C). On a sheet pan, drizzle the squash with olive oil, turn the piece cut-side down, and cook until very soft and beginning to caramelize around the edges, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Scrape out the squash flesh and transfer to a food processor. Pulse until smooth.
  2. Measure out 1 cup (225 grams) and let it cool to room temperature. (Store any leftovers in the fridge, tightly covered, for up to 5 days—the puree is very good smeared on toast.)
  3. Heat oven to 325℉ (165°C). Butter a 9x5-inch (23x12-centimeter) loaf pan.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt into a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, olive oil, squash puree, and eggs. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the squash mixture. Whisk until just combined. Stir the chocolate into the batter.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until browned on the top and a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 75 to 90 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edges and invert the cake from the pan and let cool on the rack for another 20 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate.
  6. In a small, dry frying pan over medium heat, gently toast the pepitas until just fragrant and beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool.
  7. To make the glaze, in a small bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar with 2 tablespoons hot water until you have a thick glaze. Add more confectioners’ sugar or water as needed to create a smooth glaze with the viscosity of honey. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly.
  8. Pour the glaze over the cake, allowing it to drip over the sides. Sprinkle with the cacao nibs and pepitas and let the glaze set completely before serving, about 1 hour.

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27 Reviews

Becky M. September 26, 2022
Has anyone make these as cupcakes? Any suggestions on timing, etc? Thanks in advance-love the recipe
MamaL January 3, 2022
We really liked this loaf and I did give it 5 stars, however, I did cut the nutmeg down and would probably recommend not using more than 1/4 teaspoon and I would recommend cutting the cinnamon down to 1 1/2 teaspoons.
Nanda G. October 25, 2021
I am in the middle of baking but it already overflowed the 9x5 pan. Maybe I'll use some batter for a few muffins next time.
Lydia October 13, 2021
So far, the batter before the chocolate add is very reminiscent of cacao when the pumpkin spices and olive oil get together. I can see why this is so brilliant. This flavor creation is meant to taste just as good as everything else; it's an earthy blend of squash and cacao that would not be so enhanced without the olive oil. Brava.
susie January 4, 2021
Could you please include the nutrition information for this recipe? I would appreciate it.
[email protected] December 26, 2020
We all loved this amazing cake. Disagree with those for whom there was too much chocolate. I didn’t think it overpowered the other flavors. They all combined perfectly. The kabocha came out super thick after I processed it so added water to get it closer to consistency of pumpkin purée. Worked out great.
Nan December 19, 2020
Question- can you make this in a cast iron skillet and if so what would be the right size? Thanks
Nan December 19, 2020
Also if your market doesn’t have kobucha what’s a good sub? Thanks
Needs2cook December 17, 2020
Followed the recipe to a T. Wouldn’t change a thing. It was delicious and moist. Love using olive oil in my baking. Baked for exactly 75 minutes and lined loaf pan with parchment. I’m making a second batch tonight and doubling for a neighbor gift. Thanks for the keeper.
stefany December 14, 2020
Wow! This cake is unbelievably delicious. I made it last night and I’ve already had two pieces this morning, and wondering how long I need to wait before having a third!
Based on the comments, I used half the amount of chocolate, but will use the full amount next time. I chopped it pretty finely, so it felt well dispersed and not too strong at all. I want to give this as gifts, but not sure how it will do in those disposable aluminum pans.
Has anyone tried freezing this? Only asking, because if I don’t do something, I will eat the whole thing in a very short amount of time!!!
