… Carrot Cake with Secret Flavors of Spring!
I really like a good carrot cake. What makes a good carrot cake to me? Carrot cake that is moist, tender, filled with interesting tidbits that create texture and surprise bites of unexpected flavors, and one that is just as delicious without a frosting as it is with it. And did I mention, it can’t be complicated. But if the flavors and textures are just right, even that’s not a big deal to me.
This gluten-free, dairy-free carrot cake is all of those things – including the really easy part. I played around with the recipe and I’m so thrilled at how it turned out, because you might know by now that I can’t just stick to a basic recipe very often. I have to tweak it and put my own twist on it. Kind of a signature mark, if you will. And it’s fun! (You have to have fun in the kitchen, right?)
With cinnamon and nutmeg providing the warm tones, the cake carries the traditional flavors of carrot cake, which I love and believe should always remain. But I wanted to bring the flavors into springtime and brighten things up, so I added apricots and orange zest. Wow, these greatly enhanced the spices and gave the cake just the zing I was looking to achieve. Yum!
I can go either way on whether carrot cake should include nuts. Most recipes include walnuts. I like walnuts but sometimes I think they are a bit plain, or even a bit bitter against the other flavors of sweet carrot and warm cinnamon. I decided to use pecans instead. They’re more naturally sweet, and have a tender texture that allows them to blend more cohesively with the other textures. This was a good choice. I think you’ll like the difference.
I must warn you about one thing regarding this cake. When it is baking, you’ll begin to smell this wonderfulness that is happening inside your oven. As the cake begins to rise, and the top of the cake is becoming a shiny golden brown, about 25 minutes into the baking cycle, the essence of the cinnamon, nutmeg, apricot, and orange will begin wafting through the air. Explaining just how good this smells is difficult to put into words about food, so my analogy is this: You know when it’s cold outside and you have a bit of a chill to your bones that you just can’t seem to shake? Then you pull a bath towel straight from a hot dryer, hold it up to your face or neck, and all of a sudden a total relaxation comes over you and all is right with the world for a fleeting moment? (Perhaps this is a more common scenario in MN where the winters last a long time.) It’s like that! With one difference … the cake will last longer than that warm moment. At least a little longer. It’s a pretty exciting time when it happens with food! (Was that too much like food porn? Sorry. not!)
As I mentioned earlier, a good carrot cake doesn’t need frosting. And this is true here. But I know if I don’t share a frosting, some of you will think I’ve fallen down on the job, taken a short cut, and just left you half satisfied. That would be wrong. So I’m including one, which is light, refreshing, and divine in its own right. Feel free to use it or not. My favorite way to enjoy this carrot cake is when it has been garnished with just a small dollop of this gluten-free, dairy-free Coconut Cream Topping (aka frosting), then refrigerated for about 15 minutes. Served up, you have this cool, bright, delicious gluten-free, dairy-free dessert that is perfect for parties, brunches, or just as a warm-day snack. Though, it’s been raining here for three days straight, this carrot cake has brightened my mornings beautifully and has paired well with my cup of hot ginger tea. I know it would be a delicious surprise if someone whipped this up for me on Mother’s Day (hint, hint)!
Did I remember to mention that this carrot cake is soy-free too? Happy Baking!
Gluten-free Dairy-free Carrot Cake with Apricots and Orange Zest
Prep time: 20 minutes
Baking time: 44-48 minutes
Oven temp: 350F
Rest time: 15 minutes
Makes: 9 servings
6 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegan or non-dairy margarine, melted – I use Earth Balance Soy-free Buttery Sticks
1 Tablespoon gluten-free, all-purpose flour
1 cup almond milk – I use Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Original
2 large eggs
1 cup (160g) brown sugar (not packed)
1 ½ cups (180g) gluten-free, all-purpose flour – I use Authentic Foods Bette’s Gourmet Four Flour Blend
1 teaspoon guar gum – omit if your flour already contains it
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 ¼ cups finely grated carrots
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
½ cup finely chopped dried apricot halves
zest of 1 medium orange
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Using 1 teaspoon “butter”, grease an 8×8-inch baking dish. Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon flour in dish and tap pan, tilting all around to evenly coat the butter. Tap any extra, loose flour into sink.
Stir 6 Tablespoons margarine, milk, and eggs together in a large bowl.
Add brown sugar to milk mixture and whisk aggressively until well blended.
Place 1 ½ cups flour in a medium bowl. Sift in the guar gum, baking powder, and baking soda. Add salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg and stir well.
Stir in carrots, pecans, apricots, and orange zest and stir well to incorporate all ingredients and coat the pieces of fruit and nuts. This keeps them suspended in the batter better.
Add flour mixture to liquid mixture and whisk well.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake on center rack of preheated 350ºF oven for 44-48 minutes. Mine was perfect at 45 minutes. Toothpick inserted into center should come out with just a couple of damp crumbs on it. Don’t over bake.
Remove pan from oven and place on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Run knife around edges of cake between the baking dish and the cake. Place cooling rack on top of baking dish and, while holding the dish against the rack, invert them so the cake falls gently onto the rack. Set rack on countertop and remove baking dish. Allow cake to finish cooling on rack.
Serve warm, at room temp, or chilled from fridge. If garnishing with coconut cream topping/frosting, allow cake to cool completely first. The frosting will become a puddle of cream if put on a warm cake.
Store cake at room temperature, sealed in an airtight container, for a couple of days, or up to a week in the fridge. If you’re really much better at portion control than I am, the cake can be cut into single servings, wrapped in plastic wrap, sealed in a freezer-safe plastic bag, and frozen for longer storage. Simply pull a piece out when you’re ready and let it thaw at room temp to the desired temp.
Gluten-free, Dairy-free Coconut Cream Topping with Orange Essence
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: none
Chilling time: 30 minutes or more
Makes: about half-cup of topping
1 14.5 ounce can CHILLED coconut milk – I use Thai Kitchen
4-6 teaspoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon orange juice
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/8 teaspoon pure orange oil* – I use Young Living Citrus Fresh Essential Oil (can be found at most natural foods stores too)
1 teaspoon vegan or dairy-free margarine – I use Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread – soy free tub
Turn can of chilled coconut milk upside down. Open and pour out coconut milk/water. Reserve for another recipe.
Scrape remaining chilled coconut cream (solid white portion) from can into a high-sided container wide enough to fit a whisking attachment on a hand mixer.
Add maple syrup, orange juice, orange zest, orange oil, and margarine to coconut cream. Mix with hand mixer on high until smooth and creamy.
Chill topping in container with lid, or cover with plastic wrap, for at least 30 minutes in fridge.
Pipe, or dollop, cream onto individual servings of carrot cake (I wouldn’t recommend topping the entire cake).
Serve immediately or chill topped, individual pieces in fridge until ready to serve – no more than 30 minutes.
*NOTE: If you don’t have citrus or orange oil, pure orange extract should work just fine too. You’ll have to experiment with the amount, starting with 1/8th teaspoon. I think the pure oil has a cleaner, truer flavor however.
This recipe was first shared on DailyForage.com and has also been shared on Gluten Free Fridays #137 at VegetarianMamma.com.
Safe food is a journey … Thrive!™