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How to lighten classic carrot cake???

Maybe what I'm looking for isn't possible but I'd like a version of the classic carrot cake with raisins, nuts and pineapple that has 1) a lighter crumb and 2) is about half as sweet.

My family *loves* the stuff. I make it for them. They're more than happy with the dense, oily texture, the cloying sweetness and the gloppy cream cheese icing. I can't handle it. I have to have vanilla ice cream to cut the sugar and get a forkful or two down. In that forkful, I can recognize the spicy flavor that they like so much. I'd like to find a way to retain that while improving the texture and cut back significantly on the sweetness.

This is the recipe I used and a good one to work with I think: http://www.joyofbaking.com/CarrotCake... I have already substituted butter for the oil and creamed the crap out of it to work in as much air as possible. That helped I think and I prefer it over the consistency of an oil-based batter. I also made sure the carrots were grated super fine -- altho that certainly wouldn't reduce the total weight the batter has to support. I used equal parts (1/2 cup) of raisins, nuts and well drained pineapple. What else do you think? More leavening? More eggs as leavening? Less carrot? Mission Impossible?

How much do you think omitting 1/2 a cup each of the granulated sugar and confectioners' sugar would affect the texture of the batter and icing? Is there something I could replace part of the confectioners' sugar with to add to the amount of icing and keep it from getting runny? Corn starch occurs to me but I wonder if that would be a detectable flavor.

Thanks in advance for all your ideas.

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  1. Here are the changes I would make to lighten this cake

    wring or press the shredded carrots in paper ot tea towel to dry them a bit
    cake flour will give you a finer crumb but isn't neccessary
    use 2 whole eggs and 4 egg whites in place of the 4 whole eggs
    use 1/2 the sugar called for or reduce in incraments you are comfortable with, the raisins and pineapple add a good dose of sweetness.
    leave out 1/2C of the fat as you're using the 1/2C of pineapple
    personally I would sub 1/2 of the cinammon with allspice to add a little complexity

    Cream cheese frosting doesn't need sugar to keep it from being runny unless your adding milk. The recipe I use (Mom's) calls for 1/2 C unsalted butter, 8oz cream cheese, 1/2C confectioners sugar and 1 1/2 tsp vanilla (I'll have to try it w/the lemon zest). So I'm sure you could easily just add the sugar in 1/2C incraments to your taste.

    Hope this helps. I'd love to see the recipe you end up with. M

    1 Reply
    1. re: just_M

      I'll be happy to share it but I just made a cake last night and we only have so many birthdays. KWIM ;>

      But I'll post it if you don't mind waiting. I'll say right now that I think your idea of subbing additional egg white for some of the yolk sounds promising indeed! And the cake certainly doesn't need all the richness.

    2. You might want to try this one...Heidi's a great cook and recipe writer and I've tested this recipe myself. There's no pineapple here, but one of the reviewers said they added some. And I am sure you could add raisins. I'm with you that most are way too sweet---this one is not like that but it is a fantastic recipe (and whole wheat as well!!). I hope that it works for you.


      1 Reply
      1. re: IndyGirl

        Interesting and thanks for sharing it. I bet it's delicious.

        I can't see the crumb but she describes it as "dense". That's what I'm trying to move away from. ;>

      2. Cook's Illustrated has an interesting "light carrot cake" recipe (march '06 - you can get a trial online subscription on their site - not sure my link will work: http://www.cooksillustrated.com/recip...) - you might try their proportions to begin with. Their cake is very different than the dense and cloying versions out there - but it also omits the typical raisins, pineapple and nuts of the traditional recipe. it's more cake-y - really nice, but maybe too different from the traditional version for you and your family. see what you think... I was a skeptic, but it's a really good cake - just different. hope this helps!

        1 Reply
        1. re: lodgegirl

          My family goes crazy for CI's original carrot cake, it is now the go to cake for BD's and company. Is the light version similar in taste?

