gjelina’s kabocha, olive oil, and dark chocolate loaf

gjelina’s kabocha, olive oil, and dark chocolate loaf

This isn’t your grandma’s pumpkin cake.

This cake is something else, something better, a new version of the ubiquitous pumpkin spice loaf that seems to appear in bakeries nationwide during the fall season.

First of all, it’s not pumpkin, but kabocha squash. If you’ve never tried a kabocha, think of it as that cool cousin of the pumpkin. It tastes a bit like sweet potato, a bit like pumpkin, a lot like deliciousness. Why would you stick to boring pumpkin desserts if you could use kabocha instead? My problem with many “pumpkin” flavored confections is that the pumpkin fades into the background while the spices take control. Pumpkin is just too bland to stand up to the assertive flavors of nutmeg and cinnamon.

However, kabocha squash isn’t afraid. In this loaf cake, the kabocha complements the cinnamon perfectly, the two flavors mixing in harmony. The addition of dark chocolate improves everything, as chocolate tends to do. I’ve decreased the amount of chocolate (I know, sacrilegious) to make this cake more everyday appropriate. More kabocha cake is always better! The icing on the cake is the olive oil glaze. In fact, this glaze is one of my favorite parts of the loaf, which was completely unexpected. Although most icings are overly sweet and cloying, the addition of olive oil mellows the glaze out. You’ll be eating the olive oil glaze with a spoon, it’s that addicting. Finally, the sprinkle of toasted pepitas and cocoa nibs on the top of the cake adds some much-needed crunch and bitterness that contrasts with the sweetness.

Didn’t I tell you this wasn’t an ordinary pumpkin cake?

This cake is sophisticated and complex, and it stands out from the pack.


gjelina's kabocha, olive oil, and dark chocolate cake

adapted from gjelina: cooking from venice, california by travis lett

Course Dessert
Servings 1 loaf



  • one 1-lb piece kabocha squash
  • 255 ml (1 cup + 1 tablespoon) extra virgin olive oil
  • 180 g (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 265 g (1 1/3 cups) granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped i used 72%
  • 3 tbsp pepitas
  • 2 tbsp cocoa nibs

olive oil glaze

  • 150 g (1 1/4 cups) powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp hot water plus more if needed
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


  1. Preheat the oven to 425˚F (220˚C). Drizzle the squash with oil on a baking sheet, and cook until very soft and beginning to brown on the edges, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Transfer squash flesh to food processor/blender and puree until smooth.

  2. Preheat over to 325˚F (165˚C). Grease a 9x5 in (23x12 cm) loaf pan. 

  3. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt together in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, olive oil, squash purée, eggs, and vanilla. Add the dry mix into the squash mixture and whisk until just combined. Stir the chopped chocolate in.

  4. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake until browned on the top and a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 75-90 min. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Invert the cake from the pan and let cool on the rack for an additional 20 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate.

  5. In a frying pan over medium heat, toast the pepitas just until fragrant and beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool.

to make the olive oil glaze

  1. In a small bowl, whisk the powdered sugar with the hot water until you have a thick glaze. Add additional powdered sugar or water as needed to create a smooth glaze with the viscosity of honey. Mix in the olive oil.

  2. Pour the glaze over the cake, allowing it to drip over the sides. Sprinkle the top with the cacao nibs and pepitas, and let the glaze set completely before serving, about one hour.

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