Spiced Parsnip Cake with Brown Butter Frosting

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MP_parsnip cake

PHOTO AND RECIPE BY PAOLA THOMAS

When it comes to baking with root vegetables, carrots get all the love and the humble parsnip gets none. This is a shame, as parsnips add an intriguing smoky sweetness and moist texture. They are also a source of vitamins B and K and potassium, though that’s not the reason you’ll want to make this cake. Studded with dried cranberries and warmed with spices and a hint of maple, this mid-winter treat might make you reconsider the contents of your vegetable bin.

Seasonal baking can be challenging in winter, when fresh fruit is a distant memory and the CSA box is full of kale, but unusual options can yield unexpected results. We frosted this cake with a sophisticated take on the traditional cream cheese. Locally produced bourbon from Woodinville Whiskey Company adds a hint of smoky caramel, while browning your butter brings out the sweet nuttiness.

An added bonus: you can while away the winter evening playing “guess the secret cake ingredient” with your friends. Believe me, they never will.

for the cake

1 1/3 cups (8 ounces) parsnips, grated on the medium holes on a box grater (remove woody cores)

1 cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped

6 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for oiling the pan

1 cup soft brown sugar

1 2/3 cups whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon powdered cinnamon

8 tablespoons real maple syrup

4 tablespoons fresh orange juice

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Grease a 8-inch springform cake pan (at least 3 inches deep) with olive oil and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the grated parsnips, chopped cranberries, oil and sugar. Add the flour, baking soda and powder, nutmeg and cinnamon, maple syrup and orange juice. Stir until everything is evenly combined. You will end up with a sticky, wet batter.

Spoon into prepared cake pan, level the top and bake for an hour, or until a skewer stuck in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan.

for the frosting

1 stick of butter, divided

8-ounce packet of cream cheese

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

2 tablespoons bourbon, or to taste (optional)

Melt half a stick of butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally until the milk solids turn medium brown and give off a nutty fragrance (3-5 minutes). Remove from the heat immediately and set aside. Allow to cool for about three minutes.

In a mixing bowl—or the work bowl of a stand mixer—add the cream cheese and the remaining half stick of cold butter. Pour in the browned butter and mix on low speed until smooth.

Add the powdered sugar a little at a time until fully combined, then increase the speed and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy (3-5 minutes). Add the bourbon, if using, and continue mixing until fully combined.

Make sure the cake is entirely cool before applying frosting. Using an offset spatula, spread a thin “crumb coat” all over the cake and chill in the fridge several hours. Then add an additional generous layer of frosting and craft swirls using the back of a metal spoon.

Note: the recipe above makes an 8-inch cake with cream cheese frosting. The cake photographed here was made with one and a half times the recipe and a double batch of frosting. The 8-inch diameter, 3-inch deep pan is adequate for the larger cake, but add an additional 15 minutes to the baking time and again check for doneness with a skewer. Let it cool fully before dividing into two equal layers and frosting generously.

vegetarian • vegan (without the frosting)

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