Citrus vanilla cauliflower cake

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Citrus vanilla cauliflower cake. All photos: Moriah VanVleet

For me, cauliflower will always bring to mind dinner at Grandma’s house, where it somehow felt like a more exotic version of broccoli, even though it was always served steamed and draped in a melty slice of cheddar cheese. Nowadays the veggie gets showcased in much more inventive ways: I’ve seen it basted and roasted in place of meat, shredded and served as a stand-in for rice, and even turned into pizza crust.

Despite these healthy creations, I began to see cauliflower through dessert lenses as I pondered its blank canvas quality. Alongside flour and sugar, could its slight nuttiness and delicate texture be welcome in a new cake batter? I began to experiment and found that it surely could.

Tender with a bright citrus essence, this cake is a perfect way to welcome cauliflower into the world of dessert. The warmth of luxurious vanilla pairs deliciously with cauliflower’s subtle earthy flavor. Speckles of zest with tiny flecks of the moist, mild vegetable make for a succulent and luscious texture in every bite. Flavorful and fragrant, this cake leaves its tasters without a clue that a vegetable known to taste so plain is at the heart of the ingredients list.

Citrus Vanilla Cauliflower Cake

Serves 10


1 medium lemoncauliflower-cake-10
1 medium orange
About 6 ounces raw, white cauliflower
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon seeds scraped from a vanilla bean pod, or vanilla bean powder or paste
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan, and either flour the pan or line the bottom with parchment.

Rinse and dry the lemon and orange. Finely zest the peel of both; set zest aside. Halve and juice the lemon and orange, just until you have 2 tablespoons of each juice, 1/4 cup juice total; set juice aside.

Using a standard-sized box grater with large holes, grate the cauliflower until you have 1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) grated. (This requires applying some pressure and can make a bit of a mess.) Transfer to a medium bowl. Use the rest of the cauliflower as you wish.

Pour the citrus juice and 2 teaspoons of the vanilla over the cauliflower.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, eggs, vanilla bean and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla until smooth and even in color. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt over the sugar mixture. Whisk until smooth and no traces of flour remain. The batter will be thick.

Fold in the citrus zest and citrus-soaked cauliflower with its juices until evenly dispersed.

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Spread the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. When fully baked, the cake should be golden brown on top with a firm center — no longer wet or jiggly — and a toothpick should come out dry when inserted and removed. Remove from the oven and let the cake cool to room temperature in the pan.

If desired, serve the cake topped with strands of citrus zest, powdered sugar and/or fluffy scoops of freshly whipped cream or ice cream. Store the cake at room temperature, covered, and eat within three days.

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Moriah VanVleet is the voice behind butter, sugar, flowers, where this recipe first appeared.

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