How to Bake Healthier and Tastier Than Ever Before

Genevieve Ko, author of Better Baking: Wholesome Ingredients, Delicious Desserts, joins the Clever Cookstr to dish on baking healthier (and tastier!) treats with alternative flours, good fats, and fruits and vegetables. With relentless recipe testing, Genevieve has formulas for better baking this season and all year long.

Kara Rota
4-minute read
Episode #130

Better Baking integrates ingredients like whole grains, healthy fats, and nuts and seeds into baked goods. Not just because they're healthier—because things taste better. Genevieve says that this book is all about deliciousness. She set out to make the tastiest desserts she could, and in doing so, discovered that they were most often made with wholesome ingredients. Genevieve also incorporates seasonality into her baking, using seasonal produce in desserts for depth of flavor. Try the two-ingredient sweet potato frosting below for an example of Genevieve's innovative approach. 

School-Party Sheet Cake 

Makes one 9-by-13 inch cake 

When I bring treats to my girls’ school parties, I don’t want them to be mortified by their mom’s weird food—nor do I want to turn their classmates into hyperactive rascals with empty calories. That means something that looks familiar but tastes better than the original. Enter this easy sheet cake. Zucchini keeps the cocoa–chocolate chip cake extra moist, and sweet potato swirls into a frosting as creamy as that canned stuff, with far more flavor (and no added sugar). Dark chocolate—semisweet or a lower-percentage bittersweet—makes the cake luxurious and sophisticated enough for adults. Kids may ask about the bits of green zucchini in the cake. I’m not a believer in sneaking in veggies, so I tell them. Even if they balk, they still gobble up the cake once they take a bite or hear their friends raving. Party on!

Chocolate Zucchini Cake 

1 pound (453 g) zucchini (about 4 small), trimmed 

2½ cups (360 g) white whole wheat flour 

½ cup (48 g) unsweetened cocoa powder 

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon 

1  teaspoon baking soda 

½ teaspoon baking powder 

½ teaspoon salt 

1½ cups (312 g) sugar 

1  cup (245 g) buttermilk, at room temperature 

½ cup (112 g) grapeseed or other neutral oil

3  large eggs, at room temperature

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract 

1  cup (180 g) semisweet chocolate chips

Sweet Potato Frosting 

1  (15-ounce; 425-g) can pure sweet potato puree 

10 ounces (283 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (1⅔ cups)

To make the cake: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325F. Coat a 9-by-13-by2-inch cake pan or dish with nonstick cooking spray. If you’re using a metal pan, line the bottom and sides with foil or parchment paper and spray again. 

Set a box grater on some paper towels and grate the zucchini on the large holes. Spread it out on the paper towels, top with more paper towels, and press gently to remove excess moisture.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk the sugar, buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a medium bowl until very smooth. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Whisk, gradually drawing in the dry ingredients, just until smooth. Fold in the zucchini and chocolate chips with a silicone spatula until evenly incorporated. Spread the batter in an even layer in the prepared pan.

Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top springs back a little when lightly pressed with a fingertip, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Meanwhile, make the frosting: Bring the sweet potato puree to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Stir until smooth. Cool, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is at room temperature and the consistency of canned frosting. It should hold soft peaks when you lift the spatula from the pan but not be stiff. Spread the frosting all over the top of the cake, creating swoops and swirls.

Make Ahead: The cake is best the day it’s made, when the chocolate chips are still a bit melty and the frosting is soft, but it will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.


–Use unsweetened pure canned sweet potato puree; it’s usually stocked near the canned pumpkin. Freshly cooked and pureed sweet potato is too granular and thick.

-Chocolate with a cacao content between 55 and 60% makes the frosting perfectly sweet and smooth.

-A glass or ceramic dish is nice for a sheet cake. Bake the cake in the greased dish, cool completely, and frost. You can cut it into pieces right in the dish. I have a Pyrex dish that comes with a stiff plastic lid, making it simple to tote to parties at school or a friend’s house.

-If you plan to cut your cake ahead and place the pieces on a serving platter, use a metal pan. Generally I prefer straight-sided metal cake pans, which produce clean edges. Line the bottom and sides with foil or parchment paper and grease the foil or paper. Once the cake has cooled completely, lift it out using the foil, then frost and cut it. To get perfect slices, you can freeze the frosted cake until firm before slicing, then bring it to room temperature before serving. 

Listen to our interview with Genevieve Ko in the top right hand player, or on iTunesStitcher, and Spotify (simply search the mobile app!).  Don't forget to sign up for the forthcoming Clever Cookstr newsletter, full of tips and tricks from the kitchens of the world's best chefs.

Excerpted from BETTER BAKING, (c) 2016 by Genevieve Ko. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Rux Martin Books. All rights reserved.

School-Party Sheet Cake Image © Romulo Yanes

About the Author

Kara Rota

Kara Rota headed children’s programming at Chicago’s Green City Market and studied food politics at Sarah Lawrence College. Kara has been a featured speaker at numerous venues including Food Book Fair, the Roger Smith Food Conference, and the Brooklyn Food Conference. She has written about food for Irish America Magazine, West Side Rag, Recipe Relay, and Food + Tech Connect, and is the former Director of Editorial & Partnerships at Cookstr.com.