A Twist on Carrots and Cakes

31 Jan

Dear Becky,

It is January in Minnesota.  The streets are lined with ice, four-foot tall snow banks loom over every corner and as the snow turns from white to yellow to stagnant-pollution-colored, it has been increasingly difficult to venture outside.  Local businesses see a huge dip in commerce this time of year as more and more people stay inside rather than suit up against the elements.  Farmers markets have shut down, local produce can only be found in one’s own freezer and we Minnesotans begin craving homemade soups, fresh salads, raw fruits and the little bit of extra heat created by turning on the oven.  My kitchen, for one, has seen a marked increase in delicious soups, salads, casseroles, cookies and cakes in the past few months.  Below are my most recent baking adventures.

I threw my friend Dan a birthday party this weekend, mostly as an excuse to  go bowling, drink gin and tonics and bake cakes! I thought of doing a carrot cake and a flourless chocolate cake because, quite frankly, they are my favorite.  However, when I brought this up to my culinary partner-in-crime Lindsey, she suggested we bake a parsnip spice cake with ginger cream cheese frosting.  At first, I was skeptical.  It took me a few minutes to wrap my head around the idea of parsnips in a dessert, but through a combination of Lindsey’s insistence that it was amazing and the flexibility of my imagination, I became quite excited about the idea.  I mean, parsnips are just like carrots, only a bit more flavorful.  And really, who can say no to ginger cream cheese frosting?

Parsnip Spice Cake with Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

It turns out that the cake is amazing.  Unlike carrot cake, where the carrot flavor gets lost in the mix, parsnip cake has a distinct but subtle parsnip flavor.  This recipe is particularly delicious because the cake itself isn’t particularly sweet, but the sweetness and spice of the frosting balance really well with the cake to make it nearly impossible to stop gorging yourself on it.  It is a really easy recipe and, like most carrot cakes, acts as much like a sweet bread batter as it does a cake batter.  As long as you follow the recipe and don’t over-mix the cake, it is pretty hard to go wrong.

The flourless chocolate cake recipe is a bit more finicky but actually really simple and totally worth the hassle involved in mixing it.  I mean, it only calls for five ingredients, one of which is water!

I fell in love with flourless chocolate cake years ago when I first discovered it at a local cafe.  Being myself adverse to chocolate cakes in general, I was surprised to find that flourless chocolate cake is, in fact, my favorite dessert in the whole wide world.  To all you chocolate lovers who, like me, dislike chocolate cakes, I highly recommend this recipe.  It is more of a custard than a cake, more like fudge than like the crappy instant box cakes we all remember too well from childhood.  Instead of being moist and spongy, this cake is dense, rich and decadent.  It goes really well with coffee and the next time I make it, I plan to substitute half the water with coffee to bring out even more of the dark, amazing, chocolaty flavor.

At the party we served both of the cakes below.  The vote was split down the middle on what cake was most delicious.  It did seem, however, that those of us drinking coffee preferred the flourless chocolate cake, whereas the non coffee drinkers tended to prefer the parsnip cake.  Obviously, the cakes are completely different from each other and nearly impossibly to compare.  All present agreed (at least to my face) that both cakes were absolutely amazing.

Parsnip Cake with Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon ground fresh nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil or vegetable oil
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
2 cups (packed) shredded peeled parsnips (about 3 large)
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped


4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
3 cups (about 12 ounces) powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.Grease a 9X13 baking pan.   Add all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and stir them together.  In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, vanilla, milk and oil (we used melted butter instead).  Pour the wet mixture over the dry ingredients.  Fold together gently, being sure not to over mix the cake.   Stir in the grated parsnips and walnuts. Transfer the batter into the greased pan and put it in the oven.  Bake for about 25 minutes, or until done.

Beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in fresh ginger, a pinch of salt and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until frosting is smooth. Spread over cake. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

Flourless Chocolate Cake

mmm... Flourless Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
18 oz good quality dark chocolate
1 lb (two sticks) unsalted butter
6 large eggs

Necessary tools

Electric hand mixer
Ten inch circular spring-form pan
A roasting pan that the spring form pan can fit into
Aluminum foil
First, dissolve the sugar into the water in a medium sauce pan on medium heat, stirring frequently.  Then, melt the chocolate in a double boiler.  Immediately transfer the warm, melted chocolate and the sugar water into a large mixing bowl.  Cut the butter into 1 TBS chunks and add them to the chocolate one at a time, using an electric hand mixer to ensure that the butter mixes into the chocolate evenly.  Once all the butter is mixed, add the eggs one at a time, again mixing them into the batter evenly.  As soon as all of the eggs are mixed (don’t let the cake batter sit or the fat and eggs will begin to separate out), pour mixture into agreased ten inch circular spring-form pan.   You may want to wrap the outside of the pan with aluminum foil to ensure that no water seeps into the cake.  Place the cake pan into a hot water bath (we used a roasting pan) so that the water reaches about half way up the sides of the pan.  Bake the cake for 45 minutes at 300F.  Once the cake is done, let it sit in the fridge overnight.


One Response to “A Twist on Carrots and Cakes”

  1. Bec January 31, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    Dear Jess,
    Thanks so much for this winter remedy. Some prescribe vitamin D and caster oil, but I think everyone will agree that cake is the more delicious tonic. And as one who dislikes chocolate cake, you’ve convinced me to give yours a try – I’ll keep you posted. Only wish I could have enjoyed it in your kitchen rather than mine. xoxo

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