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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Orange and Poppyseed Ricotta Cupcakes

Gluten Free and Refined Sugar Free

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 The orange and poppy seed party continues! I think with these cupcakes I’ve officially won the yellow award. I mean seriously. Has anyone in the room seen a yellower cupcake? If so, shh. These still win because they are in gold cupcake cases!!! So there. Party cupcakes! 

These mini cheesecakes were actually birthday cupcakes for my beautiful friend Anna, way back in November! Anna means so much to this blog. She was the first subscriber! She was always the one to encourage me, and to send me helpful messages when I put up a post with no photos, or sometimes no words. She helped me so much with the photography! The reason your eyes aren’t bleeding right now is because of her. Serious. 

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Anna has been a bestie of mine for years now so I knew for her birthday I wanted to make something she’d really like. I knew she loved ricotta, because she eats it almost every day. And I knew she liked honey, because she eats her ricotta every day with honey. And she liked poppy seeds too! So these cupcakes seemed like the perfect idea. 

I based the recipe on David Lebovitz’ ricotta and orange cake, switching the double cream for yogurt and the sugar for honey. And adding a butt-load of poppy seeds.

The result was sweet and zesty little cupcakes that were crunchy from the poppy seeds, and slightly tangy from the yogurt. Feel free to sub back in the cream for a richer version, and the sugar too. Honey worked surprisingly well as a substitute. I was worried the extra liquid would change the consistency! I used raw honey though, which was slightly crystallised. So hopefully that wasn’t the only reason.

IMG_7894 If ever you try one of my recipes and something doesn’t work, please let me know in the comments! Sometimes ingredients can react super differently depending on the oven or brand, so it’s good to know which ones can cause problems. Also I often write up the recipes in about ten minutes just before switching my computer off and running out the door, so mistakes are bound to be included every now and then.

These little cakes are super light and delicate, perfect for those recovering from the holiday season. They will inevitably deflate a little, as is the nature of ricotta cheesecakes. Just cool them down slowly and fill the muffin cups more than you normally would.
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Orange and Poppyseed Cheesecakes: Adapted from this recipe
1kg (2.2 pounds, 35 ounces) ricotta cheese (full fat)
60g (1/2 cup) natural yogurt
zest of 1 orange
5 eggs, at room temperature
130ml honey
80g (1 cup) poppyseeds
1 tbsp gluten free flour (you could try corn, almond or oat flour)
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
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Preheat the oven to 180C (355F) and line 12 muffin holes with large papers. Mix the ricotta, yogurt and eggs together well. Mix in the zest, vanilla extract, flour, salt, honey and poppyseeds. Stir to completely combine. Pour even spoonfuls into the muffin cups to 3/4 full. Bake in the middle of the oven for 17-20 minutes, until risen and golden on top. Cool with the oven off and the door open before taking them out.
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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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