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Eat Your Veggies: A Mischievous Carrot Cake Challenge

Carrot Cake Challenge
Lately, we've been thinking about carrot cake. Really, when you think about it, it's a bit of a strange beast: a culinary crossroads where cake meets vegetable and yields a beautiful result. How did that combination come about, we wondered? Well, turns out carrot cake (along with other veggie-rich baked goods like zucchini and squash breads) came into popularity during World War II, when butter, eggs and sugar were in short demand. During this time, many baked were made using oil instead of butter, which yielded a dense, pound-cake like texture--and vegetables gained popularity because the water they release during baking yields a tender crumb, and they added a bit of natural sweetness.

However, in this day and age there's no lack of sugar in the Cakespy kitchen, and so we wondered--why not give a try to some of the other fantastic vegetables out there? Surely we could sweetify any veggies out there to see if they might be cake-worthy; yes indeed, it was time to make some mischief in the kitchen.
Not Just Carrot CakeMixing in the Veggies


How'd we do it? We took this basic carrot cake recipe (we left out the nuts) and separated it into small batches, subbing different veggies for the carrots into the cake batter and mixing them into individual cupcakes (we did make one carrot cupcake--you know, as consolation if none of them tasted good). All of the creations were topped with cream cheese frosting, and for added cuteness and discernibility, each one was crowned with a veggie garnish.

As for how it all tasted...

BroccoliBroccoli Cupcake 

Broccoli Cake: What can we say about this cake? Overall, the taste was vaguely...healthy; while it might help the taster feel more virtuous while eating it, it does not make for an ultimately satisfying cake experience. With the bitter and sweet flavors vying for dominance, there was a little too much going on with this cake--all things considered, we think we'll leave our broccoli for the more savory fare.  

Snap PeasSnap Pea Cupcake 
Snap Pea Cake: We had a good feeling about this one--like carrots, snap peas have an inherent sweetness; it translated nicely into cake form. The sweet and slightly crunchy bits of snap pea added a nice texture and sweetness; the tangy cream cheese complemented it perfectly. We'd definitely make this again!


RadishesRadish Cupcake
Radish Cake: This one was a pleasant surprise; it had savory, spicy flavor that crept up on the palate, ultimately blossoming into a complex, unusual flavor--one that perhaps might not be for everyone, but it certainly kept us coming back for more. Overall though, if served this cake not knowing it was radish, we might not have been able to identify the flavor.

ParsnipsParsnip Cupcake
Parsnip Cake: Once baked, the taste of this one was so similar to that of carrot cake that if it were a blind tasting, we'll admit we might have been fooled. In fact, it was only the aftertaste, slightly spicy, which gave away the vegetable's identity as the carrot's albino cousin. If you've got extra parsnips (not sure how often that happens), give it a try!

Brussels SproutsBrussels Sprout Cupcake
Brussels Sprouts Cake: Brussels sprouts are one of those foods that has a bad rep. And well, it's not hard to see why: they taste bitter. They're pungent. They give you gas. But you know what? We adore these ugly little sprouts. But in cake? Alas, no pleasant surprises here: while we still think brussels sprouts make a wonderful side dish, upon tasting the cake it became instantly evident that these two worlds were clearly not meant to collide.

And so, having done it, how are we feeling? Well, as with many of our experiments, there is so much to consider. Clearly, carrot cake has been kicking so long for a reason: it's a wonderful combination of flavors. While some of our experiments (snap pea cake, parsnip cake) were pleasant surprises, it's hard to say if we liked them quite as much as carrot cake--or if it was more the aspect of novelty appealed. All things considered, we think that carrot cake's status of the veggie cake of choice is not in peril--while certain variations were quite 
toothsome, we realize that the learning curve and marketing involved in making these cakes appeal to the greater public would need to be quite intense. Of course, when it does catch on after some celebrity chef says that Parsnip Cake is the next big thing--just remember where you spied it first.


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Reader Comments (87)

There is a recipe for a Broccoli cake in http://www.amazon.com/Breakfast-Lunch-Tea-Little-Bakery/dp/0714844659">this book (from the Rose Bakery in Paris review of bakery http://chocolateandzucchini.com/archives/2003/11/rose_bakery.php" REL="nofollow">herer).

Its a loaf cake, and they sort of float a floret in the middle - as you cut slices it looks like a tree in the middle. I've been desperate to try it for ages, but alas I developed some weird intolerence to all brassicas a couple of years back.

