A Healthier Spiced Carrot Cake with Maple Orange Icing

Optional vegan, low fat and refined sugar free

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 I was craving carrot cake like a wild woman this week. Every day at uni I would walk past the cafe eyeing those dodgy wrapped carrot cake slices covered in buttercream and almost ALMOST  buy one. 

But I managed to hold out partly because they don’t use cream cheese in the frosting (who even are they?!) and partly because I had no money…

By the end of the week, it was carrot cake time. At first I was thinking to myself you can’t make that, you’ve already made a banana carrot cake to end all carrot cakes on this blog. It was mile high and adorned with chopped nuts and creamy ricotta frosting! But that was a carrot BANANA cake. Subtle difference my friends. And a very different recipe too!(Perfect for Easter!!)

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When I was first coming up with this recipe I mainly wanted a carrot and cinnamon centred vehicle to transport cream cheese frosting in my mouth. I looked at lots of recipes trying to gather together the best of all, and I couldn’t believe how unhealthy most carrot cake recipes are! For something made of carrots I was surprised.

Just to be clear, my definition of ‘healthy’ is definitely not low fat or low calorie! Wholemeal grains, real fruit and unprocessed sweeteners plus some natural fats from avocados and nuts are much more my scene. However I’m aware that some people want to have their cake and they want to eat the whole thing too, without spending an extra hour at the gym. So this is my fat-free (almost) and refined sugar free carrot cake!

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 Sweetened with maple syrup and the natural sugars of the carrots, this carrot has no butter or oil in it (none!). I was feeling daring so when the recipe called for ‘butter’ I just subbed in a whole load of buttermilk. The recipe is based on the Moosewood carrot cake recipe, which is already a very wholesome and tasty loaf to begin with. It came out so cinnamon scented and warm and delicious, I could not even deal. Carrot cake heaven. 

The best part of carrot cake is the icing (can I get an amen please) so I didn’t skimp on that. Instead of using low fat or substitute; the cream cheese is mixed with half ricotta, which is naturally low in fat and high in calcium and protein. Mixed with maple syrup and orange zest it was so delicious! I ate quite a bit of it with a spoon (shh). Topped with naturally delicious and healthy nuts, this cake is perfect for breakfast as well as the best dessert ever. 

Also vegan friends, I’ve given substitutions below for how to make the cake completely free of animal products. I’ve made the cake without eggs and buttermilk before and it worked well, but I haven’t tried it low fat so if you do try that method, tell me how it goes!!

One Year Ago: Sweet Plum Jam

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 Healthy Carrot Cake with Orange Maple Frosting: Adapted from here

1/2 cup maple syrup

3/4 cup buttermilk (or for vegan, sunflower oil or half oil half vegan yogurt)

2 eggs (for vegan, 2 tbsp chia seeds mixed well with 4 tbsp water)

1 finely zested orange

1/2 tsp each cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and 1/4 tsp allspice

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup wholemeal flour

1/2 cup plain flour

1 + 1/4 cup carrot, grated

Frosting:
250g each ricotta and cream cheese OR cashew/coconut cream for vegan
1 finely zested orange
1/3 cup maple syrup
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For the Cake: Preheat the oven to 180C (356F) and line a loaf tin with baking paper. Whisk the 2 eggs until pale and fluffy. Mix the remaining wet ingredients (buttermilk or oil, maple syrup) together well. Stir in the orange zest. Stir in the grated carrot. Sift the flours and baking powder, plus the spices. Stir the dry into the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Pour into tin and bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean.
For the icing, blend together all the ingredients well and ice the cake once completely cool. Top with chop nuts if you want!
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Banana and Fig + Carrot and Cinnamon Cupcakes

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 As you can see I made cupcakes. Lots and lots of cupcakes. My Mum is having an art exhibition tonight and guess who got asked to make the cakes! Some professional baker called Susan. Well you know what I told Susan? I said shove your fancy tarts up your jumper! She’s my Mum and Imma gonna make her cakes and they’re going to RULE. 

Last time I baked for an art show, things got very *tense* in the kitchen. Namely the cupcakes came out as dry, flat pancakes burnt on to the bottom of the muffin pan. And don’t even get me started on the chocolate icing that split and became a greasy ball of brown slime. That was a very stressful day for me. 

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 So today I thought I’d do a post on good ideas for party catering! Or maybe more of what are not good ideas for party baking, because I have had far more of those and can happily share them with you for future avoidance. 

Ok: the big kahuna of don’t do it in the realm of catering is…don’t try a recipe you’ve never made before!! Obvious you say? Not so obvious to me! Why did you choose five recipes you’d never seen before you may ask? Because I am an idiot. This time I chose trusty old timers from the archives. You may recognise the banana and fig cupcakes from this recipe. Just replace 150g of the pureed banana with pureed fresh figs. 

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 Tip number two: Don’t choose recipes that are really involved and require lots of washing up. For example eton mess cups. Delicious in theory! But so messy you will be throwing blueberries at your dog in frustration. Also the cream will need to be in the fridge until you’re literally ready to serve, so as a handy hint number 3 make sure there is a fridge at the venue beforehand. 

Tip number four: Choose cakes and slices that are naturally moist and longlasting. Little sponge cupcakes are so cute in theory but so dry and crumbly 24 hours later when they’ve been sitting in an air-conditioned room. The little carrot cakes I made today are from this recipe. I think you could take it to the beach for a day in the sun and it would still come home sticky and dense and perfect. 

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 Tip number 5: Choose a few dishes rather than a whole heap. I was originally going to also make a rhubarb and coconut crumble slice and a caramel slice and at one point even fairy cakes! But no one wants to spend the end of the night trying to pack boxes of uneaten cakes and take them home and eat them by yourself. 

Today I made brownies, these two sets of cupcakes, and a friend made berry friands. Something for everyone! Everybody is happy and no one has food poisoning from the cream in the eton mess cups. Perfecto. 

I made the same icing for both cupcakes: 500g (just shy of 1 pound) cream cheese, 225g (1/2 pound) mascarpone, 4 limes zested and juiced, plus 125g (4.5 ounces) icing sugar. Blend it all together and dollop on the cupcakes! Either keep them in the fridge or only ice them half an hour before serving. 

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Banana Carrot Cake with Ricotta Honey Frosting

Refined Sugar Free, Wholemeal, optional Vegan

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 Carrot cake revealed my baking dark side. Years ago in the era before I became obsessed with baking, my friend and I baked a carrot cake together. It went along fine until she tried to measure a tablespoon of baking powder instead of a teaspoon, and added the entire egg (shell and all!) into the mixing bowl. It ended with me standing on a stool holding a wooden spoon, dictating the recipe to her like a military general. 

I’m not proud of these memories. But I can accept that very occasionally, under stressful situations, I can become a little “tense” in the kitchen. I like to think I’ve improved with age, but I think it’s more just that now when cooking with friends, I don’t lift a finger to help. Lest the evil carrot cake dictator should emerge and take over and the wooden spoon make a second appearance. 

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Making this carrot cake was different to that first carrot cake for lots of reasons. For starters, I made it calmly and methodically with no shouting whatsoever! And the cake itself has had a makeover too. Instead of a traditional sugar filled dessert made with lots of eggs and butter, this cake is made entirely of natural and wholesome ingredients. Sweetened with agave nectar and mashed bananas, it is dense and fruity. Just how I like my carrot cakes! It’s studded with lots of nuts and raisins and bursting with cinnamon and nutmeg. 

But the best part by far is the icing. I made a version of the yogurt icing I topped my gluten free banana chai cupcakes with, substituting half the yogurt with ricotta. The result was a super creamy and light icing that tasted almost like creme fraiche. Scented with honey and dusted with crunchy nuts, this ended up as the best layer cake I think I’ve made so far. And by far the healthiest!

