It’s the weekend! And it’s long one! Let’s celebrate with some homemade treats! Full disclosure — I actually posted these bars many years ago. But the images were so atrocious and I also updated the preparation method, so I thought it would be appropriate to re-post. I have no doubt many of you will be hosting or attending backyard shindigs this weekend. These are THE perfect dessert to bring to a fancy or casual affair.
I was married almost 17 years ago, so I guess it’s not crazy that my husband would have forgotten what flavor our wedding cake was. I’m just surprised, because he was very involved in all decisions. I know you’re thinking that it sounds sweet to have your fiance interested enough in your wedding to have a say in everything, but trust me, kind of annoying. Regardless, we were talking about our wedding cake the other day and my husband remembers it as carrot cake, which it was certainly not. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with carrot cake for a wedding cake, but ours was a simple white cake with chocolate chocolate-chip buttercream filling.
He probably thinks it was carrot cake because we both love it so much. And we both agree that carrot cake should be moist and dense and chock full of carrots and raisins and walnuts. I remember many a date when we shared a large slice of carrot cake for dessert. You know the kind. Two or three layers of sweet, nubby cake sandwiched between even sweeter, creamy, tangy icing. Sounds great until you learn that a huge piece of bakery or restaurant carrot cake contains about a entire day’s worth of calories. And don’t think they’re using natural sweeteners, friends. If I were 22 again and doing two hours of step aerobics every day, I could probably get away with it. But not no more!
Fast forward two decades later when at least one of us is trying to consume desserts in moderation and bake them with less refined ingredients so we can make it to our 50th wedding anniversary and beyond. Yes, that’s why I make carrot cake in a 13 x9-inch baking dish instead of as a layer cake. I think it’s super delicious too, but for me at least, one square is plenty. And before you think I’m no fun at all, don’t think I’m skimping on flavor here. This carrot cake delivers the same sweet, spiced goodness that you would expect from the traditional. Ok, maybe not the same sweetness. When I got motivated to come up with a higher quality carrot cake, I went to my trusty Ina, who uses a whopping 2 cups of sugar in her cake. Although in her defense, so does everyone else. In my recipe I use coconut palm sugar and much less of it. Listen, there’s a whole pound of carrots in this cake and carrots are sweet. There are also raisins and even diced pineapple if you choose to use it. And even if you don’t frost this cake, it’s plenty sweet. Personally, I was happy as a clam with this cake unfrosted, but I knew my students would be expecting something more. Of course I couldn’t go with a typical cream cheese frosting, because they don’t come to my kitchen for that. So I am also offering you something very alternative, but perfectly yummy and thick and creamy and won’t make you sick to your stomach after you eat it. And it’s vegan!
I’m thinking with Father’s Day coming up, this would be a fun dessert to make. You can even do it in a muffin tin for individual cupcakes. There are lots of ways you can adapt this recipe to make everyone happy. Drop the pineapple if you wish. Use pecans instead of walnuts. Add some nutmeg or cloves. Make Ina Garten’s cream cheese frosting if you don’t believe me that this one is great. Just don’t ask me if you can make this cake without carrots because that question was already asked in my class last month and my answer is “no.” Instead you have my blessing to go make the white butter cake with chocolate chocolate-chip buttercream filling that you really want.
1 ¼-1 ½ cups unrefined oil (I use melted coconut oil, but olive or high-oleic safflower is fine, too)
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ½ cups plus 1 Tablespoon whole wheat pastry flour, divided
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
1 cup unsulphured golden raisins (or dark raisins if you prefer)
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 pound carrots, shredded (about 4 cups)
½ cup fresh pineapple, finely chopped (or frozen, thawed)
Raw Cashew Frosting (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a 13”x 9” pan.
Beat the sugar, oil and eggs together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until thick and sugar has dissolved a bit. Add the vanilla and stir to combine.
