Healthy Carrot Cake
I’m a chronic suitcase over-packer. I like to have options (especially shoe options), and I inevitably have to sit on my suitcase to persuade it to zip for almost every trip. While this “be prepared” travel tendency makes me terrible at producing a bag of reasonable weight, it’s also how I created an excellent healthy carrot cake.
When the question is, “should I?” healthy carrot cake responds with a resounding “YES!” Nuts? Of course. Pineapple? Absolutely. Spices? Mandatory. Coconut? Not even a question. Raisins? Let’s go there. This healthy carrot cake recipe took one look at the kitchen sink and said, “Of course we are including that.” It also supported my decision to pack a second pair of boots.
Carrot cake will forever be one of my favorite desserts—it’s homey, signals that spring is near, and is an excellent excuse to eat irresponsible levels of cream cheese frosting. It’s also one of the easiest cakes to make healthy, without sacrificing a speck of texture or flavor.
Creating stealthy-healthy desserts (treats that are lightened up but are so yummy, they leave you and your family none the wiser) is one of my passions on this site, and today’s healthy carrot cake is one of my most successful recipe makeovers to date. Most lighter cakes commit the inexcusable dessert crime of being too dry, but thanks to buttermilk, lots of crushed pineapple (which sweetens the cake naturally), and as many finely grated carrots as I could responsibly stuff into the batter (2 1/2 cups!), this cake is marvelously moist and tender.
This healthy carrot cake is also whole grain. I replaced a good portion of the all purpose flour with Bob’s Red Mill Organic Whole Wheat Pastry Flour. Its lightly nutty flavor blends subtly with the walnuts and warm spices, and if I hadn’t baked this cake myself, I would never have noticed the swap. Stealthy healthy strikes again.
Because a carrot cake without cream cheese frosting is but a carrot loaf—still enjoyable but not at all the same thing—I smeared it generously with a lightened-up Greek yogurt cream cheese frosting. The tangy Greek yogurt cuts some of the fat and adds a bit of protein, but it’s still the cream cheese flavor that stars.
The finale: a shower of chopped nuts, toasted coconut, and whatever else makes your heart happy. Slice generously.
Surely if I’m holding a plate of this healthy carrot cake, I can get someone else to lug my suitcase, yes? The extra boots were totally necessary.
Healthy Carrot Cake with Light Cream Cheese Frosting
For the Cake:
- 1 2/3 cups Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached All Purpose Flour
- 3/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large egg — at room temperature
- 2 large egg whites — at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar — lightly packed
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups grated carrots — (about 3 large or 4 small/medium)
- 1 cup crushed pineapple — drained
- 1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
- 2/3 cup buttermilk — at room temperature
- 1/2 cup walnuts — or pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup raisins, — golden raisins, or dried cranberries (optional)
For the Greek Yogurt Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 3 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese
- 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter — softened
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon almond extract — optional
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
- Toasted chopped pecans — or walnuts
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray a 10-inch springform pan with nonstick spray.
- In a medium bowl, stir together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large mixing bowl, beat together the egg, egg whites, brown sugar, canola oil, and vanilla extract on medium speed until well combined. Add the grated carrots and beat for 1 minute. Add the pineapple and shredded coconut and beat just until incorporated. With a wooden spoon, stir in half of the flour mixture, just until the flour almost disappears. Stir in the buttermilk. Add the remaining flour mixture, continuing to stir in by hand, just until combined. Gently fold in the walnuts and raisins.
- Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (Check at the 30-minute mark—if the edges of the cake are browning too quickly, tent with foil, then return to the oven to finish baking.) Remove the cake from the oven and let cool completely in the pan. Run a dull knife, such as a butter knife, along the edge of the cake to loosen, then unmold it. Carefully transfer the cake to a serving plate.
- Meanwhile, prepare the frosting: In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese, Greek yogurt, butter, vanilla extract, almond extract (if using), and salt at medium speed for 2 minutes, until fluffy and well combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the powdered sugar, increasing the speed to medium as you go. Beat for 1 to 2 minutes until well combined. Spread the frosting evenly over top of cooled cake. Sprinkle with toasted nuts and serve.
Nutrition InformationAmount per serving (1 (of 10)) — Calories: 460, Fat: 16g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Cholesterol: 30mg, Sodium: 428mg, Carbohydrates: 71g, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 45g, Protein: 9g
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