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 The recipe is adapted from this yummy carrot loaf from 101 cookbooks. I’ve been using this recipe for so long I don’t even read the recipe anymore. Over the years I’ve adapted it to be vegan (unless you ice it, obviously) and to suit whatever is on hand. Today I only had two carrots, so I increased the bananas by an extra half. I also stopped putting in the olive oil ever since I made Wholesome Carrot Muffins without it, and didn’t even notice the difference until I found the cup of oil the next day. 

This cake is great for special occasions and birthdays because it looks so festive and it lasts really well in the fridge. Perfect for Christmas season if you know what I’m saying! Start the icing the day before, but if you want to make a vegan version, maybe try a cashew cream or coconut topping. I’m working on a tofu icing to put on my next birthday cake, so keep updated!

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Banana Carrot Cake with Ricotta Frosting: Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1 cup mashed banana (about 3.5)

1.5 cups grated carrot (about 2)

60 ml (1/4 cup) agave nectar or runny honey

110 ml (1/2 cup) almond milk

2 tablespoons chia mixed with 4 tablespoons water to make a gel

45g (1/3 cup) raisins

45g (1/3 cup) chopped nuts and seeds (walnuts, almonds, pecans) 

365g (2 cups) wholemeal flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, ginger and allspice

 

Topping:

300g ricotta

300g yogurt

45ml (1/4 cup) runny honey

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Put the yogurt and ricotta in a cloth inside a sieve, and tie up the cloth in a bundle. Keep in the fridge for about 2-3 hours, to drain. 

Preheat oven to 170C (340F) and line two 20cm (8 inch) sandwich pans. Mix all the wet ingredients together well and sift in the flour and baking powder and spices. Mix well to combine. Pour into tins and bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden and cooked through. 

Mix the icing with the honey well while the cake is cooling. Chop up the nuts into small chunks, leaving some bigger. Place one piece of cake on a plate and spread half the icing in the middle. Spread to the edges and sprinkle on half the nuts. Place on the top layer, even side down, and spread the rest of the icing on top. Decorate with the nuts. Serves 8-10. 

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Hummingbird Maple Cake

Sugar and Butter Free

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 My little brother is a strange boy when it comes to food. When he was little whenever there was a food platter, I remember he would be the one reaching for the olives and sun-dried tomatoes, whilst all the other babies ate the jatz biscuits and cheese cubes. When we ate pasta he would refuse plain tomato sauce and cheddar cheese, but absolutely love marinara sauce full of squid and mussels with parmesan flakes. I knew for his twelfth birthday he wouldn’t want a plain chocolate or vanilla cake. That’s not his style. So I decided to try making a Hummingbird Cake, which is probably the coolest cake recipe I’ve ever read. 

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 It’s kind of like a carrot cake in that it has a cream cheese frosting and warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. But instead of carrot it’s filled with bananas and pineapple and sometimes passionfruit. I used this Valli Little recipe from Taste.com, changing things up to make it more my style of cake. Instead of butter there is oil and plain yogurt, and replacing the sugar is dates and maple syrup. I also used half wholemeal flour and changed up the icing to make it a little lighter. The result is a really cool cake! It’s so moist, and so flavoursome, and so cool. And my brother loved it, which is the ultimate test. 

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 Making this cake was actually really easy, although a little time consuming. For some ungodly reason I bought the ‘ringed’ pineapple instead of the ‘crushed’, meaning I had to do it myself. I literally looked at both tins and thought “crushing pineapple sounds fun”. What is wrong with me. The hard part came later though. As many know I am technologically challenged but today took that to all new extremes. To begin with I couldn’t even get the photos off my camera, then whenever I tried to move them from editing into a new folder they shrunk to 79 Ks! And then the editing I’d done all reversed, and then I deleted the folder they were all in, and now I have to put them on my desktop and upload them from Iphoto, so apologies for the complete lack of editing. Technologically. Challenged. Anyway hours of computer-ridden angst aside, in the end there was cake, and it was really good. So you should give it a try. And we should all leave photographing to the professionals. 

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 Hummingbird Maple Cake: Adapted from here

125g (1 cup, 4 ounces) self-raising flour

125g (1 scant cup, 4 ounces) wholemeal flour

60g (1/2 cup) walnuts

1.5 tsp cinnamon + 1/2 tsp nutmeg and ginger

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 bananas, mashed

100g (1/2 cup) dates, seeded and mashed (or blended)

30ml (2 tbsp) maple syrup

1 x 440g (1 pound, 15.5 ounces) tin of crushed pineapple

2 eggs

100ml (1 cup) olive oil

100ml (1 cup) plain yogurt

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 Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a 23cm tin with baking paper and put to one side. Sift the flours and spices in a bowl and set aside. Mix the mashed bananas, pineapple, dates, eggs, oil, yogurt and maple syrup until combined. Sift over the flour and stir together until just combined. Stir in the walnuts. Bake for 40 minutes until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean. 

For the icing:

Mix 250g cream cheese with 100ml of runny honey. Either pipe or spread over with a spatula on to the cool cake. Lasts un-iced for 4 days or iced for 1 day. Yum. 

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Healthy Carrot Muffins with Bush Honey Icing

Low Fat, Sugar Free
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 Today I did exercise for the first time in five months. You heard me, five. I wish I was exaggerating! But this is the truth, I haven’t even gone on a medium to fast paced walk in weeks! (unless you count running awkwardly for the bus and falling over in front of your class acquaintance that always dresses like they’re going to a trendy art gallery). 

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 What can I say, I felt motivated by these muffins. You wont believe me when I say this, and you definitely won’t believe me if you actually go and try them! But these muffins have no sugar, no butter or oil, no honey or agave business, and they are made with wholemeal flour. And they taste amazing. Of course they are much healthier without the generous dollop of cream cheese icing but I usually only ice half of them, and keep the rest for breakfast. The measurements are in cups because this isn’t the kind of recipe that you have to worry about being exact. 

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 It took me two years to get this recipe right. I started with a relatively healthy but still sugary carrot cake recipe and tweaked it, tweaked it, tweaked it, TOO FAR! You know the drill, and this is the finished result. There is no road further my healthy friends, believe me. Do not substitute skim milk for light. Do not reduce the dates, or the flour. These muffins are moist and dense and packed with flavour, but they will take no more compromising without tasting, well, like health muffins. Instead of delicious happy gently spiced carrot muffins. Like I said the icing is up to you, but it helps to get kids to eat them (kids love them- that is a good sign for a healthy muffin).IMG_4761Carrot Muffins with Honey Icing: First adapted from Jamie Oliver

3 1/2 bananas, (1 large cup) mashed or blended until smooth

2-3 medium carrots (to equal 1.5 cups) skinned and grated

60g (1/2 cup) dates blended until smooth with 110ml (1/2 cup) light milk (this will help them blend)

325g (2 cups) wholemeal flour, sifted with 2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp each cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamon and salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons pepitas or sunflower seeds

Icing: (double if you want to ice the whole 10 muffins

250 grams (1/2 pound, 8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

100 ml (1/2 cup) slightly warmed honey (I used lavender bush honey but any will work)

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 Preheat your oven to 170C (340F) and line 10 large muffin holes with muffin cases. Sift your flour, spices, salt and baking powder into a bowl and set aside. Mix your milk and dates, carrot, banana, eggs, walnuts and seeds in a bowl until well combined. Sift over the dry ingredients and stir together with a spoon until everything is just combined. Spoon into muffin holes and bake for about 22-25 minutes, until golden on top and dry when pierced with a skewer. Leave to cool completely. 

Icing: Blend or whisk your cream cheese with the honey until completely combined and fluffy. Spread over the cooled muffins and either eat within 24 hours or store in the fridge once iced. 

