Making dessert for special occasions always intimidates me, and the prospect of preparing a gluten-free one away from home at high altitude this Christmas really had me in a tizzy. Last holiday season, I settled for a citrus fruit salad with ginger yogurt, which, while delicious, seasonal, and GF, didn’t exactly feel like Christmas dinner dessert. So I jumped outside my comfort zone this year and attempted a GF, high-altitude version of my very favorite kind of cake, carrot cake. Lo and behold, against all odds (including an ever growing baking aversion), it turned out fabulously–ultra moist, fragrant, and studded with pineapple, coconut, and walnuts. Everyone loved it, and no one would have guessed it was gluten-free. Really.
My father-in-law even emailed me after the holidays to thank me for the cake:
I also wanted to thank you for my Christmas dessert. Your gluten-free-low-sugar-high-altitude-altogether-successful-experiment carrot cake was about 90% of the dessert that I ate this season, and the memory still causes my taste buds to turn toward the mountains and ask, “Is there any more of that cake left?” It pained me greatly to leave for Las Cruces knowing that there was still a slab of cake languishing in the kitchen, but I just couldn’t squeeze in a farewell bite around the breakfast casseroles.
What a nice man! I’m sad to say that my turkey brother refused to try the cake because it contained cream cheese.
(I know. He’s adorable, isn’t he?)
Anyway, I am so glad finally to have a go-to traditional dessert for special occasions that I can eat along with everyone else, without anyone feeling deprived.
I won’t pretend this is health food or even a “nourishing” dessert. It’s not. White rice flour (in the Pamela’s mix) and even–gasp!–powdered sugar in the frosting plunk it squarely in the occasional indulgence category. But what’s life without a walk on the wild side?
- I made this with sweetened coconut, but you could probably replaced it with unsweetened and increase the Sucanat or Rapadura to compensate. Doing so might affect the moisture level (sweetened coconut tends to be more moist than unsweetened), but it’s worth a shot. I’ll do this myself next time I prepare the cake.
- Since I baked this cake at 7,000 feet, I used less baking soda and baking powder. So if you’re baking it close to sea level, you may want to add a bit more of those two ingredients. Just don’t overdo it because Pamela’s already contains some.
- I buy Pamela’s Ultimate Baking Mix at Whole Foods or HEB, so check in a health food store if you’re not sure where to start looking for it. You may also purchase it in bulk through Amazon here. I really love having Pamela’s around because it’s great for dredging chicken breasts or thickening a sauce. It even produces a great cream gravy. Score!
- We all thought this tasted even better the second day, so it makes a great do-ahead dessert. (No need to refrigerate it either.)
Heavenly Gluten-Free Carrot Cake
Adapted from this recipe.
2 cups Pamela’s baking mix
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup Sucanat or Rapadura (unrefined sugar)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
3 eggs (preferably free range)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
12 ounces cream cheese ( 1-1/2 packages), softened (Organic Valleys makes a real cultured variety)
6 tablespoons butter, softened (I like to use Organic Valleys or Kerrygold)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mix sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Fold in carrots, coconut, walnuts, and pineapple.
Divide evenly between 2 greased 9-inch cake pans. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 for 25 to 30 minutes, just until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool. (At normal altitude, bake at 350 for 40 to 45 minutes.)
At this stage, I prefer to wrap my cakes and freeze them for 24 hours. This makes them easier to frost and, in my opinion, moister. This step is optional. If you choose to follow it, allow the cakes to partially defrost before icing them.
Cream softened butter and cream cheese until smooth in a mixer or with hand beaters. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar.
Frost cake, spreading 1/3 of the frosting between the cake layers.
Serve with love. 🙂