Parsnip Cake: a fantasy by a woman who thinks carrot cake is a waste of time

I don’t believe in carrot cake; I mean, categorically, I don’t believe in it. People who say they love carrot cake are, I feel, just hideously misguided people, culinarily speaking. (As you get to know me, you’ll learn that I am nothing if not full of bigoted opinions about food: either learn to be amused by it, agree with me, or move on, is my advice. Plenty other blogs for you to read out there. Ones you’ll like more.)

But one of my longtime fantasies has revolved around parsnip cake. Some years ago, when I started cooking parsnips as often as I possibly could, it occurred to me that parsnip cake would be something I’d actually enjoy. And I thought, “One day, I will make parsnip cake.” But, like so many things, I never got around to it. I always say, “I’m going to make my own yogurt someday,” and it’s been about fifteen years, and no, I’ve never made my own yogurt. Maybe this winter.

But last week I had a situation where I had on hand a small tub of leftover cooked parsnips and carrots — about two parts parsnips to one part carrot — and it occurred to me, “NOW is my chance. We’ll overlook the carrots and just throw them in. It’ll be fine.”

My friend Jen advised me that the best parsnip cake recipe in the world is in a Jane Grigson cookbook, and I’m prepared to believe that, but I don’t own that particular book. And the local public library doesn’t have a copy. So I decided to just Google “parsnip cake” and see what popped up. I landed on this:

and being a fan of browned butter, I thought, “Well, all right.”

So I read the recipe carefully, as one is supposed to do — well, I read it in a manner of speaking: I skimmed it for basic information. And then I started to work, measuring carefully and otherwise totally ignoring what Marie of The English Kitchen wanted me to do.

I creamed butter (instead of working with oil) in my mixer with brown sugar and white sugar — using far more brown sugar than she called for, and less white sugar. To this I added the eggs and the parsnips and carrots, which I’d pureed in a food processor. I combined the dry ingredients in a bowl. I ditched altogether the pineapple and the nuts: seriously, why do I want these things in my parsnip cake? I don’t. I added the wet to the dry ingredients and blended them together. I tasted the batter. It was perhaps a touch salty — I remembered that I’d salted the parsnips and carrots a bit when I’d cooked them, and thought, “No problem, I’ll add some more brown sugar.” I did this, and tasted again: fine. Steadily sweet. I poured the batter into two 9″ cake rounds, which I’d buttered and dressed in parchment, and then I set them in the oven to bake at 350°. I let them bake for about 25 minutes — tested — they were done. I had two not very high layers. Perhaps they’d’ve been higher if I’d added some baking powder instead of just using baking soda; I think I’ll  try that next time around. But the cakes smelled wonderful: very sugary. After the layers cooled, I sliced a bit off the top of one, to even it out (so it’d look nicer when I frosted it) and the scraps were gobbled up quickly by me and my daughter. Now, my daughter, I’ll confess, claims to loathe parsnips, but she loved this cake…. so I felt I was onto something, here.

On Wednesday I will be taking these layers (which are sitting in my freezer right now) and I will gussy them up for my Thanksgiving table. My game plan is to take some caramel (jars of which I made and set aside last week) and add it to a buttercream and use that to fill the cake, and then do a brown butter and cream cheese frosting all over the top and sides. If I am feeling energetic, maybe I’ll toast some pecans, crush  them, and scatter them festively atop the frosting. Because some people would like that. (Ok, I’d probably like that, I admit.) But I can tell you this: it is going to be one spectacular cake, and I fully anticipate spending a lot of time making different parsnip cakes all this coming winter. Parsnip cake: the wave of the future.


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