        2. I agree with you about the usual recipe being too oily and have cut the oil in half. Usually I use butter instead of oil but in this case I don't want the butter flavor since there's so much else going on. Are you objecting to the heavy crumb because of the oiliness? I am used to carrot cake being moist to the point of wet, so I don't really want a lighter crumb. I replace the volume of oil with an equal amount of pineapple juice. If memory serves, the CI recipe uses a jar of carrot baby food for the same purpose. You can certainly cut the sweetness of both the cake and frosting to suit your preferences without any detrimental effects.

          I mix softened or whipped cream cheese with marshmallow fluff and a little vanilla to create a lighter frosting - start with 1:1 and taste, adjusting accordingly.

          You might want to instead try a broiled icing - sweet, to be sure, but not as gooey. This one is taken from CI's Oatmeal Snack Cake (8x8" pan):
          1/2 stick melted butter, cooled
          1/3 c packed light brown sugar
          1/4 c milk
          1c sweetened shredded coconut (you could use unsweetened)
          3/4 c chopped pecans or walnuts

          Spread evenly on slightly cooled cake, still in pan. Broil in the upper middle of the oven for 2 minutes or more, removing when nuts and coconut are browning at the edges.

          1 Reply
          1. re: greygarious

            When I'm making it, I'm making it to my husband's and daughter's expectations. That means a layer cake with the cream cheese icing. For my own palate I'd like a more open crumb like a conventional layer cake. And, yes, less of that oiliness. I thought the butter was an improvement on the oil. I guess I could use less net time.

            I thought just_M's suggestion to use more egg white and less yolk was a very promising one. I could cream the whole eggs with the butter and whip the egg whites to fold in after the fruit and nuts go in and get some air in there that way. Even if they collapse under the weight of the fruit and nuts, there would probably be some additional lightness to expand under heat.

            Most of all, I'd like to retain the full flavor that they enjoy so much. No point in all this monkeying around if they'll be disappointed. They're happy now -- it's just my own aesthetic I'm working with at this point.

            Thanks for everyone's suggestions. I have some stuff here I can work with. I'm still welcoming whatever ideas anyone has. I think I'll put together a plan from them and try another carrot cake next weekend.

          2. Rainey, this page
            looks very helpful.

            A quote: "Perhaps the best way to illustrate how reduced-fat baking works is to tell the story of how I gave my mom's Chocolate Fudge Cake with Fudgy Chocolate Frosting, a makeover. It didn't happen overnight."

            3 Replies
            1. re: blue room

              Thanks. That's very interesting. I'll use it when it's the fat I want to eliminate.

              1. re: rainey

                Sorry, I should have focused on the "flavor comes 1st" part of that page!
                Doesn't the dense, oily texture you're objecting to come from the fat? It seems like cakes get downright chewy if too much egg white is used. And if you dry the carrot and pineapple too much they'd be chewy too. Would it be worth trying to simply sort of use 1/2 carrot cake batter and 1/2 spice cake batter (something with buttermilk?) -- folded together? Lemon juice to boost the fruit flavors.
                I suppose it's easy to make it less sweet, the texture is tricky.

                1. re: blue room

                  Now that you mention spice cake....maybe use a spice cake or carrot cake MIX. Horrors to mention cake mixes, I know, but they ARE designed to produce a light crumb that holds well. Add the nuts, raisins, drained pineapple, and freshly grated carrot (and baby food if desired to compensate for reduced oil).

                  I have also seen recipes calling for a little orange juiceand/or zest both in the cake batter and in the frosting. 8ox each butter and cream cheese, 3 c confectioner's sugar, 2T OJ, 1T grated zest.

            2. I use Alton Brown's recipe. Once, I just omitted all of the oil because when I got to the stage to add it, the batter just didn't look like it needed it. RAVES from my family.

              1 Reply
              1. re: jaykayen

                Alton Brown uses equal amounts yogurt and oil -- if it works without the oil, great!
                I like buttermilk glaze on this "meaty" kind of cake, rather than frosting.