Mary T. December 14, 2020
I used the small aluminum pans and the cake came out well. I had 3 in the oven st I nice for 75 minutes . I think I will do 65 min next time. The edges were pretty brown and dry. The rest of the cake was moist. What about freezing these cakes? Wrapped in cling wrap?? Plus a plastic bag? Or?
stefany December 19, 2020
Hi! Thx for the tip on smaller pans. I read online that reducing by 1/4 the time is recommended (but to also check early, to be safe). So I baked them for about 56min, and they are perfect. I used 5.5x3" pans (Chicago Metallic brand). I divided the batter up evenly between all three - apx 375g per pan - and I think that might have been a bit too much. May try apx 360g per pan next time.
stefany December 19, 2020
In case anyone is following this thread for tips on baking in smaller loaf pans, I forgot to account for the weight of my pan in my post above. My pans weigh 30g each so I used about 345g of batter per pan. I will probably reduce that by 10g or so next time, as they rose a little too high.
jensiegelnyc December 9, 2020
I screwed up and took it out of the pan too early. I knew better but the recipe said to wait only 20 my home baker experience, you need to wait until the cake is fully cooled to take it out of the loaf pan or use parchment paper lining. Taste is very squash forward which is cool. I did about 2/3rds of the chocolate which I think it needs. Going to try Claire Saffitz's Kabocha Tumeric Cake (recipe on Food 52) with the rest of the Kabocha! Thanks Kristen!
Brooke K. December 6, 2020
We are really loving this recipe. Great flavors although I may add some ginger and nutmeg next time as well. I also used a portion of the chocolate...just eyeballed what looked right and happy I did. A new family favorite!
jmarty407 December 6, 2020
I made this today and my apartment smelled fantastic! I had no pepitas but used pecans on hand. Love this recipe!
DjeenDjeen December 6, 2020
This is a big hit with the family. Thanks to these comments I reduced chocolate chips to 1/4 and roasted the kabocha seeds, which were delicious. To make the cake vegan, I also swapped out eggs for flax eggs - 1T ground flax mixed w 2.5T water x 3 ( The nutmeg gives it a big spice kick. My family thought less nutmeg next time but I really liked it.
Sue I. December 4, 2020
I may or may not rinse off the squash seeds but either way, I put them on a rimmed baking tray, sprinkle them with salt, put them in the oven at about 250 degrees for about an hour or until dry, and then may or may not turn them halfway through. One of the best snacks ever! Did you know that pumpkin/squash seeds used to be used to get rid of tape worms? Just FYI in case you come across the need. ; )
durhamhp December 4, 2020
I loved the idea of using squash other than pumpkin and the roasted, puréed squash was ah.may.zing. For me, though, there was too much chocolate to really appreciate the flavors of the olive oil or the squash at all. Next time I’ll use about 1/4 the amount of chocolate (or maybe none at all) to see if it better brings out the flavors. My son and my husband, however, do not mind it tasting all like chocolate and they loved it. But why go through the trouble of roasting the squash and the expense of the olive oil if you can’t appreciate? I’ll try again and will update my review at that time.
durhamhp December 4, 2020
I loved the idea of using squash other than pumpkin and the roasted, puréed squash was ah.may.zing. For me, though, there was too much chocolate to really appreciate the flavors of the olive oil or the squash at all. Next time I’ll use about 1/4 the amount of chocolate (or maybe nine at all) to see if it better brings out the flavors. My son and my husband, however, do not mind it tasting all like chocolate and they loved it. But why go through the trouble of roasting the squash and the expense of the olive oil if you can’t appreciate?
Mar December 3, 2020
Question - Can this be made with Koginut squash instead?
Kristen M. December 4, 2020
I think it would probably work well—I've tried kabocha and red kuri and Koginut looks similar. If you try it, let us know!
Debbie December 3, 2020
Just made, this was delicious. I was worried about the olive oil taste so used 1/2 olive, 1/2 canola in the cake. We ate while still a bit warm - very decadent. I added a little sparkling sugar to the top for bit more festive look.
Kristen M. December 4, 2020
Thanks for reporting back!
patricia G. December 3, 2020
About those seeds: try leaving on the strings... roast the seeds, strings and all, in butter with a sprinkle of salt. The strings become deliciously brittle and crispy. And seeds roasted in butter seem less fibrous to me. Another way: with nail scissors, snip the seam around the seeds to extract the green pepitas. Keeps my hands busy during Zoom meetings!
Nancy H. December 3, 2020
...... or watching Netflix - great suggestion!
Kristen M. December 4, 2020
Great tips! We also got some good ones from the community at the end of the latest Genius Recipe Tapes episode this week: