That ripe avocado on the counter doesn't generally inspire thoughts of dessert. Guacamole, yes; cake, well, no.
A few of these rapidly softening fruits got me pondering the sweet potential of this usually savory star. And then I remembered an interesting recipe from my California baking days, a recipe I'd stashed away in the "someday I'll try this" file.
What piqued my interest back then was that brash, bold, fresh avocado stood front and center as the main ingredient. Gone were the usual trappings of cake: frosting, filling and a standard flavor theme. I admired that gutsy recipe.
Before we get into how an avocado cake might taste, we have to get over the hurdle of that signature green color. Conventional baking wisdom advises us to use green and blue colors sparingly, lest our dessert be deserted.
That original recipe called for a full cup of mashed avocado; that's a lot of green goop to stir into cake batter. The yellow of egg yolks, however, tempers the green hue baking the batter into a bold gold cake.
On the flavor front we find no such challenge; avocado brings mellow flavor and smooth texture to recipes. This characteristic is the only reason I pulled the avocado cake recipe out of the archives. That smooth buttery essence offers a powerful boost to a cake's moistness.
One bite of my test cake and another revelation hit the taste buds: I could reduce the butter by half and keep the cake's luscious moistness intact. Unique among fruit, avocado contains fat, yet no cholesterol or sodium. As a bonus, avocado boasts one-fourth the fat of butter along with an impressive list of nutrients. Not bad for an ingredient seldom on the baking radar.
That original recipe, dating to 1960s Southern California, listed cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, dates and raisins. After my trial cake, this array of flavors and textures distracted from avocado's best trait: its rich taste. I decided to hold the spices and sideline any dried fruits.
These changes reset the spotlight squarely upon avocado's mellow taste, yet the ultra moist texture needed balance. I found that with toasted walnuts. Walnuts' savory notes complemented the buttery avocado and its subdued color fell in line with my gold tone goal for the final baked crumb.
Thick and smooth, this unusual cake batter required a background flavor to balance the powerful richness of avocado. With its natural tangy essence, buttermilk usually bakes a tender cake. The original recipe called for only 1/3 cup buttermilk, hardly enough to accomplish this culinary task.
Fresh lime juice emerged as the natural choice to pair with avocado. I created homemade buttermilk by combining regular milk with fresh squeezed lime juice. Set aside to culture for a few minutes and voila, buttermilk with a flavor boost.
The avocado became indistinguishable in the finished cake and exceeding my expectations. My husband, always the good sport, never suspected the healthful addition and loved the moist texture.
This adventurous baker discovered a great new cake, and a great new ingredient.
• Annie Overboe, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, lives in Villa Park. Send questions or comments to email@example.com.