~ If you love zucchini bread, you’ve gotta try our decadent Almond Joy Zucchini Cake! It’s moist and tender, and full of the almond, coconut and chocolate flavors you love in Almond Joy candy bars! Nutritious enough for an afternoon snack, but indulgent enough for dessert! ~
This Recipe Is: • Freezable • Make Ahead • Vegetarian •
Back when my dear friend, Gretchen, was still my business partner here at THK, she used to make fun of me for my Almond Joy obsession.
Well, let’s be honest here. She use to make fun of me for LOTS of things. Lots and lots of really well-deserved reasons.
But the whole Almond Joy thing. I can’t blame her. She had a point. I tried to sneak those flavors into so many of our recipes. Sometimes she just had to put her foot down, though. I mean … Almond Joy meatloaf? (Ok … I’m kidding about that one … but only by a little.)
But Almond Joy Snack Bites and Almond Joy Oatmeal were great ideas! Fantastic ideas, even! You guys LOOOOOOVED them as much as we did, and they’ve been reader faves ever since we published them. It’s been more than 4 years since those were posted, though … and I don’t know about you, but I was kinda needing a (healthy) Almond Joy fix!
So I thought it was about time to throw another Almond Joy idea your way – you’ll love it every bit as much as our others!
What You’ll Adore About This Zucchini Cake
For real … what’s not to love here? We’re talkin’:
- a moist, crumbly zucchini cake
- that’s highlighted with vanilla-almond flavors, sweet coconut and lots of chocolate bits
- all topped with toasty coconut and crunchy almonds!
Plus, since this is THK, you know we’ve worked in lots of nutritious little upgrades, to make this a healthy zucchini cake, like:
- 100% whole grain flour (you won’t even notice!)
- waaaaay less fat since we subbed out most of the butter and oil in traditional recipes, replacing it with applesauce (don’t worry – you won’t notice this, either!)
- 1 fruit (apples in the applesauce) + 1 veggie (‘cuz … ya know … zucchini cake)
So let’s talk for just a moment about some of the nifty little health-ification strategies we used to make our decadent zucchini cake more nutritious and THK-worthy. These handy tips are ones we use in lots of our other recipes, too, and you can even try phasing them into some of your own baking recipes once you get the hang of ’em!
Using White Whole Wheat Flour
As we explain at greater length in our recipe post for Healthy Whole Wheat Banana Bread, white whole wheat flour is basically the same as “regular” whole wheat flour, in terms of nutrition and how it performs in recipes. Both are whole-grain and have a definite nutrition advantage over all-purpose white flour.
White whole wheat flour is simply ground from a different type of wheat than “regular” whole wheat flour. In baking, they can generally be used interchangeably.
But, white whole wheat flour has a more neutral flavor than “regular” whole wheat flour. So, it generally goes absolutely unnoticed when we use it in our baking – even by picky eaters!
Swapping Applesauce for Oil and Butter
You’ve probably noticed that lots of healthier baking recipes (particularly for quick breads and muffins) slash the typical amounts of butter and oil, replacing them with fruit purees (most often plain applesauce).
This technique can actually work surprisingly well, depending on the moisture content of other ingredients. But, after lots of trial and error through testing numerous baking recipes, we find that we get the best results when we don’t completely eliminate the oil. Leaving just a tablespoon or two of oil in the recipe often makes a slight but noticeable improvement in the texture of our cake or bread.
It works brilliantly in this zucchini cake recipe, and in lots of our other favorite muffin and quick bread recipes, like our Cherry-Chocolate Zucchini Bread, Healthy Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Muffins, and Healthy Apple Cobbler Muffins.
Just make sure you purchase plain, unsweetened applesauce. You want to choose one that doesn’t have any added sugars, sweeteners or flavorings.
Adding in the Goodies!
A couple more little tricks we like to use in our recipes focus on what we add into the recipe, not what we take out.
1) Lots of Fruit and Veg – Since this is a zucchini cake, there is … of course … zucchini! Just like with zucchini bread, the shredded zucchini in this cake adds lots of moisture. But in terms of flavor, it just fades into the background – essentially flavorless – allowing all the other yummy Almond Joy flavors to shine through!
BTW – a healthy eating side note tip here: I use a kitchen scale A LOT, and highly recommend having one around, for both precision, and also for portion control. If you want to get a handle on calorie consumption and portion sizes, kitchen scales can really help you visualize correct portioning. I absolutely love the pretty turquoise one you see in the back of this photo. Ty bought it for me last Christmas, and it’s affordable and also super-handy, whether I’m checking portion sizes or weighing ingredients (like the zucchini for this recipe).
So, anyway … if you’re keeping track, we now have 1 fruit (apples from the applesauce) and 1 veggie! That’s pretty darn good for a cake, I’d say!
2) Nuts – Another great addition here is those toasty-crunchy almonds. Not just because they add wonderful flavor and texture, but also because they add some protein.
3) Mini Chocolate Chips – since this is Almond Joy Cake, we have to have chocolate! But here’s where we use another little health-ification trick we love. In a lot of recipes, we find that using mini chocolate chips allows us to use less chocolate overall.
