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I hope you’ve stocked up on applesauce, because yet again we’re baking with this simple pantry ingredient to make a honey-sweetened applesauce carrot cake. This cake is delightfully moist, bursting with fresh carrots, sweetened with honey and applesauce for a well balanced sweet flavor, and made with an ancient grain (einkorn).
If you’ve made the einkorn muffin recipe here on the blog, then you know just how amazing applesauce is for baked goods. Applesauce not only adds incredible moistness to baked goods, it also provides a natural sweetness to typically over-processed treats. This means a less-processed sweetener, like honey or maple syrup, may be used without compromising the sweet flavor or texture of a baked good.
This next paragraph is going to completely contradict what I just said, so hang with me…
When it comes to making speciality treats that are only enjoyed a few times a year, like cake, I’m personally okay with using an organic sugar (like cane sugar). This vanilla einkorn cupcake recipe, made with cane sugar, is my go-to recipe for birthday celebrations, along with this einkorn chocolate cake. I’m a firm believe that something like cake is meant to be a treat!
A treat isn’t consumed because of its nutrients, and it isn’t meant to be a daily or even weekly food. A treat is meant to be enjoyed, savored, and celebrated. I think this idea is missed in our ready-to-go treat society. Gone are the days of baking treats in home kitchens, which requires time and attention to the process. Today, most people just run to the store and grab cookies or cakes off the store shelf. The time, patience, and work involved in making treats has been lost and so they’re consumed in a quick, careless way. The convenience factor is amazing (and trust me, I’ve been saved many times by a grocery store cake), but it’s also led our processed food society to over-consuming treats that were once reserved for weekends (remember Sunday night dinner?), birthdays, and holidays.
When it comes to making a treat, like chocolate or vanilla cake, I’m okay with using these more refined sweeteners in an effort to maintain a treat’s integrity (the taste and texture). Some treats, like carrot cake, naturally lend themselves to more natural sweeteners without compromising the integrity of the treat or complicating the baking process.
Carrot cake naturally lends itself to being a “healthier” dessert. When the first word in your name is carrot, I just expect more from you than loads of white sugar.
By replacing the white or brown sugar with less-processed sweeteners, carrot cake naturally gets a “healthier” face-lift.
How to Make Honey-Sweetened Applesauce Carrot Cake
As the name implies, this Honey-Sweetened Applesauce Carrot Cake is made with natural sweeteners: honey, applesauce, and freshly-grated carrots (a sweeter vegetable). The combination of the 3 ingredients not only escalate this classic cake to a real food status but also result in a super moist cake. And for me, a super moist carrot cake is a must!
How to make this classic, naturally-sweetened carrot cake…
- 1st: In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: einkorn flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt.
- Next, combine the wet ingredients in a second large bowl: melted butter, honey, applesauce, eggs, and vanilla extract. Give the wet ingredients a good whisk.
- Now it’s time to add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
- Once combined, add grated carrots, chopped walnuts, and shredded coconut to the batter. If you don’t like coconut, you can omit this ingredient.
- Let the batter rest for 10 minutes. Einkorn slowly absorbs liquid ingredients, so during this time the flour will absorb the liquid and the batter will thicken slightly. This is a common step when working with einkorn batters.
- Meanwhile, grease 2-8inch cake pans with butter and then sprinkle each with flour. Shake off the flour. This will help the cakes easily slide out of the pans once they are cool. If you’d prefer, you can use a 13×9 pan.
- Pour the batter into the cake pans and then bake for 40 minutes.
- While the cake bakes, make the cream cheese frosting, which also uses honey as a natural sweetener.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and fully cool.
- Once cool, it’s time to frost and decorate. I love to add chopped walnuts and orange zest (grated orange peel) over the top of the cake and arrange leafy green carrot tops along the perimeter of the cake.
This carrot cake recipe calls for einkorn flour. What is einkorn flour?
All-purpose einkorn is light with a delicious taste, which makes for the best cakes, pancakes, and muffins. Einkorn is a variety of wheat. It’s known as the oldest variety of wheat, or the first wheat, making it an ancient grain. This particular species of grass grew wild for thousands of years before it was intentionally planted and harvested.
The wheat that’s commonly used today isn’t the same as the wheat our ancestors consumed for thousands of years. Modern wheat has been hybridized. Hybridization is the act of crossing two different species of plants with the goal of creating a new variety of plant. This changes the very makeup and structure of the new plant.
Why do this?
