This Recipe Proves That Carrot Cake Can Be Far from Boring

Minnesota restaurant Brim uses coconut whip frosting and maple syrup for this springtime staple.

carrot cake
Photo by Kate Sidoti

Carrot cake is one of those classic recipes that never dares to get rewritten—an old-school, just-like-grandma-made dessert that, despite its vegetal connotations, is loaded with sugar. But this Easter table fixture has stood the test of time for a reason, and with just a few tweaks, you can help it achieve its modern form.

“Maybe it’s a Midwest thing—maybe we’re closer to those Betty Crocker, Taste of Home kind of flavors—but we love our carrot cake here,” jokes Kate Sidoti, co-owner of Minneapolis’ Brim restaurant.

The restaurant, which is known for its made-from-scratch, locally sourced grain bowls, hosts a Weekend Cake series, selling playful cakes inspired by seasonal ingredients. “They’ll always be gluten-free and typically dairy-free, there to remind everyone to relax and have a little fun with some sprinkles on the weekend,” Sidoti says.

One of the most popular cakes on rotation is her carrot cake, which contains about half the sugar of the standard variety. Sidoti incorporates olive oil, a coconut whip frosting in place of cream cheese, as well as maple syrup and organic cane sugar for sweeteners.

For Sidoti, a modern carrot cake must integrate a ton of moisture, otherwise it can get a little too fluffy. In this recipe, butter gets replaced with extra virgin olive oil, “which gives it a real, almost savory, flavor,” she says. Sidoti’s favorite gluten-free flour brand is Cup4Cup, but she warns against over-mixing, otherwise things can get pretty dense.

“When it comes to gluten-free cakes, spice is your friend—and really good quality spice,” Sidoti explains. “So if you’re going to make it worthwhile, maybe don’t reach for the jar of cinnamon you’ve had in your cupboard for two years. Fresh cinnamon makes a difference on this one.”

As for the toppings, Sidoti likes to get a little fancy, citing garnish as the easiest way to level up your baking. “We mandolin a peeled carrot, coat it in a little coconut oil and organic cane sugar, and then dehydrate it so it creates this crispy carrot cracker,” she explains. “And then adding some toasted coconut brings out the little bit of coconut in the frosting.”

Brim Carrot Cake Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 ¼ cups gluten free flour (recommend Cup4Cup)
  • 1 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 3 teaspoons good quality cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup organic cane sugar
  • ¼ maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups grated carrots
  • Homemade coconut frosting or Simple Mills Vanilla Frosting

Coconut Frosting

  • 1 stick vegan butter (preferably Miyokos)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons full fat coconut milk

Note: You can also use Simple Mills Vanilla Frosting for a quick replacement.

Instructions:
1. Grease two 9x9 pans or one large 9x13 deep cake pan. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg together in a bowl.
3. In another large bowl, whisk together cane sugar, maple syrup, vanilla extract, eggs, olive oil.
4. Add flour mixture to the wet mixture until combined. Gently fold in carrots.
5. Pour mixture into prepared pans and bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
6. When the cake is completely cooled, frost the top of the cake or if making two rounds, frost the middle and the outsides.
7. While the cake is baking, prepare the frosting (if making it, or Simple Mills is a great replacement).
8. Soften vegan butter and mix with a hand mixer until smooth. Then add vanilla until smooth. Add powdered sugar and  cinnamon, ½ cup at a time. If too dry, slowly add coconut oil, 1tsp at a time.
9. Garnish the cake with dehydrated carrots, toasted coconut, or toasted walnuts.

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Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Food & Drink team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram