Zucchini for the win! This is zucchini cake, and it’s every bit as flavorful as zucchini bread, as soft as zucchini muffins, and just about as magically moist as chocolate zucchini cake. Every cinnamon-kissed bite is nestled under a blanket of brown butter cream cheese frosting. Today’s cake and frosting combo is pure perfection, and everyone will be begging to have greens for dessert!
I know vegetables in cake can raise some eyebrows, but keep an open mind. You’ve heard of carrot cake, right? Zucchini is loaded with moisture, and adds a ton of volume without much flavor at all. Think of it as applesauce or banana, but with less flavor. It acts as a wet ingredient, and pairs wonderfully with everything from cinnamon and nutmeg to chocolate and citrus. I love baking with zucchini, so it’s no surprise I’ve amassed quite a lineup of favorite zucchini recipes over the years.
Today I’m sharing a simple sheet cake recipe with plenty of spice flavor, notes of brown sugar, and kisses of sweet vanilla. It’s simple, yet impressive. Taste testers (kids and adults!) couldn’t get enough. We all LOVED this cake.
Here’s Why You’ll Love This Zucchini Cake, Too:
- Great for beginners—no complicated decorating or assembly required
- Batter comes together in 5 minutes
- Extra moist and flavorful
- Uses up a bountiful summer vegetable
- Sheet cakes are easy to slice, serve, and transport
- Brown butter cream cheese frosting… need I say more?
Sheet Cakes Rule All
Sheet cakes are renowned for being easier than layer cakes—no leveling off cake layers, no fancy decorating tools, no assembly whatsoever. Slicing and serving is a breeze, and you’ll appreciate that this zucchini cake can feed a crowd, but is still completely manageable to make. It’s easy to transport, too!
Key Ingredients You Need
For today’s cake, grab some of the same ingredients you’d use for zucchini bread. The cake is actually a dairy-free recipe if you skip the frosting. (And you can keep it dairy free by adding a simple dusting of confectioners’ sugar on top for garnish.)
Grab these ingredients:
Success Tip: Shredding Zucchini
The cake batter comes together in just 5 minutes with simple kitchen tools including a couple bowls, a whisk, and a spatula. You also need a grater to shred the zucchini. If you’re looking for recommendations, I own and love this box grater because it’s easy to use, grates quickly, and has held up well with regular use. It’s what I use when making zucchini fritters and chocolate zucchini bread, too.
- How much zucchini do I need? Zucchini can vary greatly in size, but 1-2 medium zucchinis are plenty for this recipe. You need 1 and 3/4 cups shredded, which is about 210g.
- Pro Tip: Shred extra so you can make a batch of zucchini cookies.
Here’s How to Make Zucchini Cake
Whisk together the dry ingredients, whisk together the wet ingredients, combine the two, and then fold in the zucchini. That’s it… the cake batter is done. What a complicated recipe! 😉
Zucchini acts as a wet ingredient in baking. It doesn’t necessarily replace a fat like oil or a binding ingredient like eggs, but it does add moisture and volume.
Use a box grater like this one. Rinse the zucchini and pat dry. Slice off the bottom end, and place the grater on or over a cutting board. Holding the stem end, run the zucchini on the box grater’s coarse grating side (the largest holes) until you get down to the stem.
You can peel zucchini before using in baking, but you don’t have to. (I don’t!) There’s no taste or texture variance either way, but you’ll have flecks of green throughout the cake if you keep the peel on.
Usually, no. You want that extra moisture in baked goods, so do not blot the shredded zucchini before using in baking. If making a savory dish like zucchini casserole or zucchini fritters, however, draining excess liquid is key. It all depends on what you’re making, and if moisture is your friend or foe!
Try Zucchini Cake With Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
Aka THE BEST FROSTING TO EVER HIT YOUR LIPS.
Have you ever browned butter to make cream cheese frosting before? Because once you do, you’ll never go back. You have all of the tangy creaminess from cream cheese frosting, and the nutty, caramelized flavor from brown butter on top of it. I don’t overload the frosting with sugar, either—just enough to bulk it up without masking the brown butter flavor.
After you brown the butter on the stove, refrigerate it until it’s cool and solidified. (You can do this as the cake bakes or cools.) Then cream it with the cream cheese to make the base of the frosting. It’s pretty easy and I have an entire How to Brown Butter tutorial if you need some extra help.
Look at all of those brown butter flecks. F-L-A-V-O-R.
There’s no assembly required, which is my favorite part about serving one-layer cakes. Here are all of my single-layer cakes if you’re in the mood to browse more!
Here are some other ways you can use this zucchini cake batter:
Other Cake Sizes
- Bundt Cake: This cake batter will fit into a greased 10-cup or larger Bundt pan. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for 55–70 minutes. The baking time varies depending on your oven; keep your eye on the cake after 55 minutes. Feel free to cover the cake loosely with aluminum foil about halfway through to prevent heavy browning on top.
- Layer Cake: Grease three 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans. Divide batter between the three round cake pans. Bake for around 26–32 minutes, depending on which size pan you used. Use the brown butter cream cheese frosting recipe/ratios from this banana layer cake so you have enough.
- Cupcakes: Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for 19–21 minutes. Yields about 3 dozen.
This easy zucchini cake comes together quickly. You’ll love the cinnamon, brown sugar, and vanilla flavors paired with the stick-to-the-back-of-your-fork moist texture. Enjoy it with lusciously smooth brown butter cream cheese frosting, or you can opt for a simple dusting of confectioners’ sugar instead.
- 2 and 1/2 cups (313g) all-purpose flour (spooned & leveled)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup (240ml) vegetable oil
- 1 and 1/4 cups (250g) packed light or dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (180g) unsweetened applesauce, at room temperature
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 and 3/4 cups (210g) shredded zucchini (no need to blot)
Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1/4 cup (4 Tbsp; 56g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 slices
- 8 ounces (226g) full-fat brick cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 2 and 1/2 cups (300g) confectioners’ sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- pinch salt
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) and grease a 9×13-inch baking pan.
- Make the cake: Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large bowl. Set aside.
- Whisk the oil, granulated sugar, brown sugar, applesauce, eggs, and vanilla extract together in a medium bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until combined. Fold in the shredded zucchini until combined.
- Pour and spread batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 45–50 minutes. Baking times vary, so keep an eye on it. Around the 30-minute mark, loosely tent with aluminum foil to prevent over-browning. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Remove the cake from the oven and set the pan on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely.
- Brown the butter: Set out a medium heatproof bowl because you’ll need it at the end of this step. Place the sliced butter in a light-colored skillet or saucepan. A light-colored interior is crucial for determining when the butter begins to brown. Melt the butter over medium heat and stir or whisk constantly. Once melted, the butter will begin to foam. Continue stirring/whisking, keeping a close eye on it. After about 5–7 minutes, the butter will begin browning and you’ll notice lightly browned specks forming at the bottom of the pan. The butter will have a nutty aroma. The color will gradually deepen, from yellow to golden to golden-brown; once it’s a light caramel-brown color, remove from heat immediately and pour into the bowl, including any brown solids that have formed on the bottom of the pan. Cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to the refrigerator to cool completely and solidify.
- Make the frosting: In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the solidified brown butter on high speed until creamy and smooth. Add the cream cheese and beat again until smooth and combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Add confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and salt. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then switch to high speed and beat for 2 minutes. Spread the frosting on the cooled cake.
- Slice and serve.
- Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: Prepare cake through step 5. Cover the cake tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, and bring to room temperature before serving. Continue with step 6.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Box Grater | 9×13-inch Glass Baking Pan | Electric Mixer (Handheld or Stand Mixer) | Light-Colored Saucepan | Silicone Whisk | Icing Spatula
- Quarter Sheet Pan: I really like to bake quarter sheet cakes in a glass 9×13-inch pan or this metal pan that comes with a lid.
- Can I replace or reduce the oil? Vegetable oil is the best option for this cake. You can replace with a neutral-flavored oil such as avocado oil or canola oil. Feel free to use melted refined coconut oil (refined doesn’t have much of a coconut flavor) and make sure every other ingredient in the cake batter is room temperature, so the oil doesn’t solidify. Do not replace with melted butter because the cake will taste dry. You can replace a small amount of the oil with applesauce if needed, but keep in mind that the cake will begin to taste dry/rubbery the more oil you replace.
- Applesauce: It’s best to use unsweetened applesauce in this recipe—you need a wet ingredient that won’t overpower the other flavors in the cake. Feel free to use mashed banana or canned crushed pineapple instead, but keep in mind that the flavor of the cake will change.
- Brown Butter: For more information and troubleshooting, see this post on how to brown butter.
- Layer Cake: Grease three 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans. Divide batter between the three round cake pans. Bake for about 26–32 minutes, depending on which size pan you used. The cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Use the brown butter cream cheese frosting recipe/ratios from this banana layer cake so you have enough.
- Bundt Cake: This cake batter will fit into a greased 10-cup or larger Bundt pan. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for 55–70 minutes. The baking time varies depending on your oven; keep your eye on the cake after 55 minutes. Feel free to cover the cake loosely with aluminum foil about halfway through to prevent heavy browning on top. Allow the cake to cool in the pan set on a wire rack, then invert onto a serving plate once cooled and ready to serve.
- Cupcakes: Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for 19–21 minutes. Yields about 3 dozen.
Keywords: zucchini cake