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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Whole-Wheat and Vegan Apple Spice Cake

 Vegan and Refined Sugar Free<a
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 To be honest, I was a little bit disappointed when my friend requested for her birthday cake not a towering chocolate and caramel creation, or some challenging multi-layered pastry tart, but a simple apple tea cake. Simple and tea and birthday and cake are not words meant to be put together in the same sentence! Birthdays are such a good excuse to make lots of pretty layers with all the favourite flavours of the birthday girl or boy. Simple tea cakes, they can kind of be made any day! I expected big things from this friend. She is a pretty impressive lover of cakes that has eaten many a brownie or slice of cake I’ve brought in to school or uni. But you can’t go against birthday wishes.

There’s a reason under “decorative/layer cakes” in my recipe section there’s no healthy recipes yet listed. (Apart from it being an obvious major challenge) usually celebration cakes are meant to be just that, a bit of a celebration. They’re meant to be sky-high for lots of sharing. And they’re meant to be specially flavoured depending on the cake receiver. They’re meant to look really pretty and dressed up in fluffy icing, or elegant and drizzled with some dark chocolate ganache. How was I meant to make an any day apple teacake that lived up to these kind of birthday dreams?? 

But this cake turned out not to be an any day sort of cake.

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To start with, the smell of it baking in the oven is amaazing. Think warm apple pie and spice cookies and hot crumbles and custard and mmmmm. You might think this is weird, but once it was baked I put it on a plate, brought it upstairs and kept the cake next to my computer all morning, so that while I studied I could smell it’s apply, spicy goodness. All day the house smelled like cinnamon and apple, and I’m kind of sad no one needs an apple cake again today just to perfume the house. 

The recipe is adapted from The Healthy Chef, a great baking blog full of healthy recipe ideas. I wasn’t actually looking for a “healthy” recipe, just one that didn’t use eggs, milk or white flour. (Ok, I know how silly that sounded). And I’ll admit, at first I was a little worried that a cake made entirely on a foundation of cubed apples would be a little…bland. Or watery. Or strange and thick. It really wasn’t at all though. I should have known from the combination of apple and cinnamon in cupcakes I’ve made before, that it was going to turn out well. I used wholemeal flour, and it formed the barest wisp of custard-like batter around the soft, spiced apples. There’s something really warm about this cake, even if you eat it cold. It tastes a lot like the insides of an apple pie.

The birthday girl really liked it too, which must be a good sign. I’m one of those terrible people that gives someone a birthday cake, and proceeds to eat a slice of it almost straight away and sometimes asks for another piece before they’re finished theirs. So I had ample opportunity to sample this cake. Between three of us we almost ate the entire thing in under an hour, which is a testament to how easy it is to eat. It’s a very light cake, and fun fact; if you cut it into 12 slices it’s less than 150 calories for a piece. 

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 I don’t really think about calories very much but that’s pretty impressive for something that tastes like pie. I think so, anyway. You always hear people advertising their recipes as healthy enough to “eat for breakfast”. Well this cake is definitely healthy enough to eat for breakfast. It’s like an entire serving of fruit just for you. And all the goodness of whole grains! And olive oil for your skin! 

Also, who likes my new doilies? Doilies are No. 1, the funnest name of anything ever, and No. 2 the funnest pieces of cloth ever. Seriously, they’re so random. Imagine the days when every afternoon people had tea and cake and a table covered with scones and doilies. Times have really changed. My new doilies are actually old doilies from Vinnies discovered by my step-dad and quickly purchased. I love the little flower patterns, they’re actually so cute. I like to think they were knitted by a little grandma somewhere for her grandkids who grew up and didn’t really need or want so many doilies, and now they’ve come to me. 

The original recipe calls for almond meal and a topping of walnuts, which I omitted. If you like nuts or want a gluten free option, substitute 2 cups of almond flour for the 1 cup of wholemeal, and increase the amount of apples to about eight. Believe me, I tried to fit in the original recipe’s calling for 800g of apple chunks, but there was just no way the tin or the batter was going to hold so much apple. It was pretty heavy on the apple as it were. But if you want more of an apple slice with occasional hints of cake batter, the original recipe calls for 800g (about 7 medium apples). 

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Wholemeal Apple Cinnamon Cake: Adapted from Apple Cake

2 tablespoons chia seeds mixed with 4 tablespoons water to form a gel

130g (1 cup) wholemeal flour

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg and ground ginger

600g apple (3 cups, just over a pound), chopped into small 2cm chunks (skinned optional)

70ml (1/4 cup) olive oil

85ml (1/4 cup) maple syrup or runny honey for non-vegan

110ml soy, almond or rice milk (1/2 cup)

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 Method:

Stir up the chia and water and leave to thicken.

Preheat the oven to 150C (300F) and grease line a 20cm round cake tin (8 inch) with baking paper. Whisk in a bowl the flour, spices and baking powder. Mix the honey, oil, milk and chia water together and add to the dry ingredients. Stir gently to combine. Pour in the apple chunks and stir everything gently together until just combined. Bake for about 35 minutes to 45. It’s hard to tell if the cake is done because the apple chunks will wipe any mix off a skewer, but the middle should spring bake when you touch it and the cake should be nice and domed. The edges should be just beginning to pull away from the sides of the tin. Cut into slices and eat warm, but it’s great at room temperature too. Best eaten within two days, any longer and the top will go slightly soft from the juice of the apples. IMG_6873 

Banana Spice Cupcakes with Chai Yogurt Cream (gluten and sugar free)

 Gluten, Refined Sugar, and Optional Dairy Free

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I really want to like chai! I don’t drink coffee and this makes it slightly awkward every time someone suggests we get coffee. I feel like saying “well, ok. But I’m probably not going to get a coffee. Or pay 3.50 for a tea bag. So lets just go get ice cream instead?” But that just doesn’t fly in the real world. Chai would be the perfect solution to this! You drink your skim cap, I drink my chai latte. Everyone is happy and we are all being trendy and maybe we should make it soy. 

