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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Best Carrot Cake in Chicago
(and a recipe of my own)

Cake is a troublesome thing. On one hand it is powerfully nostalgic: we remember a grandmother's cake, we mark each birthday with...cake. Yet recently I had decided that cake rarely satisfied relative to all of its fat and calories. For me, it wasn't a wise indulgence. I believe that desserts are perfectly compatible with a healthy lifestyle, but that means I seek desserts that have a huge taste and tons of satisfaction in a small serving. In general I find few cakes stand up to this test. That is why I was so blown away when my friend Gabrielle introduced me to the carrot cake at Taste of Heaven in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood. In this post I rave (and rightfully so) about this outstanding carrot cake. Then, for those of you who won't be able to partake, I offer my own recipe for a healthy and delicious carrot cake. Look out, it also makes delicious breakfast muffins!

Gabrielle first brought this cake to a party we hosted. Everyone raved, and the platter was soon scraped clean. We later received a small version of the cake from Gabrielle and Wenona as an anniversary gift for our second wedding anniversary. We rationed the cake out one small slice at a time, and everyone from carrot-cake-lovers to carrot-cake-naysayers were taken in by the texture and taste. If you are in Chicago, it can be purchased by the slice or the cake at a Taste of Heaven.

This cake must be tasted to be believed. I feel that certain categories of food are difficult to excel in. There are, for example, so many really good chocolate cakes, that it is hard for any cake to be a standout. The same can be said for carrot cake. But this carrot cake grabs your attention, speeds up your heart rate, and slows down your breathing. This carrot cake dims the surrounding noise while orchestrating the Harlem Boys choir into an alleluia chorus.

Any culinary tour of Chicago would do well to wind up the night with a cup of coffee and a slice of this carrot cake. Best of all, a very thin slice is incredibly rich and satisfying. Now that I've thoroughly tempted you, here's my recipe for the tasty, rich and healthy carrot cake I make in my home.

My Carrot Cake Recipe


1 cup wheat bran
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole-grain wheat flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp table salt
1 1/4 cup low fat buttermilk (or milk w/1 Tbsp vinegar; directions below)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 brown sugar
1/2-3/4 sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup raisins
8 oz canned crushed pineapple in juice


1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°. Lightly spray twelve 2 1/4 x 1 1/2-inch nonstick muffin cups with oil. Or two eight-inch cake rounds. If using cake rounds you may want to cut a waxed paper circle for the bottom to prevent sticking.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk the bran, flours, baking soda, and salt until well combined. Set aside.

If using milk and vinegar instead of low fat buttermilk, warm the milk slightly in microwave, then stir vinegar in. You may use skim milk with fine baking results. You may find it more rich to use milk with slightly more fat. Add to bowl with wet ingredients.

3. In another medium bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer set at high speed, beat the buttermilk (or milk+vinegar), sugar, applesauce, egg, oil and vanilla until frothy, about two minutes. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour in the buttermilk mixture. Using a spoon, stir just until combined. Do not overmix.

4. Divide the batter equally among the prepared muffin cups. Bake until the tops spring back when pressed gently in the center, about 20 minutes. If making a layer cake, bake in 2 eight inch rounds for approximately 30 minutes or until tops spring back. Do not overbake. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing from the cups. Serve warm or cool completely on the rack.


Elly said...

Thanks for the tip. I've never had carrot cake at Taste of Heaven, but I will be sure to give it a try. I LOVE carrot cake. Your healthy recipe looks great, too!

marias23 said...

Hey fellow former Chicagoan! Lovely carrot cake and I hope you're enjoying Ghana.

Erin said...

Greetings elly and maria! Ghana's great. Actually posting about carrot cake has it in my head to try to make it here. We have carrots, we have flour and sugar. We even have tons of fresh pineapple. Unfortunately I only have a stovetop here, no oven. So I've actually been wondering if I could grill the cake.

sigh. but necessity is the mother...

Deborah Dowd said...

Carrot cake is my favorite! We used to have someone in the cafeteria at work that make a carrot cake from a secret recipe that was so incredible that a sheet cake weighed about 10 pounds! I'll give your version a try in the search for the perfect carrot cake!

Antonella said...

Hi, I'm writting from Italy and I would like to try your carrot cake but I have a problem. I don't have "cup" in my town but I use "gram" like unit of weight. Can you help me?

Erin said...

Cosmo, unfortunately I am currently in the land beyond weights and measures (aka Ghana, West Africa) otherwise I would weight out the measurements myself. But I poked around on the internet and found some seemingly reliable conversions:

1 cup of carrots chopped is about 130 g, but because you can fit more in if they are shredded I would probably suggest you use 1 C carrots=140-150 g shredded carrots.

For flour, 1 C=110 g flour.

For more conversions there are some suggestions at: Check out

When I get back to the US I hope to make progress on standardizing all my recipes to offer both volume and weight measures.

Antonella said...

Erin, thank you very much! I will try to make with this conversions.
I am curious to know why you are in gana now. Were you born here? I love Africa.
Excuse me for bad english.
Have a good day!

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