Ursula turned two yesterday, so we had a little party. We don't do much sugar with her, but I was told by a trustworthy source that she needed "a proper cake." So I set out to develop a cake recipe that was delicious, yet not packed with refined sugar and empty calories.
One of the beautiful things about having a baby on September 28th was that it felt like a bountiful time to me. Harvest time. What better time to bring into the world a nice ripe, plump baby? And with that spirit, I developed a Harvest Cake: a double layer earth-inspired confection filled with zucchini, carrots and beets. We frosted it with a goat cheese frosting and sweetened it mostly with the vegetables themselves and also some maple syrup. Most of the ingredients were bought the day before at the farmers' market.
Now, it's worth mentioning that the point of the cake wasn't to sneak healthy vegetables into my daughter's belly (she willingly consumes them in their natural state), but rather to capitalize on the texture and sweetness of three of early fall's best crops, and to riff on carrot cake, an old favorite of the birthday girl's mama.
Makes one 9" layer cake
For the cake: 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 3 teaspoons baking powder 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 1/3 cup grated carrots 1 cup grated zucchini 1 cup finely grated beets 3/4 cup chopped walnuts 1/2 cup raisins 1 1/3 cup pure maple syrup 2/3 cup safflower, canola or other mild-tasting oil 4 eggs
For the frosting: 15 ounces (about 2 cups) fresh goat cheese, at room temperature 6 ounces (about 3/4 cup) cream cheese, room temperature 1 1/2 cup powdered sugar 1 cup pure maple syrup
For garnish 8-12 walnut halves or 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts flowers
Arrange oven racks to divide oven into thirds. Preheat oven to 400° F Grease two 9in x 2in cake pans, dust with a spoonful of flour and tap out. Line each with a round of parchment paper.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt into a bowl. In another bowl, stir together carrots, zucchini, beets, nuts, and raisins.
In a large mixing bowl, beat maple syrup and oil together until emulsified. Add eggs one at a time, beating until batter is smooth. Add flour mixture in three or four batches, mixing gently until mixture is even. Gently mix in the vegetable mixture. Divide between baking pans.
Place one baking pan in center of each of the racks. Bake 25-35 minutes, until a skewer or paring knife inserted into centers comes out clear and cakes are pulling away from the sides of pans. Cool on a rack about 5 minutes, then gently remove from pans. Cool to room temperature before frosting.
To make frosting: Using an electric mixer or a wooden spoon and a strong arm, beat goat cheese and cream cheese together until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat at low speed until well blended. Beat in maple syrup. Chill about 30 minutes, until firm.
To assemble: Following our instructions on how to frost a layer cake, cut four strips of parchment or wax paper to line cake plate under the cake's edges. Place first cake layer on plate. If it has a peaked top, carefully shave it off using a bread knife or sharp slicing knife. Using an off-set spatula or table knife, spread with frosting, pushing it to edges. Place second layer, top down, squarely on first layer. Spread a thin layer of frosting over entire cake to eliminate crumbs. Frost with remaining frosting. Arrange walnut halves and/or flowers around edge. Can also be garnished by gently pressing handfuls of finely chopped walnuts into frosting.
NOTE: The recipe has been updated to reflect a larger quantity so that layers can be bigger. We have tested it several times and find this recipe works better when feeding a crowd. Of course, for a smaller cake you could halve the recipe and bake it in smaller pans, or in one pan and slice that layer into two layer for a more thin cake.