Those little bursts of chocolate spread out more evenly all through recipes like this cake, so you still get the sense that there’s a lot of chocolate happening in there, without having to use quite as much.
This works great in some of our other recipes, too – like our Healthy Double Chocolate Muffins. Give this sneaky little technique a try in some of your own favorite recipes, too!
Tips for Making This Zucchini Cake
• The “Muffin Method”
Like most muffin and quick bread recipes, this zucchini cake uses the “muffin method” of mixing. This basically means that you:
Step 1 – Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl (I recommend whisking to make sure they’re very evenly distributed and thoroughly combined) …
Step 2 – In a separate bowl, you thoroughly mix together the wet ingredients (which includes the sugar, believe it or not) …
Step 3 – Then, just before you’re ready to put your cake in the preheated oven, you combine the dry and wet ingredients, mixing as little as possible (to ensure that you don’t encourage too much gluten development from overmixing the flour – which can toughen your cake). I generally like to make a “well” in the dry ingredients before pouring the wet ingredients in, just to help with folding and stirring it all together. Remember – the important takeaway here is not to overmix.
Step 4 – Once the wet and dry ingredients are combined, add in the “mix-ins” – for this cake, that’s the zucchini, coconut and chocolate chips.
I prefer not to mix them in until this final step, so they don’t get in the way of the wet and dry ingredients properly combining first.
Step 5 – Pour the whole wonderful mixture into your awaiting baking pan, and sprinkle on that final flourish of almonds and coconut.
• Differences in Baking Pans
Exactly how long your zucchini cake will need to bake depends somewhat on what type of pan you use. Glass, dark metal and light metal all perform a little differently in terms of how quickly they heat up and how effectively they transfer heat to your cake. I’ve baked this cake in both glass and in the metal pan you see in the photos, and I can vouch for the fact that you could see bake times anywhere from 33 – 40 minutes, depending on the pan.
The first time you bake this, just plan to check for doneness early and often until you know how your oven and your pan will bake the cake.
You want a wooden pick to come out just clean, but you don’t want to overbake and dry out your lovely cake.
• A Scrumptious but Nutritious Snack – I originally intended this recipe to be a snackin’ cake – sort of an alternative to slices of zucchini bread. And it really is perfect as an after-school treat for the kiddos. Or, hey hey … for you (with maybe a nice cup of afternoon coffee)! With all the whole grains, fruit, veg, and even a bit of protein, it’s a treat you can actually feel good about!
• Dessert – What I realized, though, was that we were all reaching for pieces of this cake as a dessert, too! It’s decadent enough to appease that after-dinner sweet tooth, but it’s not so rich or heavy that you regret it later.
Even better? Nestle a little piece of this cake next to a scoop of reduced-fat vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt. Oh yesssss! That’s next-level yumminess right there, I’ve gotta tell ya!
Whenever you serve this – snack time, dessert … or … ahem … somewhere in between … I’m betting you just might’ve found your new-favorite alternative to zucchini bread. And maybe your new-fave cake recipe, too!
Oh – and if you’re eyeing this recipe because you’ve got an abundance of zucchini overtaking your garden, be sure to check out all of our other Healthy, Easy Zucchini Recipes, too! (I mean … after you make this scrummy cake first, of course!)
- cooking spray and flour for preparing pan (if needed)
For the Batter:
- 2 cups white whole wheat flour
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (fine grain, not flaked kosher salt)
- 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 tablespoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini (from about 7-8 ounces of zucchini squash)
- 3/4 cup shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
For the Topping:
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- 1/4 cup shredded coconut
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Prepare an 11 x 7-inch baking pan (see note about using a 9 x 9 pan) by spraying with cooking spray and/or lightly but thoroughly flouring the bottom (if needed – some pans don't need this).
- In a large bowl, mix flour, baking soda, and salt, whisking to combine thoroughly.
- In a medium bowl, combine applesauce, brown sugar, eggs, oil, almond extract, and vanilla. Stir well to combine thoroughly.
- Make a well in the flour mixture and add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture, stirring just until moist (do not over-mix).
- Add zucchini, 3/4 cup coconut, and chocolate chips, and stir briefly again, just to distribute evenly.
- Spoon batter into prepared baking pan and sprinkle almonds and 1/4 cup coconut evenly over the top of the batter.
- Bake for 33-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean. (See note below for more information on adjusting baking time for various types of pans.)
- Cool completely in pan, on a wire rack, before cutting and serving.
Make-Ahead and Freezing: This zucchini cake recipe freezes well. After cooling completely, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in the freezer in a freezer-safe zipper bag. You can also pre-slice the cake and freeze individual portions.
Adjusting Bake Time for Your Pans: You may need to make small adjustments in bake time to account for different pan materials. Glass baking pans (and usually also dark metal pans) generally will tend to bake this cake a little faster than light metal pans. I've used both glass and light metal successfully in testing this recipe, but there can be a variance of a few minutes in baking time. The key is to check for doneness early and often, especially until you know how a recipe will work with your pan and your oven. Also, I've tested this recipe in a 9 x 9 glass pan, and although I prefer using an 11 x 7 for this recipe, if all you have is a square 9 x 9, you will need to increase the baking time closer to 45 minutes.