kabocha squash cake


This cake came together in a smaller mayhem of children. I was inspired by this spice cake recipe from Heidi. Lucy and her dear friend Zea were sitting on the kitchen counter, helping me to make a cake. After I had my dry ingredients assembled, as I watched them cut up an apple with great seriousness, I went to the refrigerator to reach for some eggs. We were out of eggs. I couldn’t stay away from the kitchen counter for long, with two enthusiastic 3-year-olds there, so I reached for the first substitute I could see. Soft goat cheese. Why not? What’s the worst that could happen? 

The cake was delicious and wonderfully moist with this little mistake. With the goat cheese, and the apple pieces — they insisted — and some of those maple-roasted pumpkin seeds, this cake tasted like nothing I had ever eaten before. Danny sort of lost his mind for it that night. Note filed away: chevre as a replacement for eggs in a moist cake. Done. 

I’m thinking about making it for Thanksgiving, along with all the pies, and making a new tradition this year. 

115 grams (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter (that’s 1 stick to Americans)
170 grams gluten-free all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon psyllium husk
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
½ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
140 grams (about 1 cup) brown sugar
150 grams soft goat cheese
240 grams (about 1 cup) roasted kabocha squash puree (see below)
½ cup milk (you can use any milk that works for your family)
1/3 cup maple-roasted pumpkin seeds (optional)
1/3 cup chopped apple (optional)
2 tablespoons raw sugar (optional)

Preparing to bake.  Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9-inch cake pan with the fat of your choice. (We like melted butter. You choose.) Flick a little sweet rice flour — or the gluten-free flour of your choice — into the pan and up the sides of it. There. Now the pan is ready.

Browning the butter.  Set a small pan over medium heat. Add the butter and cook until it sputters then begins to brown, about 10 to 20 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the butter releases a lovely nutty aroma. (It also helps to use a non-black pan so you can see the color shifting.) Be careful to not burn the butter. Set aside the butter to cool.

Combining the dry ingredients. Add the gluten-free flours, psyllium, baking soda, cinnamon, five spice powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Run the mixer until they are well combined and aerated. Pour the dry ingredients into a different bowl.

Combining the wet ingredients. Add the brown sugar and goat cheese into the bowl of a stand mixer. At first, they may not look like they will come together. Patience. Within a few minutes they will cohere together and form one honey-colored clump. At this point, add the squash puree and the milk. Mix them in until they have disappeared into the batter. Slowly, with the mixer running, pour in the brown butter and mix until it has become part of the batter.

Finishing the cake batter. With the mixer running, add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix until the batter comes together. (It might look a little clumpy and separated, not like a typical cake. Don’t worry.)

If you want, you can toss the maple-roasted pumpkin seeds and apple pieces in here. Stir until they are combined into the batter.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the raw sugar. Bake until the edges of the cake have started to brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 to 55 minutes. Do not overbake — the moistness of this cake is half its charm.

Feeds 12.

If you have never made your own squash puree, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is. Cut the kabocha squash in half, scoop out the seeds, sprinkle the flesh with a bit of oil, and roast in a 375° oven until the flesh is tender. When the squash has cooled to room temperature, peel away the skin. (This works with pumpkins, red kuri squash, butternut squash, and hubbard squash as well.) Throw the squash in the food processor and whirl it up. Kabocha squash has particularly dense flesh, so you might have to add some kind of liquid (oil, milk, maple syrup) to bring it all together. Choose the liquid based on the flavor you like best for the dish you are going to create.

Happy mayhem cascaded through the house for a couple of hours.

Raena and Josie ran back and forth on the porch, whispering secrets. Rebekah shepherded the little kids to the garden with her sweet attention. Johnny ran like a little bull through the room, clipping the door of the pink refrigerator, unintentionally. Kieran drew on the chalkboard, big loopy circles, then asked us what we were all talking about. Abigail took her usual hour to warm up and then she bounced on the bed, her curly hair floating above her shoulders then falling from the sky. Lu ran outside after them, grinning at all these kids being in her house. Rosie stayed at the table with the adults. The baby slept.