              2. OK. I performed my experiment today.

                • I used butter instead of oil. I used 3/4 cup instead of 1 cup.
                • I cut the sugar in the batter from 1 1/2 cups to 1 cup.
                • I changed 4 eggs to 2 whole eggs + 4 egg whites. I whipped the whites to stiff peaks and folded them in just prior to the fruit/nuts.
                • I added a tablespoon or so of pineapple juice to loosen up the very tight batter in order to be able to fold in the whites.
                • I cut the confectioners' sugar in the icing to 1 1/2 cups from 2 cups
                • I used vanilla powder instead of vanilla extract in the icing
                • I put a teaspoon of the pineapple juice drained from the fruit in to replace the liquid portion of the vanilla.

                My visual assessment from handling the layers is that they were definitely less oily. They were also springier.

                Half of my carrot cake contingent was at home. His verdict was that the flavor and texture were imperceptibly changed. He noticed the missing sugar but he didn't object to the diminished sweetness. Perhaps I should add a tablespoon or two of sugar back into the batter. He liked the cake.

                I had a very small piece. I think the icing was genuinely improved. It wasn't cloying and it was much less runny.

                My daughter half of the carrot cake contingent is on her way over. We'll see what she thinks.

                Verdict: I'm making these permanent changes to the recipe (except that I'll increase the sugar slightly in the cake batter). Next time I'll experiment with using Splenda Blend for some or all of the sugar.

                Here's a pic of the altered cake: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4053/4...

                The other half of the carrot cake contingent showed up. She prefers the lightened recipe to the one she used to love. She says that you can taste the carrot more and that's a big plus for her. She would prefer that I don't add back any of the sugar I took out. She's wondering if I should consider replacing the raisins with candied ginger.

                3 Replies
                1. re: rainey

                  If you want the egg whites to work even more for you, make it into a meringue with half the sugar. Mix the nuts/fruit in before you fold in the whites. Make a liason to deal with tight batter - mix some of the whites with the batter to loosen it up then fold in.

                  1. re: jsaimd

                    My intent was to do a liason but it was too tight to even begin to accept any of the white until I loosed it up with the pineapple juice.

                    Will try a meringue next time. Mostly tho I'm very happy with what I got.

                    1. re: jsaimd

                      ooh...I like that meringue idea...just like the method for making angel food cake. Although I'm not a big carrot cake person, I bet that method might make for a taller, fluffier cake in any cake that calls for whipping the whites separately.

                  2. Have you tried replacing applesauce for the oil and maybe cutting the sugar by 1/2?

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: shanagain

                      I have already cut the sugar back by 1/3.

                      And thanks for the applesauce suggestion but I've already got enough fruit flavors going on. It wasn't my intention to make this any kind of a diet product just to improve the texture and reduce the sweetness.

                      1. re: rainey

                        It might be worth a shot just to see what it does texturally. It has to change at least the oiliness somewhat - IIRC it changes the texture of baked goods to a drier texture, and supposedly doesn't taste "apple-y" when cooked. (If you think of how unsweetened applesauce tastes by itself, I can sort of see how - the apple flavor is faint to start with.)

                        I was just looking at the recipe you've used as your base, and it does note that if you want a moister cake - which you don't - to use the pineapple or applesauce on top of the other ingredients (rather than subbing as i mentioned). What if you made a lighter pineapple cream cheese frosting and cut the pineapple from the cake entirely?

                        Also, I bet you could cut the sugar in half easily - I know my go-to carrot cake recipe uses a ton of sugar, and I halve it "just because."

                        1. re: rainey

                          I was going to suggest replacing half the oil w/ unsweetened apple sauce--the texture can get pretty dense if you do a 100% replacement in my experience. I do this with essentially all of my quickbreads and lots of other baking, especially when recipes already call for fruit/veggies. I really don't notice any change of flavor, and it will definitely help the oily factor.

                      2. So 1 cup was removed, replaced somewhat with air. It was fat, sugar, egg yolks. Good job!
                        I wonder if you'd be interested in "carrot pudding--a sweet steamed thing. I've always wanted to try it.
                        If I'm cooking for others I just do it their way, but will experiment for my own self.
                        Must confess, I love the little green and orange frosting carrots on *stiff* cream cheese for carrot cake, from a bakery.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: BangorDin

                          Well, not really a whole cup of sugar. I think confectioners' sugar is more cornstarch than sugar. Or at least a significant part of it is the starch. But it's less cloying which is what was important to me. And it's a *little* healthier. But my objective was a cake with all the flavor my family loves so much and a texture and level of sweetness that I could enjoy more.

