For the entire summer, I have luxuriated in the most amazing organic carrots—quite the treat at the farmers market because carrots are not usually plentiful, organic or not. Carrots take up lots of garden space and can grow in really wonky shapes and sizes—not at all like the pristine orange spikes you find in the grocery stores. That’s why carrots are prime food waste in the conventional world of agriculture—cheap, acceptable only if perfect, and taken totally for granted. Market carrots can be a hard sell to perfect-produce loving consumers.
But this summer, I discovered Rumblin’ Ernie’s Organic Farm—a new-to-me vendor at my beloved Goshen Community Market. Ernie, by the way, is the farm dog (and perhaps really runs the show), but the manager of the farm is Ben, who is as charming as his carrots are sweet.
So I felt I somehow had to pay respect to this young farmer and his gorgeous crop of carrots (and onions, and lettuce, and beets and….well you get the idea.). I landed on a harvest cake to celebrate the autumnal equinox. This is a dense, rich cake loaded with those carrots, as well as apples and pecans from fellow market vendor Friedel Farm. In addition, I used spelt flour for a nutty light texture and olive oil instead of butter, for a fruity complexity.
This cake is going to be the perfect fall dessert for any occasion, from birthdays to Halloween parties, to Thanksgiving dinner, to Christmas brunch. It does take a bit of work and planning, but it will be your star attraction on the dessert buffet. And note the unusual sugar, nut and turmeric decoration—it’s a winner and you can make up a lot of it to sprinkle on cookies, scones, pie crusts….yeah, you’ll think of something. For now, let’s get baking!
- One and one-half cups lightly toasted pecans
- One-half cup lightly toasted unsweetened coconut flakes (I like to use large flakes, since these will be processed with the pecans.)
- Three cups shredded carrot, trimmed and peeled first as necessary
- One tablespoon freshly grated ginger (or a bit more if you are a ginger fan)
- Zest from one large orange
- Two cups spelt flour
- Two teaspoons cinnamon
- One teaspoon grated whole nutmeg (or ground if that’s what you have)
- One-quarter teaspoon ground cloves
- Two teaspoons baking soda
- One-half teaspoon fine sea salt
- One cup raw sugar
- One cup good-quality olive oil
- Five eggs
- One teaspoon vanilla
- Two cups peeled shredded tart apple, for instance Jonathan
- Cream from the top of a can of full-fat coconut milk. (To separate cream from milk, place the can in the refrigerator overnight undisturbed. Carefully open the can and scope out the cream. No worries if a little milk trails along.)
- One tablespoon blackstrap molasses
- Two tablespoon fresh orange juice
- One quarter-cup powdered sugar, sifted
- One cup ground raw pistachios—you are looking for a fine dry meal consistency.
- Four to five tablespoons raw sugar
- One teaspoon ground turmeric
- Make sure your eggs are at room temperature before beginning the cake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two nine-inch cake pans by coating with butter, fitting a parchment paper round in the bottom of each, buttering the bottom again and dusting the tins with flour.
- Lightly toast the pecans and coconut flakes at 350 degrees for no more than 10-12 minutes. You don’t want them browned, just fragrant. Once cooled a bit, process them together to achieve an even meal, not moist, just fine and dry. Set aside.
- I like to get my carrots grated next, since this is the most time-consuming step; then, near the end of preparation, I grate my apples, sprinkling them with a bit of lemon or orange juice to keep them as fresh as possible. For three cups of shredded carrots, I used about two pounds, washed, peeled as necessary and grated by hand using a box grater. You could certainly grate your carrots in a large-capacity food processor, if you are ok with that. I personally think the carrots have better texture grated by hand. But whatever works for you—be brave. If I feel I need extra time in the kitchen before using the carrots in the cake, I refrigerate until ready to use. You should be ok if you are using them within a couple hours.
- Next, I zest my orange and my ginger with my microplane zester. Just mix them in the same small bowl and set aside until needed.
- Now I whisk together all the dry ingredients, the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg (I actually use whole nutmeg and grate it, but ground is fine.), clove, baking soda and sea salt. Set aside.
- For final prep, grate your apples and mix with the shredded carrot. Set aside.
- At this point, you’re ready to prepare the batter: add the sugar and oil to the large bowl of a stand mixer and process on medium-high speed until well combined and slightly light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and the orange zest and grated ginger.
- With your mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture by heaping tablespoons. I tend to do this by hand, but it’s up to you.
- Finally add the carrot and apple mixture, stirring by hand until well incorporated. Follow with the nut/coconut mixture, stirring, again, until well incorporated.
- Scrape the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans, tapping lightly on your counter and shaking a bit side to side to even it all out and discourage bubbles/cracks.
- Bake for one hour. Cool 10 minutes in the pans; then, unmold and cool completely on baking racks. A toothpick in the center should come out clean.
- Place the coconut cream in a medium mixing bowl. Add the molasses and orange juice. Using an electric hand-mixer, whip until fluffy. Sift in the powdered sugar and beat until you get a light fluffy frosting that will spread. Your goal is a thick spreadable glaze that won’t run all over the place but will drip a bit down the sides when frosted to the edge of the cake layer.
- For a harvest equinox design, I spread one half of the bottom layer of the cake with frosting/glaze. Use a long knife with a smooth edge to shield half the cake layer. Once this had set for a few minutes in the refrigerator, I carefully placed the second cake layer on top. I spread frosting/glaze on the opposite side of the top layer. I then gave this time to set up—about 20 minutes.
- In the meantime, I processed the pistachios, added the raw sugar to the processor bowl and processed again, very quickly. I dumped the pistachio/sugar mixture into a small mixing bowl and stirred in the turmeric--I did this so that my processor would not turn orange.
- Using the ring from a canning jar, I made a frosting circle on the unfrosted side of the cake for the moon. On the frosted side of the cake, I used the sugar mixture to sprinkle in a sun—again, using the ring from a canning jar. I sort of played around with the sugar mixture after that because it is really tasty. Up to you and your creative muse.
Note that the prep time includes everything up to baking as well as the decorating time. Timing does not include how long it takes the cake layers to cool before frosting and decorating--usually about two hours.
Perhaps this cake sounds familiar? It is based on a cake from a couple years ago—Susan’s Spectacular Spelt Carrot Cake. The previous cake was not quite so ambitious, so maybe start there is you are not feeling super brave or are new to cake baking. But whichever cake you try, you’ll find that these cake layers freeze really well. And, if you are not into frostings and decorations, no worries. Either cake will stand on its own, perfectly balanced for a delightful brunch or snack cake. On the other hand, if you are all about frostings, you could make a rum buttercream or your favorite cream cheese frosting. Just thoughts. Let us know what you decide!