When I am on a "recipe rummage", there is this thing I do. Before I even glance at the title of the recipe, I scan through the ingredient list to see where they fall on the "pique my interest scale". Some ingredients are neutral (chocolate). Some have the power to send my page-flipping fingers into overdrive (shredded coconut, animal offals). Finally, there are a few ingredients that are almost certain to stop me in my tracks and cause me to give recipe more than a cursory glance: lemons, avocados, rhubarb, grapefruit, quinoa, spelt, lime. Yeah. I'm a little quirkly like that. Ok, I am a whole lot quirky like that.
One of the most-recent additions to "high on the pique-ter scale" are parsnips. Kissin' cousin to the carrot, but so much more... Creamy golden color. Slightly sweet taste. MMMMM
I am not sure why parsnips don't get more attention than they currently do. Maybe it is because their pale color fades into the visual background; while their more flamboyant carrot-cousin's bright orange glow screams "look at me". But surely, everyone knows that it is the quiet ones you should look out for. While the loud ones are out their wasting their energy and fade out like a flash in the pan, the quiet ones wait patiently and wow you with their substance and subtle style.
Trading out parsnips for carrots in a spice cake is a genius way to play up the undertones of this root -vegetable. When you pair it up with a ginger-cream cheese frosting, well it is just enough to make you say "Carrot Who???" Now granted, I may be a little biased on this subject - after all, I was the girl who requested spice cake with lemon glaze for her birthday instead of the requisite chocolate or vanilla. This is true. (I wonder if my parents had any inkling back then that they had such an odd-ball on their hands?)
[Alert for "do it yourself" plug] By the way, if you haven't tried making your own vanilla extract, give it a try! It couldn't be easier and is great for everyday baking. Split a couple of vanilla beans, place in a jar, cover with your choice of rum (light or dark) or vodka (flavored or plain). Seal it up. Place it in a back corner of a cupboard and fuggedaboutit. Seriously - forget it about it for at least a couple of weeks. You can top it off as you start to use it up and when the vanilla starts to lose it potency just throw in another bean. It is way better than the cheap imitation extracts and far less costly than the pure vanilla extracts.
Granted, there are some times when I break out the really good stuff for special baking, but 95% of the time (made up statistic) this is my go-to vanilla.
I will admit that I was somewhat surprised by the ratio of batter to vegetable, but it all worked out well in the end because. I reasoned that the high vegetable ratio flips this cake from dessert to health food. Maybe even a side dish for dinner? Or even in place of dinner? It at least holds up as breakfast. Now you're talking my language!
Of course, there is not much that I need to say about a cream cheese frosting laced with freshly grated ginger. I am surprised that any made it on the cake. I told myself that if I didn't shovel it all into my mouth on the front end that I would reward myself by leaving a generous serving in the bowl for "cleanup" - and I didn't share. Seriously.
Now, all of you girls can have your Death by Chocolate and Boston Cream pies. This girl only needs a bit of spice to make her day!
Parsnip Spice Cake Recipe
From Bon Appetit Desserts (Originally appearing in Bon Appetit March 2006)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp teaspoon salt
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp ground allspice
3/4 tsp ground cloves
3 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
2 packe cups shredded peeled parsnips (about 3 large)
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature (1/2 a normal size package)
2 Tbs butter, room temperature
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1/8 tsp salt
3 cups (~12 ounces) powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Stir together dry ingredients in order listed in a large bowl. Whisk eggs, oil, milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla in medium bowl to combine. Pour wet ingredients over the dry mixture; stir until just combined. Carefully fold in parsnips & nuts. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake until toothpick comes out clean, ~25 minutes. Cool cake completely in pan on rack.
Beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in fresh ginger and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Slowly add powdered sugar - beat until smooth. Spread over cake.