Later, they all went into the garden to dig up tiny carrots almost frozen in the dirt, an errant potato I had missed, and all the chard I was hoping to keep growing through November. Oh well. They came back with dirty fingernails and huge grins, the whole lot of them, proud of their harvest.

There were tiny crisis moments. Raena had an accident, then she could howled at the grey sweatpants I offered in place of her wet pants. (Too ugly. This girl knows what she wants to look like at all moments of the day, and she wants to look fabulous.) Josie climbed the little house outside, straddled the roof with her body, then worried the other kids that she didn’t know how to get down. “Lucy’s mama? Lucy is crying!” I found her with wood chips in her hair, complaining that one of the children had been too loud near her ears. Abigail furrowed up her nose at the strange and spicy food at the table until her mother offered the plastic bag full of identical-sized pieces of cheddar cheese. Rebekah hovered, worried, over any of the small children who seemed concerned. Johnny bonked himself on the couch, then roared when he bounced back on the floor. Kieran couldn’t fathom why he couldn’t go on the swing by himself, especially after watching Josie fling herself on it with ease. The fact that adults were supposed to help with the swing swaying high off the ground didn’t register. He wanted on, now. The baby, passed back and forth between mama and daddy, could not be soothed for a time. Rosie wanted the red plastic car. Lucy wanted the red plastic car. A small war ensued.

We parents dealt with any small perturbation with calm talk and hugs, then went back to eating and laughing. They know how to take care of themselves. This wasn’t unusual.

There was one moment of quiet. A patient, hovering silence. We were about to eat this cake.

A few weeks ago, I made this kabocha squash cake, with brown butter, Chinese five-spice powder, and goat cheese. Danny ate one slice, late at night, and declared it the best cake he had ever eaten. Then, he ate another slice. Thinking about the flavors of Thanksgiving, I decided to make another one for our Homesick Texan party and take a photograph before I let the kids eat it.

They reached for it immediately. But I said, patiently, as I moved toward the door where the light was best: “Hold on, kids. I have to take a photograph of this cake before we can eat it.” Lucy nodded. She’s used to this. Raena gave me quite the glare, immediately translatable to, “What the heck are you talking about, woman? Give me some cake.”

I made them wait. At first, I asked them to move their hands away, out of the photo. Then, I realized, that was the photo.

Light ready, everything set, I stood above them with the phone, waiting. “Okay, you guys. Go.”

Hands dove and grabbed. Slices of cake moved toward mouths. Crumbs on the floor.

I stopped taking photos and passed around the cake to the adults. For a few moments, a few lovely moments, there was absolute silence in the room.

And then the mayhem began again, with small voices shouting out thank you, and a couple of them saying, “I want another piece!” The adults said how much they loved the cake. Kids peeled away from us and ran outside to fight over the swing again.

38 comments on “kabocha squash cake

  1. Fuji Mama

    What a fun image! I love how I felt like I knew half of the story before even reading your post. I didn’t know it was possible for one cake to have so many of my all-time favorite foods represented: kabocha (I’m a SLAVE to kabocha), chevre, saigon cinnamon, Chinese 5-spice powder…um, yes please!! Cannot wait to try this one out on my family.

  2. kamran siddiqi

    Shauna, this cake is absolutely brilliant. I know what I’m baking Sunday morning! I must also add how much I love that Lu already knows the deal with the photos. She’s one smart cookie! 🙂

  3. Joanne

    Cake with goat cheese! Hello! I just know I’m going to like this. Now if only I could find a kabocha squash at the market. I’ve seen every kind of squash except that one.

  4. charlotte au chocolat

    Sounds wonderful! I just roasted an eight pound (!) pumpkin, and was thinking of making muffins with some of the puree, when your post popped into my reader. I have a log of chevre languishing in the fridge- so this is just perfect!

  5. Kris

    Kabocha is my favorite squash of all time and I’ve learned that when it’s well-roasted, even the peel is soft enough to eat. I usually puree the whole thing (minus the stiff knobby parts), which makes for an even more brilliant orange color, and very likely more nutrients included.