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Apple, Cinnamon and Olive Oil Cupcakes with Honey Icing

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Cupcakes can be one of life’s biggest disappointments.

Sure they look amazing, so you figure they’ll taste even better. But the icing is too sweet and buttery, and the cake is a sad and flat little blob of devastation. Flavourless. Dry. Worthless. 

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These cupcakes are not like those evil party cupcakes. Cupcakes are pretty, and easy to share, so in theory they make so much sense. I wanted to use apples because they have just come in season and they’re so crunchy! I’ve never used a piping bag before which you can probably tell, it was so fun though!

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The hefty chunks of apple bake into soft little pockets of sweetness and the cinnamon smells so good! The olive oil makes the cakes delicate and really flavoursome. But the best part by far is the icing! It is a cream cheese icing made one thousand times better with the addition of honey and brown sugar. It brings these cupcakes to a whole new level. The recipe is adapted from Ottolenghi, which is just about the most useful cookbook ever. I’ve seriously made almost everything in it. 

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 Apple Cupcakes with Honey Icing: Adapted from this book

3 apples, peeled and chopped into 1cm pieces

120ml (1/2 cup, 4.1 ounces) olive oil

160g (5 oz, 2/3 cup) caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla paste

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1.5 tsp baking powder

280g (2 cups + 3 tbsp) plain flour

2 eggs + 2 egg whites, kept separately

Icing:

250g (1/2 pound, 9 ounces) cream cheese

90ml (6 tbsp, 3 ounces) honey

100g (4 ounces, 1 stick) softened butter
100g (1/2 cup, 4 ounces) brown sugar

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 Method:

Preheat the oven to 170C (340F) and prepare 12 cupcake tins.

For the cupcakes: Beat together the vanilla, sugar and oil until smooth. Slowly add in the two whole eggs and beat until combined. Fold through the apple, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Sift in the baking powder and flour and stir to combine. Separately, beat the egg whites until tripled in size and fold gently through. If your batter is still very dry, try adding a pour of milk at this stage.

For the icing: Beat together the butter, sugar and honey until smooth. Add the cream cheese in chunks and beat until completely smooth and fluffy. Spread over the cupcakes once they are cool. 

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Warm Carrot Cake

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 Last night the mild Sydney weather transformed into a cold, cruel beast. It was so, so, bone chillingly cold. You know that kind of cold where it doesn’t matter that you have a thick coat on, or how many layers you wear, the wind feels like a slop of icy water enveloping your entire body. 

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 Whenever the weather is like that there’s nothing better than climbing into bed under a thick doona and curling into a ball to keep warm. Soon enough you’ve forgotten you were cold at all. 

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This carrot cake is for cold weather and rainy mornings. It is rich, dense, and covered in lime and cream cheese icing. You can add walnuts, raisins, chocolate chips, whatever makes you feel happy. The gently heated spices and sweet, scented orange will warm you through. 

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Warm Carrot Cake: (barely adapted from Jamie’s Recipes)

Ingredients:

285g (1 +1/3 cups) of soft brown sugar

285g (2.5 sticks, 1 + 1/4 cups) soft salted butter

5 eggs, separated into yolks and whites

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp each nutmeg, ginger and ground cloves

zest and juice of 1 orange

285g (2 + 1/2) medium carrots, peeled and grated

170g (1 cup + 1 tbsp) self-raising flour, + 1 tsp baking powder

115g (1 cup) almond meal

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350F). Grease and line a 22cm (9 inch) square cake tin. Beat butter and sugar together until fluffy, and slowly incorporate the egg yolks one by one. After this stir in your orange zest and juice, your spices, sifted flours and carrots. Beat egg whites until firm, then slowly fold into your carrot batter. Pour into your tin and bake for 50 minutes, until golden brown and firm to touch. 

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Icing:

Beat together 340g (12 ounces, 1 + 1/2 cups) cream cheese, the zest of two limes and the juice of one lime, and 85g (3/4 cups) icing sugar until combined. Spread over your cooled cake and eat it.