SUBMITTED BY JOANNE CHANG OF FLOUR BAKERY AND MYERS + CHANG, BOSTON
PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PIAZZA / STYLED BY CATRINE KELTY
Flour is somewhat famous for its carrot cake. Or maybe it's just that it is my husband Christopher's most favorite Flour cake so in my mind it's the most famous cake we have. Countless special occasions have been celebrated at the Chang-Myers household with a slice of carrot cake and two forks. (Yes I suppose we could each get our own slice but I always think the cake is going to be a present for Christopher and then I simply can't help but join in.)
So when it came time to try and develop a low sugar—make that NO sugar—version of this cake I knew I had my work cut out for me. Flour's carrot cake is decidedly one of the sweeter things we offer; the cake itself is sweet and the frosting has a fair amount of sugar in it as well. How could I get the same luscious rich addictive flavor without using any sugar? Could I create a cake that would be as good as the one that Christopher begs for? It turns out that using a few tricks up my sleeve the answer is YES. Apple juice concentrate acts as the sweetener here along with pineapple juice that is reduced down until syrupy. The pineapple is naturally sweet and two kinds of raisins helps make your mind think this cake is laden with sugar. The frosting is a variation of a cream cheese frosting that my pastry chef Sarah used when making her own wedding cake. It's creamy and tangy and lightly sweetened with more reduced apple. You'll feel good about making this cake for your family—and I feel great about bringing this home, not just for special occasions but for every occasion.
This recipe appears in Chef Chang's newest cookbook, Baking with Less Sugar.
Editor’s note: the frosting is very loose, so be sure to refrigerate the cake between the crumb coat and the final coat of frosting so it can firm up.
Makes one double-layer 8-inch cake to serve 10 to 12.
Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 12-ounce can frozen apple juice concentrate
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups heavy cream
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 12-ounce can frozen apple juice concentrate
1 8-ounce can pineapple chunks in their own juice
4 large eggs
½ cup crème fraîche
½ cup milk
1¼ cup vegetable oil, such as canola
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup shredded carrots, tightly packed
¾ cup dark raisins, about half of them roughly chopped
¾ cup golden raisins, soaked for 20 minutes in hot water and drained
Start with making the frosting since it needs to sit for at least 4 hours before using. In a small saucepan bring one can of apple juice concentrate to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer; simmer juice on medium low heat until juice reduces to ¾ cup, about 20 to 25 minutes. It will thicken up, become syrupy, and boil a little slower as it reduces. Watch out that it does not overboil or burn; you may need to reduce heat as it thickens. To check to see if it is reduced enough, every now and then pour the juice into a measuring cup to measure it; if it is not ¾ cup, pour it back into saucepan to continue to simmer and reduce until it measures out to ¾ cup. Remove from heat and cool in fridge until cold to touch.
In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment or with a hand mixer whip together the softened cream cheese and 8 tablespoons of the reduced apple juice concentrate (reserve rest of apple juice for another use or discard) until it is light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally to get all of the cream cheese whipped up. Slowly drizzle in the heavy cream and beat on medium until the cream thickens and combines with the cream cheese mixture, about 1 to 2 more minutes. Add cinnamon, vanilla, and salt and mix until well combined. Scrape frosting into a container and store in the fridge for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days. The frosting needs to firm up before you can use it. You will have about 4 cups of frosting.
To make the cake preheat oven to 350°F and place rack in center of the oven. Place walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 8 to 10 minutes until lightly toasted. Set aside to cool. Butter and flour the cake pans or line the bottoms with parchment. Set aside. In a medium saucepan combine one can of apple juice concentrate and the juice from the crushed pineapple. Chop pineapple into small pieces and set aside. Bring juices to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer; simmer juice on medium low heat until juice reduces to ¾ cup, about 20 to 25 minutes. It will thicken up, become syrupy, and boil a little slower as it reduces. Watch out that it does not overboil or burn; you may need to reduce heat as it thickens. To check to see if it is reduced enough, every now and then pour the juice into a measuring cup to measure it; if it is not ¾ cup, pour it back into saucepan to continue to simmer and reduce until it measures out to ¾ cup. Remove from heat and cool in fridge until cold to touch.
In a large bowl, whisk together the cooled apple juice concentrate, eggs, crème fraîche, milk, vegetable oil, vanilla extract, and reserved chopped pineapple until well combined. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, grated nutmeg, carrots, dark raisins, drained golden raisins, and walnuts. Add to egg mixture and fold together until well combined. Scrape batter into prepared pans, dividing equally between pans. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until cake is light brown (it won't color as much as a full sugar cake) and the cake springs back when you touch it in the center with your finger. They will not dome at all. Remove cakes from oven and let cool until you can pop them out of the pan.
When the cakes are completely, totally cool (if they are at all warm the frosting will melt off and it will be a mess), remove them from the pans and use a long serrated knife to trim the tops of the cakes off to level them (they don't round too much but it's nice to level them off if they do). Place one cake on a plate or cake pedestal (use a cake turner if you have one) and spoon about a cup of chilled frosting on top; use an offset spatula to spread the frosting evenly all the way to the edges of the cake. Carefully place the second cake on top of the first cake (place it upside down so the even, sharp edges will be on the top of your finished cake) and spoon about another cup of frosting on top of the cake. Spread the frosting thinly to the edges of the cake and down the sides of the cake, smoothing it as well as you can and covering the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting. This layer of frosting is called a crumb coat; it keeps loose crumbs from migrating to the surface of the finished cake. (At this point it helps to refrigerate the cake for about 15 minutes to help set the crumb coat; it’s not crucial but if you have time it makes frosting a little easier.) When you are done with the crumb coat, spoon a heaping cup of frosting on the cake and spread it evenly across the top and sides again. This is the final finishing layer of frosting. Use remaining frosting to pipe a border around the bottom of the cake if you wish or pile it on top of the cake. Garnish the finished cake with fresh fruit. Store the cake for up to 2 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Any longer than that and the frosting will get softer and may slide off of the cake. Remove the cake from the refrigerator about 2 to 3 hours before serving and serve the cake at cool room temperature.
Joanne Chang is the chef and owner of Flour Bakery + Café and Myers + Chang in Boston, MA.