  6. Mira

    Longtime lurker, first time poster. This looks so delicious, I just HAVE to make it, pronto! I will be making my own squash-puree, ready-made is not easily available in The Netherlands. I think I’ll substitute the psyllium and baking soda with baking powder.

    And Shauna, just wanted to add – your site rocks. Your joy for life is contagious!

  7. gluten free gift

    Wondering if you could use ricotta instead of goat in this (we buy some locally made – and always too much… so good!) – perhaps too wet? Like the integration of psyllium too. The little hand image around the cake is fantastic!

  8. sarah

    Just lovely. I love the picture of tiny grabby hands.
    I bought a kabocha with dreams of dessert flitting about. Now I know it was for this cake!

  9. Michelle @ Turning Over a New Leaf

    Good job on working on eliminating starches! I’m working on that myself. In fact, I’ve been trying to simplify my gluten-free baking altogether with fewer overall flours, gums, and starches. Just yesterday I made snickerdoodles using 100% sorghum flour. 100%! And they turned out wonderfully!

    Chevre in place of eggs. I’m going to have to try that!

  10. paisleyapron

    I adore the picture of the hands reaching for the cake. It cracks me up that your pantry was out of eggs but you just so happened to have goat cheese. That would never happen in my house. 😉 Necessity is the mother of invention, huh? Thanks for a beautiful recipe that we can make this week and hopefully will become a new tradition for us too.

  11. Laura


    I am new to gluten free cooking. I am beginning to understand that you need a mixture of flours but do not know enough yet of how each acts, or tastes. Could I have the exact amounts of the flours that you used for this cake?

    Thank you for your site; it’s very helpful and hope-filled for those of us who are new to gluten free lifestyle.

  12. Jenn Sutherland

    It’s official. I’ve joined you in the ranks of the egg allergic (+ corn and soy) …and like you, I’m embracing the change as another step to improving my health, and am looking forward to another challenge in the kitchen. This cake will definitely be on the table for Thanksgiving – and I might just bake up a “trial run” tonight…these things should be thoroughly tasted – I mean tested – before sharing with the family! 🙂

  13. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction

    Everything about this post is brilliant, Shauna! Love the cake and the story you told leading up to it. And, I especially love that first photo with all of the little hands. You are absolutely right, that was the photo!

  14. Kimberly

    Oh, I love kabocha! This cake looks absolutely amazing, and I can’t wait to try it. I have a lot of friends who don’t eat eggs, so this will be much appreciated!

  15. Mindy

    I loved this from the first moment I saw the picture and couldn’t wait to try it. I could practically smell the spices wafting up from that picture! After having made it once, I believe that this recipe is VERY forgiving. Here’s what I did:

    Although I’ve been dairy-free for 2 years, I recently tested goat milk products vs. cow’s milk. Although I’m still lactose intolerant (very mild by comparison to 5 years ago!), I’m no longer casein intolerant. I used goat milk butter supplemented by a few grams of coconut milk butter (I ran out as I used the rest in another recipe; this browned up nicely. In the interests of a rotation diet, I would love to try it with all coconut milk butter just to see if you can still brown it and get that nutty flavor. I plan on trying the brown butter technique with a new pumpkin pie recipe that I love (eggless and with goat milk products
    for the dairy, gelatin for thickening, and a gluten free ginger snap crust).

    Since I didn’t have any squash on hand, I used canned pumpkin instead of the home-roasted kabocha squash.

    My flour mix (since I’m grain free): 100 grams of quinoa flour, 50 grams of amaranth flour, 20 grams of buckwheat flour (it aids in the gel effect, as does the amaranth, but I don’t like the grittiness of the buckwheat flour). I’m sure that you could reverse the amounts of quinoa and amaranth flours but amaranth is even more expensive than quinoa. I’ve used a kitchen scale for baking for years, even before going gluten free 2 years ago, and it’s perfect for gluten free baking. As long as you have an amount of flour, by weight, you can mix and match whatever you like. As a matter of fact, the next time I make this, I plan on using all quinoa flour to see what difference, if any, it makes on the texture. I also need to experiment with grinding the buckwheat flour a little finer myself to see if I like it better.

