Recipe: Parsnip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

(Image credit: Samantha Seneviratne)

I remember spying the loose parsnips at the market years ago and thinking, What are those carrots, sans spray tan? We didn’t grow up eating them in my house, and I had no experience cooking them. They looked a little intimidating. But back then, before I had made cooking my career, I was eager for new culinary adventures. So I scooped them up and hoped for the best.

(Image credit: Samantha Seneviratne)

Turns out, parsnips are a little more work than carrots. The skins, which can be saved for stock, must be peeled away. (Although, if you have organic parsnips that are free of pesticides, you could probably get away with a wash and a scrub.) Then the ends must be trimmed. And if you really want the best results, the woody core of the parsnip should be cut out.

Once I had prepped them, I tucked them under a chicken and set the whole mess to roast. I fell hard and fast. It turns out that my heaven is paved with salty roasted parsnips smothered in chicken fat. From then on, it was a parsnip bonanza at my house: parsnip soup, parsnip puree, braised parsnips, parsnips in stews — I couldn’t get enough. And that’s how they started showing up in my desserts, too.

(Image credit: Samantha Seneviratne)

Parsnip cake isn’t as strange as it sounds. Similar to carrots in their sweetness, parsnips add an earthy, nutty edge that’s just lovely cozied up with warm spices and pecans. A little cream cheese frosting makes the cake both familiar and new at the same time.

(Image credit: Samantha Seneviratne)
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Parsnip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes1 loaf


  • 10 tablespoons

    (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus more for greasing the pan

  • 1 1/2 cups

    (6 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan

  • 1 tablespoon

    ground cinnamon

  • 1 tablespoon

    ground ginger

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    freshly ground cardamom

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    baking powder

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 6 tablespoons

    packed dark brown sugar

  • 6 tablespoons

    granulated sugar

  • 2

    large eggs

  • 1 1/2 cups

    peeled, grated parsnips (about 2 medium)

  • 2 tablespoons

    (1 ounce) peeled, finely grated fresh ginger

  • 2 ounces

    chopped pecans (about 1/2 cup), optional

  • 1/4 cup

    whole milk

  • 2 teaspoons

    pure vanilla extract

For the frosting:

  • 4 ounces

    cream cheese, at room temperature

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons

    confectioners' sugar

  • 2 tablespoons

    whole milk, warmed



  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8 1/2-inch by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan.

  2. To prepare the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ground ginger, cardamom, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.

  3. In a large bowl, with a wooden spoon, stir together the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, and stir to combine. Stir in the parsnip, fresh ginger, pecans, milk, and vanilla. With a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Do not overmix the batter; a few streaks of flour are fine.

  4. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then flip the loaf out of the pan, turn it right-side up, and let it cool completely.

  5. To prepare the frosting, with a wooden spoon, stir together the cream cheese and confectioners' sugar in a small bowl. Add the warm milk and whisk until smooth. Spread an even layer of frosting on top of the cake.

  6. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen (without frosting) for up to 1 month.

Recipe Notes

Reprinted with permission from The New Sugar & Spice: A Recipe for Bolder Baking by Samantha Seneviratne, copyright (c) 2015. Published by Ten Speed Press.