Butternut Squash Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

Transformations take place within us every day. Most are so small they are unnoticeable, making tiny changes that move us forward in subtle ways. The large transformations are the moments we don't expect, moments that burst through our minds and our hearts, stealing the air in our lungs with sudden awareness and understanding of ourselves.

Transformations like the moment I realized I was capable of falling in love, as I stood on the Rialto Bridge in Venice, holding hands with a boy and overlooking the dark, moonlit water. The moment I realized a fierce independence lay inside me, as I cut through rough waves, grasping tightly onto a windsurfing board. The moment I realized I could write my own future, as I sat in an uncomfortable office chair, blinking at a bright computer screen full of numbers and symbols.

Transformations move mountains within our souls.

Books are one of the few ways to live a thousand different lifetimes. Each story I hear, whether read or told, opens a window into a new domain of different perspectives on myself and others. Books have the power to change me in both the small and big ways.

When I first encountered John Green's book, The Fault in Our Stars, I found myself sitting on my bed, clutching the book between my hands with a unique desperation. I stayed up late into the night as my eyes traveled over the words; I couldn't read fast enough to reach the next sentence and I couldn't read slow enough to allow myself to fully savor the moment. I laughed and cried simultaneously, my tears spilling onto the page, my heart full of emotion. When I closed the pages, I spent a rare moment in reflection.

The book changed me in that moment. Though I may never pinpoint the ways or means of the change, I could feel the transformation within me—real, raw, and pure.

Little moments are a minor key to the major chords in our lives. The beautiful kindness of a stranger who helps me pick up a pile of dropped books as I apologize for my clumsy nature. The rush of positive emotion brought on by a childhood smell I had forgotten existed. A message from a friend that arrives at precisely the right moment it needed to be heard.

The power of a revolutionary moment, whether large or small, should never be underestimated. An unassuming piece of cake on a dreary autumn afternoon can provide immeasurable comfort to a weary soul.

Butternut Squash Cake with Cream Cheese Icing is an autumn-inspired celebration. The cake is made with a heavy share of butternut squash puree spiced with cinnamon and a little orange zest. The cake is surprisingly moist and pleasantly dense. Butternut squash in a cake may sound like an unusual choice, but the squash is lovely in its sweetened form. The tang of the cream cheese icing really pulls all of the flavors together in an unexpected, but enticing manner.

One Year Ago: Apple Cinnamon Cake
Two Years Ago: Baked Apple Chips

Butternut Squash Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

Yields 9-inch double layer cake

Butternut Squash Cake
4 large eggs
1 2/3 cup (374 grams) granulated sugar
1 cup (237 ml) vegetable oil
2 cups (about 490 grams) butternut squash puree**
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease two 9-inch baking pans. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, oil, butternut squash puree, orange zest, and vanilla until well mixed. Mix in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt until smooth.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool in pans for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

**To make butternut squash puree, roast a butternut squash in a 400 degree F (205 degrees C) oven for 25 minutes, or until fork tender. Peel the squash and place into a food processor (or blender) and process until smooth. Drain out any excess moisture.

Cream Cheese Icing
8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 57 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups (500 grams) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon (or more) cream, if necessary

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in the salt and vanilla. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar. If frosting is too soft, add more powdered sugar until it reaches a spreadable consistency. Likewise, if the frosting is too stiff, add cream until it reaches a spreadable consistency.