In another bowl, whisk together 2 ½ cups flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. In a small bowl, combine the raisins and walnuts with 1 Tablespoon of flour and add to batter. Fold in the carrots and pineapple and mix well.
Pour batter into pan. It should be super thick. Bake for 45–55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow cake to cool completely in pan over a wire wrack.
If you like things very sweet, you can increase the sugar to 1½ cups and the recipe will work fine. I also give a range for the oil. Use 1¼ cup if you plan to eat it all the same day it's made and if you like a lighter cake. Use 1½ cups if you like it a little heavier and if you want it to cake to stay moist for several days. I used 1½ cups in these photos and 1¼ cups in my classes.
Raw Cashew Frosting:
This is a lovely, just-sweet-enough frosting which you can use for lots of cakes and cupcakes. It is dairy-free and if you use maple or agave, it is also vegan. You cannot substitute another oil for the coconut oil, since that’s what helps the frosting become firm and spreadable once it has been refrigerated. I use Grade A maple syrup here, which is less mapley than Grade B.
2 cups raw cashews, soaked in water for at least 5 hours
½ cup unsweetened almond milk or water (water is just as good)
¼ cup unrefined coconut oil, melted
3 Tablespoons raw honey, Grade A maple syrup or agave
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch or 2 of fine grain sea salt
Process all ingredients in a food processor, scraping down the sides if necessary, until perfectly smooth. This can take 5-6 minutes. Or use a high powered blender like a Vitamix for about 45 seconds. Refrigerate to allow it to firm up enough to a spreadable consistency. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Now that my daughters are teenagers (sigh), I encourage them to invite their girlfriends to have sleepovers at our house on the weekends. I don’t always get my wish, but I do like having them home so I can keep an eye on everyone and then I don’t worry so much. Not only that, but the girls’ friends give me more gossip than they do, and enquiring moms want to know! Last weekend, my husband and Mr. Picky were away on a guy’s trip and I had 6 girls keeping me company. I used to dread sleepovers because there would always be one early bird that would wake everyone up at 5:00 am and then you had a Miss Cranky Pants to deal with the rest of the day. Let me tell you, some sleep mechanism kicks in when the kids hit middle school and then you can’t wake them before noon if your life depended on it.
Last Sunday, I was able to get in a workout and shower before I heard the first signs of life at 10:30 am. Still foggy and misty out, I wanted to make a cozy breakfast for everyone. I had cooked some fresh pumpkin puree the day before with pumpkin pancakes in mind — my absolute favorite! Before I even got started, the 13-year-olds were mumbling something about not being hungry. I would not be discouraged. I noticed two sad-looking Golden Delicious apples on the counter that I knew no one would ever eat. I decided to peel and slice those and gently saute them in a little butter while I preheated the griddle and assembled the pancake batter.
This is just a twist on the classic buttermilk pancake recipe that is a weekly staple in our house. The pumpkin puree adds a beautiful copper color to the batter as well as a little Beta-carotene. And then all those fantastic warming spices add the flavor that says Fall! If you have pumpkin pie spice, I’m sure that would work fine here, too. Just like my standard pancake recipe, you can make this batter the night before. I have taught my girls how to cook their own pancakes, so very often I will leave the batter on the counter for them to cook with their friends at whatever time they saunter downstairs and I’m free to get my day going.
I normally just serve these pancakes with a little maple syrup or with this incredible apple cider syrup we picked up at a roadside farm in the Hamptons this summer. The girls like to add chopped pecans to the pancakes when they’re cooking on the griddle, but the sauteed apples were a special treat and ridiculously simple to make. When they were tender I drizzled on them the tiniest amount of syrup and a dash of cinnamon. Crazy good! I made a plate to photograph and then said to the girls, “Look how pretty this is.” Their eyes bugged out and someone said, “Yum! Like that actually looks good.” Actually?? Like, whatever.
