Beat the Wheat: Gluten-Free Carrot Cake
A few years ago, a fashion designer made a canvas handbag emblazoned with the words "Eat Cake for Breakfast." Really? It seemed so targeted toward those ladies who only saw Sex and the City for the first time in syndication on basic cable and thought they were so cool drinking cosmos at girls’ night in some strip-mall chain restaurant, deciding who was the Carrie and who was the Samantha. I used to roll my eyes at women who carried that bag … until I ate the first piece of my new and improved gluten-free carrot cake. Now I get it, people. I won't carry that bag, but I will unapologetically eat this cake for breakfast. You should too.
I've been making gluten-free carrot cake for years. And it was fine. Good, actually. It was sweet and rich and delicious, and everybody said it tasted "just like regular carrot cake."
But as I was getting ready to bake this cake a few weeks ago, it hit me: Tasting "just like regular carrot cake" wasn't really a compliment. Why? Well — confession time — I didn't really love regular carrot cake, and my original gluten-free version was fine. But what if I made it even better than regular carrot cake? What could I add? How could I tweak it? And somewhere along the away my brain said, "Stop." It wasn't about adding a new flavor dimension or anything like that. It was stripping things away. I thought about what I dislike about carrot cake: It's too sweet, there's always too much cinnamon, I'm not really a fan of raisins, and walnuts are good in some things, but I don't like them in carrot cake. Never have, never will.
So I cut way back on the sugar in this recipe. Eliminated raisins and nuts. Dialed back the spices. Made the frosting less sweet and gave it a tangier flavor to help balance the natural carrot-y sweetness of the cake. And you know what? It's good. Really, really good. It's cake you can have for dessert, or an afternoon snack with a cup of tea, or — and I kind of hate myself for saying this — for breakfast.
People have very strong opinions about carrot cake; they either love it or they hate it. This gluten-free version is one you will love for a long, long time. There's less sugar, more carrot and none of the distracting ingredients like raisins or nuts, just a smart blend of flours that help prop up the carrots' natural sweet, vegetal taste. The lime zest in the frosting has a complementary tang to the sweet cake. This one's a keeper. Note: It will keep, covered, at room temperature for three days.
2 1/2 cups peeled, grated or shredded carrots (about 4-5 large carrots)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with cooking spray.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together oat flour, brown rice flour, sweet rice flour, baking powder, xanthan gum, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.
In a separate mixing bowl — preferable a stand mixer — on medium speed, beat together the vegetable oil, sugar, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla until the mixture is creamy and combined. Add the flour mixture a cup at a time (with the mixer off so you don't blow it all over the place) and beat on medium-high speed until fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl with a spatula as needed. Add the carrots and coconut, and beat on low speed for about 15 seconds, until fully combined.
Pour batter evenly into both pans. You may need to use the back of a spoon to ensure it spreads evenly across the pan. Bake for 45 minutes on the center rack of the oven.
Place baked cake pans on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife or offset spatula around the edges to loosen the cake, then gently invert them onto the cooking rack for another 30 minutes.
In a mixing bowl, on medium-high speed, beat cream cheese and butter until fully blended. With the mixer stopped, add the confectioners' sugar and mix on low speed until fully mixed in. Add the vanilla extract, orange blossom water, and lime juice and zest, and beat on high speed for 30 seconds.
To frost the cake, place one cake layer on a cake plate or serving platter. Using an offset spatula, spread a thin layer of frosting on top, covering the surface completely. Place the second layer on top, and frost the top and sides of the cake until covered completely.