    My batter was a LOT fluffier than Shauna’s description (perhaps I mixed it longer?) and completely homogeneous (no lumps, no separation) so I checked at 40 min. instead of 45 and it was done. The toothpick will be wet but shouldn’t have any crumbs on it.

    I greased my pan (9 in. springform pan) with Spectrum palm shortening and dusted it with quinoa flour.

    I didn’t measure the raw sugar sprinkled on top, just sprinkled until it looked right. My raw sugar doesn’t have large crystals but it still turned out with a nice crispy top layer.

    I didn’t have psyllium husk on hand (and it’s from corn, I think, so I can’t have it anyway). I had planned to add rice bran but forgot to pick some up. Besides, I really need to stay grain free.

      1. Mindy

        Ack! You’re right about the psyllium! Hmmm…..wonder why I got the impression it was corn/corn-related. I’ll have to try it with the added fiber and see what it does to the texture.

        Since I made (and consumed!) that cake, I’ve been dreaming up ways to modify it. It struck me that it seems to be the perfect cake for use as a base for other flavors: zucchini, carrot, chocolate, maple…..

        Yikes! My mouth is watering now. lol…..

  16. amy

    Thank you for the reminder to brown your butter! Fantastic. Now the cake: I can’t say mine was a success, which seemed odd. The batter was thick-ish, with flecks of labneh in it (Israeli yogurt cheese–had a bit in the fridge that was about the same consistency as chevre), and tasted fabulous, especially with some chopped pecans tossed on top. I cooked it and cooked it…and the middle never set. It was sort of like a Dutch pancake when it came out of the oven around the 70-minute mark–a bit of a chewy crust around the edges, but sunken and soft in the middle. It didn’t taste all that great then, but you know what? It was great the next morning. Browned butter & Chinese 5-spice? Yes, please. I’m going to play with this a bit more and see if I can get your results next time (maybe add an egg? Heresy, I know…).

    1. shauna

      Go ahead and add an egg! I think that the labneh might have been too different from the chevre. The one we use is super soft and fresh. Try the chevre next time too. (3 oz of chevre and 1 egg?) Our sunk in the middle a little too, but not like a Dutch pancake! But if it taste great, doesn’t really matter, right?

  17. Sophie

    This recipe looks fantastic! It will be making an appearance at thanksgiving. I’ve never used psyllium while baking before, and have a question about the difference between psyllium husk v. psyllium powder. Is it completely unforgivable to use powder instead of the husk, or does it make a considerable difference in texture/quality? (Is it glaringly obvious that I accidentally bought psyllium powder at the store…?) Thanks!

  18. shelleyorama

    you are always 3 1/2 steps ahead of me. it’s SO handy ! 8D

    me too on limiting starches. recently starch elimination sent me scrambling to squash for my carbs. i had never been very squashy before, but now post-squash I can’t think why not. totally squashy now! unsquashy me must have been crazy.

    anyhoo, i just tried kabocha 3 days ago & think it is magnificent. i was fork-mashing it into a custard (highly recommended btw) when I thought to myself, really I did : “that looks EXACTLY like cake batter!” & then “surely someone smarter than me has already thought of this.” light bulb ? google ? psychic shauna had already thought of it.

    translation : thanks !!!

  19. Anna Stavinoha

    Shauna, the cake looks wonderful – it is on my lets-try-it list! I also want to hear more about the homesick Texan group, as my husband and I moved to Oregon five years ago ( to fulfill a long-time dream), from Houston. We both lived in Austin for many years, too.

  20. Rowan

    I made this cake for our extended family gathering at New Years and it was a BIG hit. So delicious! I desperately want to make it again, but unfortunately I now have to be dairy free for the foreseeable future.

    Do you happen to have any idea whether you can bake with cashew cheese (or another nut)? I’ve been trying to come up with a substitute for the goat cheese and I’ve run out of ideas! I’d just experiment, but I’ve been hoarding the very last of my winter CSA’s kabocha squash puree in the freezer for this cake.

    Thanks for such a delicious recipe! I really do think about it almost every week. 🙂

Comments are closed