This grain-free carrot cake gets wonderful flavor from hazelnut flour, lemon zest, and just the right balance of spices. It’s perfect for Easter, birthdays, or an impromptu spring celebration.
Carrot cake–how do you feel about it? I’ve changed my tune over the past few years. As a kid, I thought carrot cake was a huge disappointment. I’d take a few bites if it was the only cake available, but just because even carrot cake was better than no cake whatsoever. As I grew older, I came to appreciate carrot cake as a vehicle for cream cheese frosting, which I do like, despite finding most store-bought versions way too sweet.
When Ben and I first started dating, I was flabbergasted to hear that carrot cake was his FAVORITE kind of cake. Because I love him so much, I started experimenting with homemade carrot cake and was gradually won over. This grain-free carrot cake is good enough to often get stuck in my head like a song, with the memory of its flavor playing over and over until I give in and bake it again. I won’t say carrot cake is now my number one cake, but it might actually be one of my top three. I like how the carrots keep the cake from drying out, and how the subtly spiced cake contrasts with the subtly tangy frosting.
(Tune changing aside, though, there absolutely cannot be raisins in my carrot cake. Despite how much I love them as a snack and in savory dishes, I just can’t get behind raisins in baked goods. If you want to add raisins to this cake, you definitely can–don’t offer me a slice, though!)
I discovered this decorating idea over at Honestly Yum a couple of years ago and fell in love with it instantly. It’s simple and elegant, and you could potentially get a small child to momentarily wonder whether carrots grow in carrot cake. We brought this cake over to our friends’ house for brunch and their two year-old was not fooled, but you never know. He did, however, take his first bite of this cake and then start belting out “Happy Birthday”. So, this grain-free carrot cake is good enough to make toddlers sing! Whether or not its someone’s birthday, the taste is good enough to celebrate.
I used a mix of almond, hazelnut, and tapioca flours in this cake. The hazelnut flour has a rich flavor that blends well with the carrots and spices, but you can replace it with more almond flour if you don’t have any. For the spices I used ginger, cinnamon, and allspice, which I think make the perfect carrot cake flavor trifecta. And the frosting (adapted from The Merchant Baker) is a cream cheese whipped cream frosting, which means it’s lighter than a classic cream cheese frosting and in my opinion, more delicious. It’s still sweet, tangy, and creamy, but not so sugary that it’ll make your teeth hurt or so heavy that it’ll weigh the cake down.
If you celebrate Easter, what are you planning on baking? I’m going to make this grain-free carrot cake again because I can’t get enough, and I know Ben won’t be complaining. If you’re looking for something different, though, I also highly recommend this mocha ricotta pie with strawberries (grain free), this golden cake with strawberries and whipped cream (grain free), or this lemon olive oil cake (grain free and dairy free).
- 2 cups lightly packed almond flour
- 2 cups hazelnut flour*
- ¾ cup tapioca flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ¼ cup honey
- ½ cup raw or coconut sugar
- ¾ cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
- 5 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¾ teaspoon lemon extract (optional)
- 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
- 2¾ cups shredded carrots (from about 14 ounces carrots)
- 6 ounces Neufchatel cheese or cream cheese**
- ½ cup raw sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Carrot tops with greens
- Sprinkling of hazelnut flour
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of two 9-inch round cake pans with a circle of parchment. Thoroughly grease the parchment and the inside of the pans with butter.
- Whisk together the dry ingredients (almond flour, hazelnut flour, tapioca starch, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt, allspice, and cream of tartar) in a very large bowl.
- In another large bowl, whisk together the honey, sugar, melted butter, eggs, and extracts until smooth.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula until just combined, and then stir in the carrots and lemon zest.
- Divide the batter evenly between the two pans, smoothing the top with a spatula so that the batter reaches the edges of the pan and forms an even layer. Bake for about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes, then run a small knife around the edges of the cake to loosen them and carefully invert them onto a rack to cool completely.
- To make the frosting, briefly beat the Neufchatel cheese with a mixer until smooth. Add the sugar, vanilla, and salt and beat again until the sugar crystals have disappeared (taste a bit or pinch it between your fingers to make sure the graininess is gone).
- Add the heavy cream and continue to beat until the frosting holds medium peaks. If you're not frosting the cake right away, refrigerate the frosting until you're ready to use it.
- Make sure the cake has cooled completely before you frost it. Put one layer of the cake upside down on a cake stand or plate, and spread on a thin layer of frosting. Top with the second half of the cake, also upside down, and frost that with a thicker layer, allowing some of it to drip down the sides if desired. Decorate with carrot tops and greens and a sprinkling of hazelnut flour, if desired. Slice and serve. Store leftover cake covered in the refrigerator, where it will keep well for up to four days.
**Use Neufchatel for a drippier frosting like you see here. Use cream cheese if you'd like a sturdier frosting that you can pipe like this. If you'd like to cover the whole cake and pipe on decorations, double the frosting recipe.
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