Vegetable Cake: Good, and (Sort of) Good for You

Carrot cake: polarizing? Or something that everyone loves? I wasn’t a big fan as a child, but somewhere along the way my mom borrowed a recipe from a lady (I think my brother’s friend’s mom) whose secret to carrot cake was baby food carrots.  No grating, no mess, and the moistest (sorry Jen!) cake you ever ate.  Even as a child I was the odd person who thought frosting was too sweet, so my mother would literally leave a quarter of the cake without its cream cheese adornment.   I pulled this recipe from Good Housekeeping, September 2014, a couple of years into our relationship with the Farmer.  We received parsnips in one or two boxes each season, which I promptly turned into a delicious puree, but I thought parsnip cake sounded intriguing.  Unfortunately we’ve only received turnips this summer, so adjustments had to be made.

PREP: 0:30
LEVEL: Moderate

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • ⅔ c. brown sugar
  • ¾ c. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 c. coarsely grated peeled parsnips
Brown Butter Frosting
  • ½ c. butter
  • 2 packages cream cheese
  • 2 c. confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 pinch salt


  1. In glass baking dish, combine butternut squash and 2 tablespoons water; cover with vented plastic wrap. Microwave on high 10 minutes. Let stand, covered, 5 min. Drain well; transfer to food processor. Puree until smooth. Cool completely.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9-inch cake pans (or eight 4 1/2-inch pans). Line bottoms with parchment; grease.
  3. In med. bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and nutmeg; set aside.
  4. In lg. bowl, with mixer on medium speed, beat eggs, sugars, oil, vanilla, and 1 1/2 cups squash puree until well combined. (Reserve remaining puree for another use.) Add flour mixture; mix just until incorporated. With rubber spatula, fold in parsnips. Divide among pans. Bake 35 to 40 minutes (25 to 30 for small pans)nor until toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean. Cool on wire racks 10 minutes. With small knife, loosen layers from sides of pans. Invert onto wire racks. Peel off parchment; cool. Can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated up to 1 day or frozen up to 2 weeks.
  5. Place 1 cake layer onto cake plate. Top with one-third of frosting (recipe below); spread evenly. Add second layer on top. Spread remaining frosting on top of cake. Cake can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 3 days.
  6. To make the frosting: In 1-quart saucepan, cook butter on medium 8 to 10 minutes or until brown and very fragrant, swirling frequently. Transfer to small bowl; refrigerate until just starting to set, about 30 minutes.
  7. In medium bowl, with mixer on medium speed, beat brown butter, confectioners’ sugar, and pinch salt until smooth. Makes 3 1/2 cups.

So I’ve made this recipe twice in the last 3 weeks.  The first time I used farmer squash, a winter variety called Hubbard. It’s pumpkin-like with a thick dark green skin.  I’ve roasted them and tried to eat them like acorn squash, but it’s on the drier side and clumpy, so I haven’t found a great application (until now).  I cut it in half, scooped out the seeds and roasted it (375°-400° until a fork pokes through easily, 40-60 minutes), cooled it slightly and scooped it from the shell. I used it in place of the butternut squash and subbed my turnips in for the parsnips (the grater disc on the food processor did this in a minute).  The layers baked perfectly and the mixture reminded me of a classic spice cake.  I used reduced fat cream cheese, which worked perfectly.


Yesterday, I used farmer pumpkin in place of the squash and made cupcakes instead of layer cakes, plus a 5 inch cake in a springform pan (dinner party next week!).  To use all of the pumpkin I’ve roasted in the last 3 weeks, I quadrupled the recipe (into 2 double batches), which made over 80 cupcakes.  The second bunch of turnips only yielded about a cup and a half of shreds, so I also grated a bag of baby carrots and mixed the 2 together.  I also reduced the white sugar to 2/3 of a cup (the frosting is sweet enough to make up for the change).


Verdict:  I cannot rave about this recipe enough!  Simple, versatile, adaptable, and delicious.  A definite keeper.  Even vegetable haters will eat this cake.  I put half of the unfrosted cupcakes in the freezer and have already pulled out a 1/2 dozen to frost for another occasion: cake is still tender and tasty.  Seriously, make this cake!


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