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Feb 28, 2010 08:19 AM

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: 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: - 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.