A healthier version of carrot cake – naturally sweetened with honey, applesauce, and pineapple, made with 100% whole grains, and topped with honey cream cheese frosting.
It’s the time of year that carrot cake recipes are springing up (pun intended) everywhere. There are so many fabulous versions of carrot cake, and each recipe brings something different to the table. FYI, I can’t wait to try these bars… drool.
I have previously shared Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting and Pumpkin Carrot Cake, and today I’m bringing you a healthier carrot cake recipe. Don’t let the word “healthier” scare you off – this cake is loaded with flavor and topped with a honey-sweetened cream cheese frosting. For those times when you want cake but don’t want to go up a pants size, this here is the cake for you. Let’s chat about what makes this “healthier.”
Over the past couple years my view regarding what makes something healthy has changed. I am increasingly embracing the concept of eating “real food.” Less processed and less refined foods and more whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, humanely raised meat, organic eggs and cheese, and natural sweeteners (maple syrup and honey). If you’d like to learn more about a “real food diet,” here are some great resources: Michael Pollan, 100 Days of Real Food, Live Simply.
When I set out to make a healthier/”real food” version of carrot cake I started by swapping out the refined sugar for honey. I also include applesauce and crushed pineapple, both of which both add natural sweetness and moisture. I swapped the white flour for white whole wheat flour. White whole wheat flour is 100% whole grain, yet yields a lighter flavor and texture. For the cream cheese frosting I skipped the typical powdered sugar (since it’s refined) and sweetened the frosting with honey. The frosting contains a combination of cream cheese and heavy cream which impart an unbelievably creamy and light texture (think whipped cream + cream cheese frosting mixed together).
I was extremely happy with how well this cake came out. It was moist and flavorful. The cake has a slightly dense texture from the wheat flour, and it’s actually quite filling. I am considering making this again without the frosting to enjoy as a breakfast cake.
Lastly, I want to leave you with a few things. This is still a cake. I don’t want the word “healthier” to be misleading. It should be enjoyed in moderation just like any other cake.
Also, all this talk of “real food” might have you thinking, Whaaattt?? Who are you??
I firmly believe that eating is about balance. I eat whole/real/unprocessed foods most of the time, but I also believe in indulging occasionally. I will continue to share caramel drenched, Nutella stuffed, and sprinkle topped treats, and when I make something healthy (and super delicious!), I’ll be sure to share that with you too.
Healthier Carrot Cake (Naturally Sweetened + Whole Grain)
- 1 2/3 cup white whole wheat flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup coconut oil melted and cooled slightly (measure when solid)
- 2/3 cup honey
- 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cups finely grated carrots
- 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup crushed pineapple drained
Honey cream cheese frosting:
- scant 1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
- 4 ounces cream cheese room temperature (I used organic)
- 3-4 tablespoons honey
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons chopped walnuts for topping (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9x9 square pan with foil and grease the foil.
In a large bowl combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
In a separate bowl combine coconut oil, honey, applesauce, eggs, and vanilla extract. Whisk vigorously to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until the mixture is combined, being careful not to over mix. Add carrots, walnuts, and pineapple and stir until combined, again being careful not to over mix (that could lead to the cake being tough).
Pour the batter in the prepared pan. Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes, until the top springs back when you touch it, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Place the pan on a wire rack to cool completely.
Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat heavy cream until soft peaks form. In a separate bowl, beat cream cheese, honey and vanilla extract until smooth and creamy. Add whipped cream to cream cheese and briefly beat on high until combined and slightly thickened (don't beat it too long or the cream could thicken too much). Spread over cooled cake. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts. I cover the cake and refrigerate it to allow the frosting to firm up.
I like to store this cake in the fridge since the frosting is quite soft. It is best served at room temperature but it can be served chilled as well.