Courgette cake (zucchini) is also a classic, but I guess you knew that. Fantastic mixed with very dark and white chocolate chips, and made with whole wheat flour. If you grate the edges (at least) quite roughly, you still see the green bits. Which is always fun for scaring your guests.

April 17 | Unregistered CommenterAlice

Christine: Thanks, glad you enjoyed it!! :-)

Sarah: Thanks, it was a lot of fun!

EB: No, YOU'RE ab-fab :-)

Chocolatecoveredvegan: How did I know you'd like this one?? :-)

Cakewardrobe: I guess it's all relative--healthier than say, cheesecake maybe, but definitely still CAKE!

Bananahead: Yeah, alas, the broccoli cake was not delicious. But, scroll down the comments--someone posted another broccoli cake recipe! Maybe that one is more delicious?

Eat Me Delicious: It is kind of funny that we sit around and think about this stuff, huh? ;-)

Alice: How wonderful!! Thank you for sharing. Yes, we tried to do some veggies we hadn't heard of in cakes before, that's why we didn't do zucchini (or beets). But that recipe sounds fantastic, and so does the broccoli one!! xoxo.

April 17 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

i love this post! I can't wait for pea season...I can see some vines starting to poke there way out of the ground here. I'm thinking fresh sweet pea cake will be the order of the day when the pods arrive! Thanks, as always, for your creativity and pastry ingenuity.

April 17 | Unregistered CommenterEmilie

very cool idea, i'd like to try it myself, and throw in some other vegetables, thanks for crossing some off the list already

April 17 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney

I really loved the playful thing with veggies.. Awesome idea and it looks so pretty... Too good!!

Coconut ANYTHING is my all time favorite! Ice cream, pies, cupcakes...I could go on and on!

April 19 | Unregistered Commenternoble pig

hmmm, disappointed the brussel sprouts didn't work...one of kev and my favorite foods! However, we are both BS purists, so I guess this is ok!

Would like to try the snap peas and the radishes though! yum. I heart carrot cake -- hm, or shall i say, veggie cake?

April 20 | Unregistered CommenterScoopalicious

Commenting a little late (catching up with my reader)....

Emeril has an absolutely FABULOUS parsnip cake (it's on Food Network's site, didn't know how you felt about linking) that I've made. It's a huge pain to make, but it's so delicious. So I knew yours would be good.

I'm very interested in making the snap pea cupcakes. Thanks so much for the experiment. :)

April 23 | Unregistered CommenterCarsey Critter

Also commenting a little late, but I've just discovered your wonderful blog. I must admit, I've never had a parsnip. Or, at least from what I can remember. Why not have my first taste of a veggie in a cake form? GREAT post...although the thought of brussel sprout cupcakes made me feel a little ick. :)

May 7 | Unregistered CommenterSharon

i love it!

it's amazing how we had the same idea of making vege cupcakes, except i was going to do a trio of carrots, peas and beets, but got lazy n did just did http://bumblebeegrad.blogspot.com/2007/10/honey-orange-beet-cupcake.html" REL="nofollow">
the beet version :)

glad ur mission went well..

p/s: i love ur art work...

Something that's always bugged me: why is carrot cake ALWAYS paired with cream cheese frosting? I love carrot cake, don't love cream cheese. It's as if a law were passed when carrot cake was invented that prohibited ANY other sort of frosting for carrot cake. It's a waste of good cake, if you ask me. (And yes, I know I pretty much stand alone on this one.) Buttersotch/brown sugar frosting goes really well with carrot cake, by the way.

Another question: did you cook the veggies before adding them to the batter? I can imagine it would make a huge difference - particularly with brocolli and b-sprouts. One of the best carrot cake recipes is from Silver Palate Cookbook - the carrots are cooked and then mashed before being added to the batter. Awesome.

Rosa and Wandering Coyote: Not to get all biology/horticulture-geek on ya, but zucchini (squash) is a fruit, not a vegetable, dontchya know?

The veggie cupcakes (as I imagine them beneath their cream cheese frosting, of course) look fantastic!

July 22 | Unregistered CommenterJoanna

Joanna: You know, it's going to bug me, but I did in fact know the cream cheese reason. Grr, I forget though! I'll get back to you when I remember.

As for cooking them, no--I didn't! I wonder what the difference would be. I am interested now!! Thanks for the idea!!

And yes, they did have their merits! Well, not so much the brussels sprout one. Not delicious.

July 22 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy
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