                          I'm happy with where I've gotten it.

                          1. re: rainey

                            I believe powdered sugar is almost entirely sugar, with a small amount of cornstarch to prevent clumping of the very finely ground sugar. But what I think BangorDin meant was that you removed a cup of ingredients total, between the butter, sugar, and egg yolks you removed, and added air, in that you beat air into the egg whites. (I think that's what s/he meant by "It was fat, sugar, egg yolks," i.e., that's the 1 cup you removed.)

                            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                              You're right. I had to look it up. Confectioners' sugar can be up to 3% cornstarch. So it was nearly 1 cup of sugar that I took out. Hooray!

                        2. Forgot to say THANKS TO EVERYONE for the great suggestions!

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: rainey

                            Would you be kind enough to write out the revised recipe? I got lost along the way. I'd love to make a lighter version of carrot cake.

                            1. re: subrosa39

                              CARROT CAKE WITH CREAM CHEESE ICING

                              CAKE BATTER
                              • 1/2 cup (50 grams) pecans or walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
                              • 2 1/2 cups (340 grams) raw carrots, finely grated
                              • 2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
                              • 1 teaspoon baking soda
                              • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
                              • 1/2 teaspoon salt
                              • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
                              • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
                              • 4 large egg whites
                              • 2 large eggs
                              • 1 cups + 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
                              • 3/4 cup (180 ml) butter
                              • 1/2 cup crushed pineapple in natural juices, well drained
                              • 1/2 cup golden raisins
                              • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
                              • 2 tablespoons pineapple juice

                              CREAM CHEESE ICING
                              • 1/4 cup (57 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
                              • 8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
                              • 1 1/2 cups (170 grams) confectioners sugar, sifted
                              • 1 teaspoon vanilla powder
                              • 1 teaspoon pineapple juice
                              • 1 cup (100 grams) toasted and finely chopped walnuts or pecans

                              CARROT CAKE:
                              Preheat oven to 350˚F (180˚C) and place rack in center of oven.

                              Butter or spray two - 9 x 2 inch (23 x 5 cm) cake pans and line the bottoms of the pans with a circle of parchment paper.

                              Toast the pecans or walnuts for about 8 minutes or until lightly browned and fragrant. Let cool and then chop coarsely.

                              Peel and finely grate the carrots. Set aside. Drain pineapple, reserving juice. Set aside.

                              In a glass bowl, whip egg whites to soft peaks.

                              In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Set aside.

                              In bowl of electric mixer or with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time beating until completely incorporated and then beat in the vanilla extract and pineapple juice. Add the flour mixture and beat just until incorporated. If the batter is too tight at this point, stir in additional pineapple juice to lighten. With a large rubber spatula fold in half of the egg whites. Carefully fold in the remaining egg whites attempting to keep as much of the air as possible. Now fold in the grated carrots, pineapple, raisins and chopped nuts. Evenly divide the batter between the two prepared pans and bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

                              Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. After about 5-10 minutes invert the cakes onto the wire rack, remove the pans and parchment paper, and then cool completely before frosting.

                              In bowl of electric mixer or with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter, on low speed, just until blended with no lumps. Add in the powdered vanilla. Gradually add the sifted powdered sugar and beat, on low speed, until fully incorporated and smooth. Beat in the vanilla extract and the pineapple juice.

                              Remove about 1/3 of the icing to a small bowl. Stir in any left over pineapple and use this for the filling.

                              Place one cake layer, top side down, onto your serving plate. Spread with about one third of the frosting. Gently place the other cake, top of cake facing down, onto the frosting, and spread the rest of the frosting over the top and sides of the cake. If desired, press toasted and finely chopped nuts on the sides of the cake and decorate the top of the cake with marzipan carrots. Cover and refrigerate any leftovers.

                              Meanwhile, here's the next one I'm going to try: http://www.pastrypal.com/2009/08/20/t... Look how tall and airy hers is!

