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Spiced Squash Cake with Pistachios, a Healthier Option

Spiced Squash Cake with Pistachios, a Healthier Option

How about a healthier squash cake recipe today? If you want a healthier cake option this one has loads of good stuff in it to qualify for the title: lots of squash, olive oil, bran and pistachios, all of them packed with nutrients and vitamins.

Autumn and winter are blessed with such lovely produce as squashes. Nowadays there are so many different types in most places it’s hard to pick a favourite. But the kuri squash is my absolute favourite for making cakes.

Kuri squash is small and round with a reddish rind.

In the past few years I’ve developed a huge taste for squash (see my squash rice here). Now I put it in rice, roast it with meat and chicken and make cakes and desserts with it. The cake I made with the pretty kuri squash and pistachios was just fabulous. I was asked to make it again by resident critics and my friends at work gave it a thumbs up too.

You don’t have to look for kuri though. Any type of squash such as butternut squash and winter squash (pictures below) will work very nicely in this recipe.

Winter squash has greyish rind.
Butternut squash is the most common type of squash and available almost year round.
Butternut squash is the most common type of squash and available almost year round.

Most recipes for squash cake call for puréed squash. I only very briefly steam grated squash with a little amount of water or use mashed leftover baked squash. The grater attachment of a food processor will make grating really easy. I’ve used raw grated squash in cakes with very good results too.

Finely grated squash.
Finely grated squash.

If you are familiar with my recipes you’ve probably noticed that I try to make my food and cakes a bit healthier by tweaking recipes. I usually do this for cakes by reducing the amount of sugar, using more fruit and vegetables in the batter, adding bran to the flour as well as using olive oil instead of butter or vegetable oil. A while back I posted my recipe for my Saffron and Walnut Courgette (Zucchini) Cake which was made much healthier and lighter in the same way as this one.

Don’t be alarmed by the amount of spices in my squash cake recipe. I use much more in my cakes than is usually recommended in other recipes. Cinnamon makes the cake smell and taste heavenly and may also help make this a “healthier” cake option because it has been proved to considerably cut blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

I have another reason for putting so much spices in the cake too. According to traditional Persian herbal lore spices such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, allspice, ginger and nutmeg are “warm” in nature. Squashes and pumpkin on the other hand are considered “cold”. The perfect dish according to this ancient lore is one in which a balance is struck between “warm” and “cold” ingredients. It’s quite an interesting concept and very hard to explain in scientific terms.

The pistachios and sugar on top are quite optional. You can substitute chopped walnuts or almonds or skip both sugar and nuts and still have a delicious cake.

Sprinkling nuts and a bit of coarse sugar on top of the batter creates a delicious sweet and crunchy layer.
Sprinkling nuts and a bit of coarse sugar on top of the batter creates a delicious sweet and crunchy layer.

One last thing: This cake improves in flavour after a day or two so it’s a good idea to make it ahead and let the flavours to meld together and mature.

To make this lovely cake you will need the following ingredients:

  • 250 g grated squash
  • 300 g sugar
  • 300 ml olive oil
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 230 g flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 120 g oat or wheat bran
  • 40 g shelled unsalted pistachios, chopped
  • 2 tbsp coarse brown sugar (white is OK)
  • Icing sugar to dust


  1. Put the grated squash in a saucepan and add 2-3 tablespoons of hot water. Cook covered with a lid on low heat for five minutes or until all the water is absorbed and the squash is a little soft. Stir once during cooking. Let cool.
  2. Line the bottom of a 25 cm cake tin with baking paper (springform tin is best). No need to oil.
  3. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F.
  4. Put the flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda, bran and salt in a bowl and mix well with a whisk or fork.
  5. Put the sugar in another bowl and add the olive oil. Beat with a hand mixer on medium speed until the sugar is completely dissolved (about three minutes).
  6. Add the eggs to the sugar one by one and beat about a minute on medium speed after adding each egg.
  7. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the egg mixture and beat on low speed to incorporate. Add the rest of the flour mix in two batches and beat to incorporate. Then beat the batter for 2 minutes on low speed.
  8. Add all of the squash to the batter and mix well.
  9. Pour the batter into the lined cake tin. Sprinkle the chopped pistachio on the batter. Sprinkle the coarse sugar on top of the pistachios. Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is browned and a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the tin for ten minutes.
  10. Use a wooden skewer to release the cake from the sides. Put a platter on top of the tin and invert the cake on the platter. Peel off the baking paper and turn the cake out on a cooling rack so the pistachios are on top. Let cool completely.
  11. Before serving put a paper doily or a cake cooling rack on top of the cake and dust it with icing sugar. Gently lift the doily or cooling rack to reveal your beautiful icing sugar pattern. Enjoy!

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