I don’t typically like carrot cake. It’s too sweet for my taste and traditional recipes call for an amount of oil and sugar that make me wince. I have made it, though: once as part of a trio of cakes that my boss commissioned from me for a birthday party (I did a tall and skinny carrot cake, a fat and luscious German chocolate cake, and a New York-style cheesecake) and again this past Easter when we invited friends over for dinner. It turns out that my husband loves carrot cake, prompting me to serve it following the leg of lamb (!) I bathed in olive oil and rosemary in a nod to my Greek roots. When his birthday occurred in May I decided to revisit that recipe and make it better. Inspired by a gluten-free recipe from Jamie Oliver I think I succeeded. My updated version calls for whole grain flour, olive oil, and an entire apple peeled and grated and stirred into the batter to compensate for the lower sugar component. And it really works: this cake tastes like a familiar carrot cake but it’s one that won’t leave you with a sugar crash an hour after you eat a slice.
This recipe is easily adapted to be gluten-free with a quick mix of gluten-free oat and sweet white rice flours. If you don’t care for whole wheat flour, try spelt or just all-purpose. Dairy-free instructions are included in the head notes and there’s actually no dairy called for at all in the cake, just in the icing. Another bonus is that cake part is heavy on the carrots and fruit and lighter on the oil and sweetener (to do away with the refined sugar altogether use honey or maple syrup). Grated fresh ginger gives a slight kick and a touch of warming cinnamon contrasts nicely with the hint of apple.
I may never love carrot cake but this version is encouraging me to come around to it. I have to be honest, however — a chocolate cake with peanut butter butter cream is always going to be up there in my top three (top one?). I’m already plotting it for my next birthday which, despite my best efforts at pretending it isn’t so, is looming on the horizon in a few short months. Thoughts of cake, then, will distract me.
To make this cake totally dairy-free – and to make your life simpler – dust the top with powdered sugar and sprinkle with the toasted walnuts if you like. If you want an icing, halve the recipe for vanilla buttercream from wedding cake sample and substitute dairy-free margarine and milk for the butter and milk.
Makes 8-10 reasonable servings.
2 large eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar or 1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup olive (or vegetable) oil
1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (or 1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large apple
2 large carrots
zest and juice of 1 orange
For the icing:
1/2 cup unsalted butter or dairy-free margarine, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup cream cheese
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
optional: splash maple syrup
Heat the oven to 375ºF. Grease a springform cake pan with olive oil (I used a 7-inch cake pan but you could use a 9-inch as well), line the base with parchment paper, and lightly dust the sides with flour.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the sugar and oil and whisk to combine.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and spices. Add dry mixture to the wet and fold together. Peel and grate the apple (core and all but pick out the seeds) and carrots, then stir into the batter along with the orange zest and juice.
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan, place on the middle shelf of the oven for 30 to 35 minutes, and bake or until golden and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cake cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, the turnout onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the icing. Beat the butter, powdered sugar and most of the orange zest until pale and smooth, then stir in the cream cheese (and maple syrup if using) until just combined.
Once cooled, frost the cake with the icing. Sprinkle walnuts on top.