A naturally sweetened date and carrot cake topped with a cream cheese icing. Great as a breakfast, snack, or dessert.
I love a good carrot cake and it's been a while since I made one. So when I looked up some recipes last week I was surprised by how much sugar is in most carrot cakes. The first recipe I found used three cups. I thought that seemed like a lot until the next recipe I looked at included nearly six!
Look, I'm no health nut looking to drain the joy out of life and tell you to eat carrot sticks dipped in yogurt instead of cake. No. Eat cake. Just maybe not every day and maybe not one with six cups of sugar.
These sickly sweet cake recipes inspired me to create a carrot cake recipe without sugar. Well, what I mean is a carrot cake without refined white sugar. Instead, I wanted to make a cake sweetened with the Medjool dates that I kept seeing in the store and a little Vermont maple syrup, since it's maple sugaring season in Vermont.
While to some extent, sugar is sugar, more natural forms of sweeteners, such as dates and maple syrup, at least come with a few health benefits and lower glycemic indexes than refined white sugar, meaning they won't make your blood sugar won't spike if enjoyed in moderation. Learn a little more about Medjool dates.
And after a little experimenting, I think I got it.
I'll be the first to admit that this isn't the traditional carrot cake. But I guess that's already obvious. This cake has a looser crumbly texture and may lean more towards the likes of banana bread than carrot cake.
I also left out the tooth-achingly sweet cream cheese frosting. But no fear. Instead, I made the world's easiest maple cream cheese icing that manages to do the job without all the extra sugar and butter of usual frosting.
Since this teeters between cake and bread, that just means it's great for breakfast, an afternoon snack, or dessert. In other words, any time of day.
Here's everything you need to make this easy date carrot cake.
- baking powder
- baking soda
- kosher salt
- vegetable oil
- Medjool dates
- maple syrup
- cream cheese
Medjool dates are large soft dates with a creamy texture and caramel flavor. Though the outside of these dates is wrinkled and looks dry, they're a fresh fruit that you can find in most produce departments. They break down easily in a blender (making them perfect for sweetening a smoothie) and are often used in unbaked desserts. Here are a few more ideas on how to use them.
See the recipe card below for all of the specific ingredient quantities.
To get this date carrot cake started, whisk together the dry ingredients in one large bowl.
In a second bowl, stir together the wet ingredients, including the pineapple, eggs, and oil. To incorporate the dates into the cake, you'll first need to puree them in a blender or food processor with a little water until they form a smooth paste. Then stir into the wet mixture.
Grate a couple of carrots before adding them in, along with the walnuts.
Then pour it all into a greased bread loaf pan. You could use a cake pan, though you'll likely want to lower the cooking time. I haven't tested it in anything but a bread loaf pan.
Bake the cake for 40-45 minutes at 350 degrees F until a toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean. Then remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool completely before icing.
While the cake cools prepare the icing.
Hint: While this icing is just two ingredients, it does take a precise mixing to avoid clumps. First, put the cream cheese in a small bowl and heat it in the microwave for 10 seconds to soften. Whisk the cream cheese until smooth, then add in the maple syrup a tablespoon at a time, whisking until incorporated after each addition.
Not heating the cream cheese or adding the maple syrup all at once will likely result in lumpy icing with a weird texture. If it doesn't look right, it's easy enough to try it again.
Once the date carrot cake is cool, drizzle over the icing and enjoy.
Walnuts- Instead of walnuts, pecans would be a good substitute
Pineapple - If you have crushed pineapple instead of chunks, that's fine. Personally, I like the chunks of pineapple within the cake.
Dairy-free - The only dairy in this cake is in the icing. Luckily, there are some good dairy-free cream cheeses out there and I think they'd work just as well.
Store the cake in the fridge, covered, for up to three days. You don't want to leave this sitting out with the cream cheese icing on it.
The thing I always look out for when making a cake or quick bread like this is that it's properly baked. Bake it too long and it'll be dry. Not long enough and you might be raw in areas.
So, in addition to testing for doneness with a toothpick, you can also:
1) See if the cake/bread springs back a little when you press on the top.
2) Look for some separation from the pan around the edges.