Last year, almost to the day, I met Donna Hay at The New Easy cookbook launch dinner in Toronto. She took the time to connect with every single guest, even taking a seat to chat with me. Ms. Hay has been an inspiration for millions of home cooks looking to make their food more beautiful. Her clean food styling, simple yet unique recipes and balanced yet punchy flavours make home cooking more exciting, not more challenging.
I’ve had Ms. Hay’s Food Processor Carrot Cake from The New Easy cookbook bookmarked all this time, waiting for the perfect opportunity to try it out. That opportunity finally presented itself last week.
I’ve adapted her original recipe to suit my taste. The sugar and flour are halved; an apple, along with oats, bran and raisins have been added; walnuts stand in for pecans; and the cream cheese frosting is naturally sweetened with just a touch of maple syrup, punctuated by the inherently caramel-like essence of brown butter. It’s a pretty healthy carrot cake that doesn’t taste pretty healthy, but decadent.
It’s more the easy food processor method for carrot cake I gleaned inspiration from rather than the prescribed recipe. And this method not only makes a classic carrot cake recipe better, with no large strings of carrot or offensive hunks of nuts, but far easier (I reckon this is where the title of the book comes from).
It just may be the best carrot cake I’ve ever made. (I do have the best gluten-free carrot cake recipe I’ve ever made in my first cookbook Whole Bowls, if you need an allergy-friendly variation.) My boyfriend will occasionally bring me home my favourite carrot cake from a beloved cafe in town, which tastes remarkably similar to this, but is quite rich – more special-occasion than every day. This recipe here is not a replacement, but a way to enjoy carrot cake more often. This is a full-on-tasting carrot cake without actually being full-on. This is entirely my kind of recipe. This is magic!
Please, do give this a try – it’s been a game-changer in our house. Although it makes a large cake, you can freeze it in quarters, even frosted, without compromising taste, texture or appearance.
Thanks to Donna Hay for teaching me that carrot cake needn’t be a big production to still be luscious.
- 300 g (about 3) carrots, roughly chopped
- 100 g (about 1) ambrosia, gala or golden delicious apple, cored and roughly chopped
- 1 cup walnut halves
- ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
- 1 cup unbleached organic all-purpose flour
- ½ cup miller's bran (not cereal)
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- ⅛ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoons pumpkin spice or ½ tsp ground ginger + ¼ tsp cloves + ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ½ cup milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
- ½ cup neutral oil (I used avocado oil) or olive oil, more for pan
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ cup raisins
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- 250 g cream cheese, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- For the cake, preheat oven to 325ºF. Line the bottom of a 8 or 9-inch springform pan with a round of parchment paper; grease sides and parchment.
- In a food processor, pulse carrots, apple and walnuts until finely chopped. Add remaining cake ingredients except raisins; pulse until fully combined. Pulse in raisins. Smooth into prepared pan.
- Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean and top is dry to touch. Cool in pan for 15 minutes, run a knife around perimeter, unhinge pan and transfer to a cooling rack. Cool completely.
- For the frosting, add butter to a medium pan. Cook over medium heat until medium brown in color and caramel in fragrance, about 3 minutes or so; immediately add to a small shallow bowl, including any tasty brown (not burnt) bits. Chill until just set but the softness of room temperature butter, about 30 minutes (if making ahead, just bring to room temperature before using).
- In a stand-mixer or by hand, beat cream cheese until smooth, add soft brown butter and beat until combined. Add maple syrup and vanilla; stir until full incorporated and no large pieces remain. Keep room temperature and frost cooled cake.
- Store frosted cake airtight at room temperature or refrigerate (which will dry it out a lot) up to 5 days. Or, freeze unfrosted or frosted cake up to 2 months.