                              1. re: rainey

                                You know, it just occurred to me that next time I might add a pinch of baking soda. I'm wondering if the acid in the pineapple is inhibiting the baking powder and I hope the baking soda would neutralize it and really enhance the leavening.

                                You could also heighten the flavor profile by using part brown sugar for some of the granulated sugar.

                                1. re: rainey

                                  rainey - thank you for taking the time to write out the recipe. I'm thinking you are a profession baker.

                                  1. re: subrosa39

                                    Not at all! I just love baking. And it's not the least bit of trouble to paste in a recipe. I have them all in a database I merely need to copy. ;>

                                    If you haven't started a recipe database I tell everybody NOW is the time! ;>

                                  2. re: rainey

                                    If I was going to make your recipe I'd leave the butter out of the icing - there is no need to add fat from butter to the fat from cream cheese. The more cream-cheesy the frosting is, the better, and butter just dilutes it. I'd probably cut the butter in the cake back to 1/2 cup and the sugar to 1 cup... and leave the pineapple juice in the cake instead of draining it. But that's just what I'd do! If your family is happy with it the way it is, that's great...

                                    1. re: Kajikit

                                      Leaving in the pineapple juice would certainly add to the flavor. But it would greatly add to the acidity too so I'd have to start monkeying around with baking soda to neutralize it. ...which is *really* where I should have begun this entire exercise. ;>

                              2. So use less oil and fat in the recipe. Substitute applesauce for half the oil for starters. I don't make a traditional 'carrot cake recipe' because of all the oil and sugar - last time I made carrot cake I just put the carrots and spices into my regular cake recipe and it came out delicious. If you use less sugar in the icing it will just be runny ick - don't try it unless you want to go for a thin glaze. If you cut the sugar in the cake itself the icing will automatically taste less sweet.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Kajikit

                                  Actually it was my fear that cutting the confectioners' sugar in the icing would result in a runny icing. Not so. At least not with the increment I took it out in.

                                  Understand the "don't make a traditional 'carrot cake" " approach. Unfortunately, it's the traditional carrot cake that my family *wants*. Waddaya gonna do?

                                  1. re: Kajikit

                                    Kajikit's tip is the most useful. Seriously, you can sub ALL of the oil for just applesauce. For a bit more flavour, substitute 2/3 of the oil with applesauce and 1/3 of the oil with low fat yogurt. Replacing the oil with butter might make it less greasy but it is in fact making it *less healthy* (oil is a much healthier fat than butter).

                                    Carrot cake is really a quick bread: it follows the same rules as banana or zucchini bread. Because of this, it is much more forgiving than most cakes and easier to make healthy.

                                    1. Substitute 1/4 of the white flour for whole wheat. It won't affect the texture much but does add some fibre.
                                    2. Cut out all butter and oil and replace with the aforementioned unsweetened apple/yogurt mix.
                                    3. Reduce the sugar by 1/4 cup. The remaining sugar can be substituted completely or partially with artificial sweetener depending on your taste.
                                    4. If you must use pineapple, find some that has been canned without any sugar added or add some unsweetened pineapple juice to the batter instead (reduce liquids and the amount of sugar accordingly). Personally I quite like carrot cake with a little extra carrot rather than pineapple added.
                                    5. For extra flavour, put your raisins in 2 or 3 tablespoons of rum, cover with saran wrap and microwave until hot. The raisins will rehydrate in the rum and add a huge kick of flavour for only a few extra calories per slice.
                                    6. Use LIGHT cream cheese and add the icing sugar 1/4 cup at a time. Stop as soon as it tastes sweet: I bet it will be much less sugar than the recipe calls for.

                                  2. My husband has a Southern African carrot cake recipe that is unbeatable. It is not as sweet and "cloying", only about 170 cal for 1/24th of the cake. You can top with a lemon glaze (yum, my favorite) or the traditional cream cheese. (Recipe following)

                                    Also I recently made 6 carrot cakes finding the best recipe for a work celebration, and found the following: grating your carrots really fine actually makes the cake more dense. So does using applesauce instead of oil, or whole wheat flour instead of regular flour. For the lightest carrot cake, I would use oil, egg whites instead of eggs, white flour, and a courser grating for the carrots.