There are many reasons, from improving the yield of the crop to making a plant more disease resistant. As Carla Bartolucci explains, in Einkorn: Recipes for Nature’s Original Wheat, “During the Green Revolution from the 1940s to the 1960s, breeders created new high-yielding varieties of wheat with hybrid seeds that would carry better traits for large-scale farming”
Einkorn and other ancient grains (like emmer and spelt) have a thick husk around the very grain. Modern wheat has a thinner husk that’s easier to remove. Modern wheat may seem like a better choice for production and profitability. But with the increased use of pesticides and fertilizers, is this thinner husk such a good idea? Plus, that thick husk naturally occurs on grains for a reason. Why mess with what nature intended as protection?
While cross-breeding may be a good idea from a large-scale farming standpoint, how does this effect our ability to digest the grains? And what kind of effect does consuming large amounts of this grain have on our overall health?
This is where einkorn really shines, because it still holds to its original properties and nutritional values. In our effort to make modern wheat “better” and more efficient from a production standpoint, nutrients have been lost. Einkorn has a much higher protein content (30% more than modern wheat) and less starch (15% less than modern wheat), along with a higher concentration of minerals and flavor. This makes einkorn distinctly different than modern wheat.
And when we look at the enriched white flour that is widely used today and milled from modern wheat, the nutrients are even further removed, which is why key nutrients (now in isolated forms) must be added back in.
Einkorn is also the only wheat that’s missing certain types of gluten proteins that some people are sensitive to. Einkorn doesn’t have less gluten than modern wheat. It actually has a similar gluten content to modern wheat. The difference is the gluten structure (in einkorn) is weak, making it remarkably different than our modern wheat. (This is a super fascinating video to watch for a visual.)
Einkorn is not gluten free. Some folks with a gluten sensitivity find that einkorn is easier to digest than modern wheat. If you want to make gluten-free carrot cake, check out this recipe.
More Einkorn Treat Recipes
Honey-Sweetened Applesauce Carrot Cake
As the name implies, this Honey-Sweetened Applesauce Carrot Cake is made with natural sweeteners: honey, applesauce, and freshly-grated carrots. The combination of the three ingredients not only escalate this classic cake to a real food status, but also result in a super moist cake. And for me, a super moist carrot cake is a must!
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose einkorn flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 ground nutmeg
- 8 TB unsalted butter melted
- 1 cup honey
- 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 3 eggs
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 3 cups grated carrots
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
Cream Cheese Frosting*:
- 4 TB unsalted butter softened
- 1/4 cup honey
- 8 oz cream cheese
- chopped walnuts
- orange zest (grated orange peel)
Preheat the oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: einkorn flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.
In another large bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients: melted butter, honey, applesauce, eggs, and vanilla extract. Whisk vigorously for about 30 seconds, until the honey is combined with the other ingredients.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and gently stir until all the ingredients are well combined. Add the grated carrots, chopped walnuts, and shredded coconut to the batter, stirring just until combined. Let the batter rest for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, grease 2-8inch cake pans with butter and then sprinkle each with flour. Shake off the flour. This will help the cakes easily slide out of the pans once they are cool.
Pour the batter into the cake pans. Bake for 40 minutes. Insert a toothpick into the cakes to test for doneness--they should come out clean.
Meanwhile, make the frosting. In a stand-mixer (you can also do this with muscle power and a wooden spoon), beat together the softened butter and honey using the paddle attachment. Once the butter and honey mixture is smooth, add the cream cheese and continue to beat the frosting until smooth. You can also use the whisk attachment for this step, but I've found the paddle attachment does a better job at removing any butter chunks. Place the frosting in the fridge until the cakes are cool.
Let the cakes rest in the pan for about 25-30 minutes, then flip the pans over to remove the cakes. Allow the cakes to fully cool. Slice the top off one cake, then gently flip the cake over onto a plate or cake stand. Frost the top and sides of the cake, then add the second cake, and continue frosting. Sprinkle the top of the cake with extra chopped walnuts (toast these in a pan on the stove-top for an extra treat) and orange zest (my favorite addition). Due to the frosting, this cake needs to be kept in the fridge.
13x9 Pan Baking Note: According to a reader via an Instagram comment, this cake turns out great when it's baked in a 13x9 pan: "I made your honey carrot cake yesterday and it was loved by all. I made it in a 13x9 pan and it worked great. It took about 45 minutes at the temperature listed in the recipe."
This recipe will yield enough frosting to lightly frost the cake, but not enough to create a thick frosting. If you'd like a thick layer of frosting around the cake, I recommend doubling the butter and cream cheese amounts, but only increasing the honey to 1/3 cup. Taste the frosting, and add more honey if needed. I've found that 1/3 cup of honey is sweet enough for this frosting.