½ cup fresh or canned pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Coconut oil for brushing the griddle
Sauteed apples as accompaniment, optional:
2-3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter or coconut oil
1 teaspoon maple syrup
a dash of cinnamon
Preheat a griddle to 400 degrees or medium heat. (On some stovetops, 350 or 375 degrees is fine.)
If you are making the sautéed apples, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter and add the apples. Lower the heat slightly and gently sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon maple syrup and a dash of cinnamon and toss to combine. Remove from heat.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices in a large mixing bowl.
In a blender or medium mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk, eggs, pumpkin puree, maple syrup and melted butter until well blended.
Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
Brush the griddle with coconut oil and spoon about ¼ cup of batter onto the griddle. Add chopped pecans or walnuts to the surface, if desired. When bubbles start to form on the surface of the pancake and the edges turn slightly dry, flip it over and cook until done. Serve warm with sautéed apples or maple syrup.
To make the pancakes gluten-free, substitute 1 ½ cups of Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Baking Mix + 1 ¼ teaspoons of xanthan gum or substitute ¾ cup brown rice or GF oat flour and ¾ cup buckwheat flour.
**You can also substitute half yogurt and half regular milk for the buttermilk. Or, use 1 ½ cups milk, omit the baking soda, and use 2 teaspoons baking powder instead.
Have I warned you about planting mint in your garden? No? Ooops, sorry ’bout that. I know I have told several people to only plant mint in containers since its root system will go crazy and you’ll never be able to get rid of it or kill it no matter how much you think you would never want to do such a thing. I have said many times that I’d like to write a book titled “I Can’t Believe the World Isn’t Covered in Mint.” I’ve changed my mind. I think my book will be called “I Can’t Believe How Many People Plant So Much More Zucchini Than They Can Possibly Eat.” Is this you? It’s meeeeeee. And I really should know better having grown up with a father who year after year planted too much zucchini.
I am devoting two posts in a row to zucchini because I sympathize with your plight, not because zucchini is some nutrient-dense vegetable, which it’s not. It is an appropriate food for the summer months, though, due to its high water content and cooling thermal nature. It is alkalizing to the body to boot. I don’t know how alkalizing zucchini bread is, but when my kids devour it, I commend them on how wonderful it is that they enjoy green vegetables. Then when zucchini is served for dinner, I just remind them it’s the same green that’s baked into the bread they love.
Many zucchini breads tend to be overly oily and loaded with sugar, but claim health benefits from a cup of shredded zucchini. You’re not falling for that one, are you? This one instead has a base of whole wheat pastry flour with a minimal amount of maple syrup to sweeten it. I use either olive oil or melted coconut oil, which can be reduced with the addition of unsweetened applesauce (see the lead photo.) Like a lot of the recipes I post, you can adapt this zucchini bread so many ways. Our favorite way is with fresh blueberries and a touch of lemon zest. It’s light and fresh and makes for a perfect quick summer breakfast or snack for camp. I have also made it with raspberries instead of blueberries and that’s a winner, too. I know you’re going to ask me if you can add chocolate chips, and who am I to tell you no? If you use chocolate, I would drop the lemon zest though, and maybe add some walnuts. Like I did right here.
½ cup unsweetened applesauce (or omit applesauce and increase oil to ½ cup)
½ cup organic 100% pure maple syrup
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ¾ cups whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking soda
½ teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1 ½ cups shredded, unpeeled zucchini, about 2 small
zest of half a lemon (optional)
½ -1 cup fresh blueberries
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 ½ “ x 4 ½ “ loaf pan, or if aluminum, grease it and line it with parchment paper.
In a blender, blend together the oil, maple syrup, applesauce, eggs and vanilla. This helps to emulsify the oil and keeps your bread from being greasy.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry mixture.
Fold in the zucchini, lemon zest, blueberries and nuts. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. When made with applesauce, it usually takes 5 minutes longer than when made without. Cool slightly, about 10 minutes, remove from pan, and cool completely on a rack.
You can also make these in standard muffin tins and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes. This will yield about 12 muffins.