                                    David's Botswana Bakery Carrot Cake
                                    1 cup brown sugar
                                    1/2 cup raw sugar
                                    3/4 cup oil
                                    3/4 cup egg whites
                                    2 cups flour (I used 1 cup whole wheat, but it makes it a little heavier)
                                    1 tsp baking soda
                                    1 tsp baking powder
                                    1/2 tsp salt
                                    1 tsp cinnamon
                                    2 shakes of nutmeg
                                    2 shakes of ginger
                                    2 shakes of ground cloves
                                    1 1/2 cups grated carrots
                                    100 g crushed pineapple (a little less than a cup, try to drain a little)
                                    1/3 cup walnuts (opt.)
                                    1/3 cup raisins (opt.)
                                    1 tsp grated lemon peel

                                    1. Cream together the sugars, oil and egg whites - beating this a little will add some fluff to your cake
                                    2. Mix in flour, soda/powder, and spices - don't mix too much from here on, will make heavier
                                    3. Fold in carrots, pineapple, nuts, raisins, lemon

                                    Bake at 350deg for 50-60 min (bund pan - less for 9x13?)

                                    Glaze: whisk together 1 T melted butter, juice of 1 lemon (about 2 T) and 1 cup powdered sugar. Adjust amt of sugar to your taste.


                                    1. Sorry to spoil the party, but am I the only one who does not believe that carrots have no business being in a cake? I have never met a carrot cake I have liked, and have never met anyone else who does not like carrot cake. Same goes for cheesecake.

                                      I am more a chocolate cake person.

                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: souschef

                                        I won't go so far as to say that carrots don't belong in a cake but I could go a very long time without missing it in the least. The thing is my husband and my daughter really love it.

                                        But I understand *exactly* what you're saying if we include red velvet cakes. Why anyone wants to ingest that much artificial coloring is completely beyond me! And if that isn't bad enough covering it with a gloppy cream cheese icing... I can't leave the room fast enough.

                                        But I *completely* disagree about cheesecake. Love, love, LOVE it!

                                        1. re: rainey

                                          cake is like sex, it's all good, some is just better. As cake goes, carrot, red velvet, and cheesecake, are all way, way down my list of preferences,but I wouldn't kick one out of bed. Dessert should be chocolate.

                                          1. re: danna

                                            I thought you were going to say you get one for the rest of your life. ;>

                                        2. re: souschef

                                          Yikes! Too many negatives in my original post, but I see you all got my point.

                                          My problem with cheesecake is that I find it too heavy, and I dislike the texture.

                                          My apologies for hijacking this thread with a bit of negativity. Sorry !

                                          1. re: souschef

                                            Not in the least! I think it's only natural after a time for conversation to drift.

                                            My original questions got answered some time ago. And besides, you gave me the opportunity to say that I am disgusted by red velvet cake. I soooooo want to say that every time it appears as purported food porn on a blog and never can be so nasty. But here it made sense. So thanks for the opportunity. ;>

                                            1. re: rainey

                                              My SIL made it w/ a chocolate cake mix and a few bottles of red food coloring. The first time I saw it, I thought, it looks so...carcinogenic.

                                                1. re: chowser

                                                  "chocolate cake mix and a few bottles of red food coloring"? Sounds like a lab in a box. I've never ever eaten red velvet cake, or even seen one, and I'm definitely not inclined to do so now.

                                          2. I posted a recipe for what my friends call the Best Carrot Cake EVER on my blog a little over a year ago. The post is at http://wordybitch.blogspot.com/2008/0...

                                            It reduces the oil significantly (using applesauce, as one other replier on this thread suggested) and has a lighter crumb. You could certainly reduce the sugar in the cake or the confectioners sugar in the icing if you wanted to make it less sweet. I wouldn't add anything to the icing in place of it, though.

                                            My version doesn't have raisins in it but it does have pineapple and nuts.

                                            Apologies in advance for my smart-ass, wise-cracking recipe. It was written for friends and not for a formal publication.

                                            1. This recipe was on AOL's home page today. Ironic note: The author's surname is German for "sugarbread": http://www.thatsfit.com/2010/03/25/re...