One Easter while I was living in New York City, I hosted brunch for my friends. Since the traditional dessert in my family was carrot cake, I decided to offer it as well. Although I was feeling creative, I thought it would be fun to take the carrot skins and use them for decoration.
The orange streaks actually added a pop of color and certainly let my guests know what flavor the cake had underneath the thick layer of white creamy frosting. While I have to admit that their flavor was far from amazing and the carrots weren’t very sweet, the skins I used as a side dish tasted like dirt. It wasn’t a success.
It’s been a long time since I’ve tried carrot cake again, and while I probably still have this recipe somewhere (minus the carrot skins, of course), I was starting to think of a lighter version. As the days get warmer, the heaviness of a cream cheese frosting didn’t seem all that appealing.
Sure, the cheese has a certain flavor, but I still wanted something that could be enjoyed for breakfast, as a snack, or with dessert. I could never have a piece of cake covered in cream cheese in the morning as the richness would put me to sleep.
The carrot cake I grew up with was, in my opinion, the classic version of the dish. It’s a dark cake flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg. Brown sugar is used along with white sugar to sweeten the cake and of course the carrots are there for both their moisture and natural sweetness.
Much like other sweets made from savory fruits and vegetables, like zucchini muffins and sweet potato pie, carrot cake is a surprise in taste if you’ve never eaten it before. In fact, the only hint of carrot is the orange flecks that dot that delicate dark crumb.
While researching the origins of carrot cake, I learned that carrot cakes have a long history. It was also a popular dessert in France and colonial America. Well, those early versions didn’t use cream cheese frosting. Even in the early 1900s, the cream cheese frosting was still missing, but a light dusting of powdered sugar was sprinkled over each slice.
Another common ingredient in these earlier recipes was orange juice. Today’s cakes often pair with crushed pineapple, I figured the zesty sweetness of orange-citrus would actually make a good partner, so I decided to use them with some brewed coffee to get more of the warm tones of cinnamon and nutmeg to highlight .
Since I skipped cream cheese, I skipped eggs. This would make the cake vegan, meaning it could be accessible to more people. My Crazy Apple Pie was a good guide to making an eggless carrot cake, and indeed, the final version was light, tender, and moist.
To keep it simple and accessible for all times of the day, I made my carrot cake in a pan. This means you can serve it for breakfast, as a snack between meals, but also as the icing on the cake of a great meal and it would suit all events.
And borrowing from the powdered sugar from previous recipes, I made a powdered sugar glaze using orange juice and zest. It added just the right amount of sweetness and spiciness, and the orange zest gave the cake a nice sparkle.
Carrot Pan Cake
For the cake:
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 Cup granulated sugar
- ½ Cup Brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon Cinammon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 5 tablespoon safflower oil
- ½ Cup brewed coffee
- ½ Cup orange juice
- 1 Cup grated carrot
- 1/2 Cup chopped pecans
For the glaze:
- ½ Cup powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon fresh pressed orange juice
- 1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
- 1/4 teaspoon Cinammon
Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly grease an 8-inch cast iron skillet or casserole dish.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
Add the vinegar, vanilla, oil, coffee, and orange juice to the bowl and stir until combined and a dark batter forms. It will be slightly bubbly, and that’s good!
Stir in the carrots and pecans, then pour the batter into the prepared skillet or casserole dish.
Bake the cake, uncovered, in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until browned on top and an inserted knife comes out clean.
Meanwhile, for the frosting, mix together the powdered sugar, orange juice, orange zest and cinnamon. After the cake has rested for 10 minutes but is still warm, spread the frosting over the cake.
Serve the cake immediately or at room temperature. It also keeps covered for 3 days.