Kabocha Pumpkin Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Chunks

All I want to snack on during big ski missions all winter

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Season: Fall, Winter
Dosha: Pitta, Vata

The early sun is casting the most excellent morning shadows in the trees outside, I just hefted the Sunday times upstairs from the porch, and there’s a big pumpkin in the oven roasting for Kabocha Pumpkin Olive Oil Cake. The whole house smells like fall and this day could repeat itself every morning until the end of time and I wouldn’t complain about it in the least.

All things fall

These mornings – when I wake up early, make coffee, and get busy reading/cooking/riding/brainstorming are about to come to an end because the Jersey Boy who shares this house with me is going to be home next weekend after nearly three months away. We’ve had a only a few days together since he left (I went to Chicago earlier in the month to eat things and make sure he was still alive. He was.) I miss the way he makes coffee and the way he seems to love everything I bake because…he just DOES (wtf who is this guy?) But I’m also going to miss quiet mornings when there’s no one around to worry about but me, and no one minds if I bake too early, eat dinner too late, or stay up reading in bed. As guilty as I feel admitting it, I love time all to myself. Do you ever feel like that?


In between now and then, it’s going to be a busy week. These fudge pops are going to be shared with the world on the Skratch Labs blog and I’ll be busy developing recipes for the holidays to share. If you’re in Boulder on Tuesday night, I’ll be cooking + baking up a storm for this very cool little event (check out the menu!) This afternoon, I’m baking a fuckton of pies with my closest ladies and then of course in between I’ll be cleaning and organizing and laundry and all the things I haven’t really attended to this month (!!) because I’ve been on the road cooking and riding like a mad woman.

My favorite pumpkin

Did you realize that different squashes smell differently when they bake? This makes perfect sense of course; not all of those squashes on the fall display at the grocery store look alike, and they are absolutely not alike on the inside.

Their flesh, and flavor is different, their best-uses are different, and so of course their smells are as well. Without waxing too poetically, there’s nothing I don’t love about this season and all of the unsung rituals – embracing dark mornings, spinning wheels through the chilly forests, morning mist, crunching leaves, filling the house with baking smells, pulling pajamas straight from the dryer and leaping into bed wearing them, cozying up until the tiny cracks of morning light beg you to get up and do it all again. Baking pumpkins and squash regularly is one of these unsung rituals and in this season, that’s just what I do. (You too! Because of this!)

This is the fifth pumpkin I’ve roasted in half as many days because naturally, we’ll need creamy pumpkin soup when the babes come over today to go with all that pie crust. And because this Kabocha Pumpkin Olive Oil Cake is on the menu for Tuesday.

Kabocha Pumpkin Olive Oil Cake

I first fell in love with kabocha pumpkin in particular when the farmers who tended fields around our house in Okinawa would leave them for me on the porch as little gifts. Kabocha is different than other pumpkins and squashes you’ve tried. They’re stout and green and when you bake them with a little bit of olive oil for a long-ass time, their flesh becomes so soft and buttery they’re basically begging to be baked into a cake.

Big Slices of Kabocha Pumpkin Cake

Recipe notes:

About this cake: I spotted this recipe first in this new cookbook when I was perusing the shelves at Omnivore Books in San Francisco the other week, and then I saw it again here. Since then, the book has been my late night bedside reading. This cake is the first thing I made upon returning home from all that travel.

Fine tuning a bit, I jammed a slice in my pocket when we rode our bikes out to watch the cyclocross races yesterday and it held up beautifully (even after I jammed my gloves in the same pocket because it was like 70°F degrees out!) It stands up so well because, instead of using butter, this recipe calls for olive oil (hence the name), and so there aren’t any little air pockets in the crumb; just moist, dense, luxurious cake. (Hint: it would stand up to a big purse too!)

Another reason to love it? The method here couldn’t be easier: roast pumpkin, chop chocolate, sift dry, whisk wet, mix together, bake and eat. Another reason to love it: the olive oil glaze – not so sweet, and the perfect glue to stick pepitas + crushed cacao nibs to the top of the loaf that lend a pleasant crunch and take the cake over the top.

One last thing: this cake is a winner because it is naturally dairy-free but I often make it vegan by substituting ground flax meal for the eggs. Simply bloom 3 Tbsp of flax meal in 6 Tbsp of water and add the flax gel in for the eggs. This is my favorite version (different than that written below.) If you do choose to use the eggs as described in the recipe, I recommend using a 10″ pan – especially if you’re baking at altitude!

Three more things: first, finding a kabocha! Most well-stocked grocery stores will have these babies in the token pile of squashes and pumpkins that appear this time of year. You’re looking for a squat, round, heavy little pumpkin.

Second, the Iga-yaki sesame seed toaster that you see in the images above (with the pepitas in it!) was a very special souvenir from this amazing place in Sonoma County. I’ve been using it to toast everything under the sun. Simple joy – yay!

Recipe Notes

  • Gluten free: this recipe has not been tested with gluten-free flours, but if you wish to experiment with a cup-for-cup flour, by all means let me know how it goes!
  • Vegan: this cake is naturally vegan with the use of flax eggs in lieu of chicken eggs. HOWEVER, if you wish to, I strongly encourage you to use 3 large chicken eggs here – your cake will be supremely tender and cakey!
  • On pumpkin: canned pumpkin will work just fine here, BUT if you have the opportunity to use freshly roasted kabocha squash, this will make for the best cake. I typically have a jar roasted squash in the fridge at all times during the winter. To make it happen, I roast a whole squash in the oven at 300°F for a few hours, until the flesh yields easily to the tip of a knife. I allow the pumpkin to cool, then tear it apart with my hands, scooping out the seeds and using a spoon to scoop out the flesh. I’ll use 1 cup to make this cake, and reserve the remainder for another purpose.

Flavor Notes

Flavors are FUN, yes, but they also are the mechanisms by which our bodies nourish themselves. Flavors basically tell our bodies what the food is giving us – on a nutritional and energetic level. Our bodies then prepare enzymes to break those components down, assimilate them, and turn them into fuel for our vibrant lives. We can’t eat just one flavor and get all of the things we need, so learning to track the flavors in our foods helps us to be sure that we’re really getting all of the things we need in our meals. This particular recipe has three of six flavors. The more flavors we can enjoy in any meal or food, the happier and more balanced our bodies will be. If you’re wanting to learn more about how the flavors we eat fuel our bodies – energetically and nutritively, check out this little blog post.

  • SWEET: pumpkin, cane juice, cinnamon, cardamom, flour, flax meal
  • SALTY: sea salt
  • SOUR: N/A
  • PUNGENT: cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg

Kabocha Pumpkin Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Chunks

All I want to snack on during big ski missions all winter

makes one 9" loaf cake // 8-10 slices


Active Time: 90 minutes


Serves: slices


for the cake:

  • 1 cup roasted kabocha pumpkin puree
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 cup (255ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cup spelt flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp Kosher sea salt
  • 1 1/3 cup evaporated cane juice or cane sugar
  • 3 Tbsp ground flax meal (bloomed in 6 Tbsp water)
  • 6 oz 70% bittersweet chocolate (chopped into chunks)

for the olive oil glaze:

  • 1 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar (sifted)
  • 2 Tbsp hot water (plus more if needed)
  • 2-3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp cacao nibs
  • 3 Tbsp toasted pepitas


  • 1Mix your cake batter

    Preheat over to 350°F. Grease a 9-by-5-in [23-by-12-cm] loaf pan with olive or coconut oil.

    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 purée, and bloomed flax eggs. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in the squash mixture. Whisk until just combined. Stir the chocolate into the batter

  • 2Bake your cake

    Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until browned on the top and a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean, 75-90 minutes. Let cool in the pan 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.

  • 3Glaze and finish your cake

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

    In a small bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar with 2 Tbsp 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.

    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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