When it comes to baby and toddler birthdays, I like to keep the celebratory cakes relatively wholesome. I figure it’s only for so long that I can capitalize on a little one’s love of zucchini or blueberries before they’ll be clamoring for chocolate cake with buttercream and loads of sprinkles.
So when my little guy turned two, his big sister pointed out that because his favorite color is orange, he obviously needed a carrot cake. In an effort to keep the cake picky kid-friendly and allergy safe, I decided to forgo the raisins and nuts, and amp up the carrot factor. I also used a mix of white whole wheat and all purpose flour to add a little whole grain goodness to the cake.
Topped with a cream cheese frosting, the cake was a hit with kids and grownups alike. But best of all, my little guy spent the next week crowing “My birthday cake, me eat it allll!!!,” while his chocolate-adoring sister requested the same carrot cake for her next birthday party.
Miri’s Recipe Tips: Because the cake itself is dairy-free, you can easily adapt the recipe for kosher meat meals. Substitute a non-dairy “cream cheese,” such as Daiya or Tofutti, and non-hydrogenated margarine, such as Earth Balance, for the real cream cheese and butter in the frosting recipe below. Or, use this non-dairy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting instead. You can also skip the frosting altogether — just spread some orange marmalade between layers, and dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar.
If you’re making the optional cream cheese frosting, use 2 1/2 cups of confectioners’ sugar if you prefer a tangier, more cheesecake-like flavor, or 3 cups of sugar if you prefer a sweeter frosting.
Food Safety Tip: If you do use cream cheese in your frosting, keep in mind that it will be more perishable than a traditional buttercream. If you’re baking in advance and plan to keep your cake at room temperature, its a good idea to wait to frost it until shortly before you plan to serve it. If you’d like to make the frosting in advance, be sure to refrigerate it until you are ready to use it (allow it to soften slightly before spreading). Once frosted, the cake should be stored well-wrapped in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- For the Cake:
- 1 pound carrots (peeled and trimmed)
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup flour (white whole wheat)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 cups neutral oil (such as canola)
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 3 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- 1 stick/4 ounces unsalted butter
- 2 1/2 to 3 cups confectioners’ sugar (sifted)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Steps to Make It
For the Cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease 2 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Using a box grater or a food processor fitted with a shredding disc, grate the carrots. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose and white whole wheat flours, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Set aside.
- In another large bowl, use an electric hand mixer or whisk to beat together the oil, sugar, brown sugar, and maple syrup. Beat in the eggs one at a time until they are fully incorporated. Whisk in the vanilla.
- Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in 3 additions, beating well after each addition. Mix the batter just until smooth. Fold in the grated carrots until they are evenly distributed throughout the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.
- Bake on the center rack of the preheated oven until the cakes are beginning to pull away from the sides of the pans, the tops are golden, and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool the cakes in their pans on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely before frosting, or dusting with confectioners’ sugar. Enjoy!
For the Frosting:
- Cut the butter and cream cheese into large chunks and place in a large bowl or a stand mixer.
- Using electric beaters or the mixers whisk attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed until completely mixed, smooth and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. (You may need to scrape down the sides with a spatula a couple of times, especially if you are using a stand mixer).
- Add the sugar one cup at a time, beating at after each addition until fully incorporated.
- Continue to beat for 1 to 2 minutes more on medium speed, or until the frosting is smooth and spreadable.
- Spread or pipe on the fully-cooled cakes as close to serving as possible.
- If you are making the frosting ahead of time, store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use. Allow the frosting to soften to a spreadable texture before using.