But when I was little I poured a huge mug of it down my shirt and had to rip it off on a busy street in India. Now the smell of it reminds me of burning skin, green polo shirts and blushing humiliation. There isn’t a particular element that I don’t like. It’s not the cinnamon, ginger, or milk, it’s the actual combination together. It just makes my skin crawl. 

Last week I was at an ice cream shop with friends and one of them ordered a scoop of chai gelato. I had the tiniest bite to see what it was like, and a strange thing happened. It wasn’t that bad. I wouldn’t have eaten the whole scoop but the coldness of the ice cream meant it was different enough from the drink that my brain didn’t go into its usual panic mode of chai? CHAI! RUN!. 

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 I thought maybe if the elements were taken far enough from the original I could actually like it. Thinking about it, each part of chai is actually really awesome. Spices like cinnamon, ginger, I use them all the time in so many things. And steamy and warm too? Yes please. 

So these chai cupcakes were born. The cupcakes themselves are gently spiced banana cupcakes that are gluten and refined sugar free, but so moist and flavoursome! The texture is so soft it’s almost like a steamed pudding, and you get the slightest hint of coconut from the flour. For those that are dairy free these cupcakes are good enough on their own without the icing, especially warmed up for breakfast. 

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But the yogurt cream! Oh my goodness. I’ve been thinking about something like this for ages and finally got around to trying it. Strained yogurt, called labneh, looks like ricotta cheese and tastes like cream cheese, but it’s way better for you. As well as this it is full of probiotics and often the level of lactose is low enough for intolerant people to enjoy as well. Here the labneh is flavoured with honey and chai spices to top the cupcakes. It is so delicious. You could eat it over fruit, as a cream on a sponge, on its own with berries, nuts, granola, anything! It’s rich and smooth and creamy and perfect. The longer you drain it the thicker it will be, but I wouldn’t go much longer than eight hours or it will get very strong in flavour. 

Once iced, it’s best to keep these cupcakes in the fridge because of the yogurt topping. However the texture of the base won’t suffer! They taste great cold too. 

If you want to try some more gluten free or healthy muffins, here are some I’ve been reading recently and getting inspiration from:

Pumpkin Coconut Muffins

Chocolate Cupcakes with Cashew Cream

Oatmeal Muffins

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Banana Cupcakes with Yogurt Cream: Adapted from Green Kitchen Stories 

70g (heaping 1/3 cup) almond flour

65g (1/2 cup) coconut flour

60g (1/2 cup) buckwheat flour

1 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp baking soda

1.5 tsp cinnamon

1 pinch each ginger, cloves and nutmeg ground

180g (3/4 cup) mashed banana (about 2 to 3 bananas)

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

80ml (1/3 cup) olive oil

100ml (1/3 cup) honey or maple syrup

250ml (1 cup) soy, almond or coconut milk

Preheat oven to 180C. Line 12 muffin tins with cases. Sift together the dry ingredients and spices in a bowl. Separately, mix together the wet ingredients in a large bowl. Sift over the dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until crunchy on the outside and risen. 

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For the icing:

450g (1.5 cups) natural greek yogurt (reduced fat ok)

80ml (1/4 cup) runny honey

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp each nutmeg, ginger, cloves, star anise ground

optional: pinch of ground black pepper, 2 tsp raw sugar for sprinkling

In a medium sized strainer, place a clean tea towel or cheese cloth and spoon in the yogurt. Tie the tea towel around the yogurt in a bundle with a plastic rubber band. Place in the fridge over a deep bowl and drain for at least six hours, until thick. 

Mix in the other ingredients and chill until ready to use. Ice over the cupcakes evenly and either eat straight away or put back in the fridge. Sprinkle with the sugar just before serving. 

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Healthy Pear and Walnut Muffins

Gluten Free, Sugar Free, Dairy Free and Low Fat

IMG_5132The sun came out today for the first time in TWOOOO WEEEEKS!!! Dance with me friends. I took my chubby dog Louis for a walk and tried to get him to jog. He went at a great shuffling pace for about ten minutes, then just sat down in the middle of the road and wouldn’t move until I kicked him in the bum. (Gently). 

 On the way home we saw the saddest sight! In the middle of the path there was a dead possum. He was all wet from the rain and his fur was all muddy, and his face looked so peaceful! Like he was sleeping. Pour little guy. Hopefully he died of old age and is up in possum heaven now. 

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 I made these muffins here when I got home, for my mum who can’t eat gluten, dairy, peanuts, cashews, berries, or oranges. This makes baking something she can eat quite a challenge. These are made with almond flour and sweetened with big chunks of pear and honey. The only fat is olive oil, which is very good for you. They are sticky and crunchy but still light, despite being gluten free. You could experiment with apples or different spices if you want, and even maple syrup in place of some of the honey. This is a good starting recipe for a lighter type of muffin. 

IMG_5083 Pear and Walnut Muffins: Adapted from these muffins./p>

270g (2.5 cups) almond flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 pinch salt

1 tsp each cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg plus a pinch of cardamon and clove powder

3 eggs

225ml (1 cup) olive oil

225ml (1 cup) honey

2 medium-large pears, skinned and cut into chunks

a big handful of chopped walnuts (or pecans, hazelnuts or almonds)

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Preheat oven to 170C (340F). Line 12 cupcake cases with cupcake papers. In one bowl whisk together your dry ingredients. In the other whisk the wet ingredients. Stir in the walnuts and pear and spoon 2/3 full into each muffin cup. Bake for about 20 minutes. These last well for up to 4 days. 

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