There’s no doubt about it, Easter will look different this year. Large gatherings with those in our community and travels to visit family will likely be replaced with virtual get-togethers and making smaller-scale spring feasts at home. You may be planning a menu around pantry staples, rather than making an extensive grocery list for the occasion. Also—you may actually have time to do a couple of festive crafts with the kids this year. And even if Easter isn’t a holiday you typically celebrate—in a big way or any way at all—perhaps this year, you’ll lean into making the weekend feel a little extra-special for the ones you’re at home with. Just because.
In any case, this may not be the year you’re aching to make a multi-layer carrot cake that takes a few hours to assemble and requires twelve people to eat. (Understandable.) Enter, Carrot Cake “Brownies.”
Great cooking comes down to confidence
I love traditional carrot cake, but here’s the thing, where cake is finickey, blondies—A.K.A. brownies, sans chocolate—are flexible. These blondies are impressive for sure, but they’re approachable for bakers of any skill level. (I mean, the batter comes together in a single saucepan.) And the thing that makes the recipe so exciting to me is that it offers a ton of wiggle room for substitutions and riffing with what you have.
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I wrote the recipe specifically to minimize the number of different ingredients called for (because who is stoked to see a recipe calling for two different types of flour right now?). However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mix-and-match ingredients a bit according to what works for you. I’m such a fan of the final formula we landed on, but this is one of those magical recipes where you could prepare it slightly differently every time, and end up loving each batch even more than the last. That has certainly been my own experience. In fact, the final batch of Carrot Cake Brownies I made this week—using a variety of partial substitutions—turned out phenomenal. Point being: Make do and have no fear. You may have just found your go-to carrot cake fix for years to come
GET THE RECIPE: Carrot Cake "Brownies"
Not all baking recipes are this way, but right now, you can take some (reasonable) liberties and still produce something utterly incredible. So, let’s break down the negotiable elements of this recipe, and take a deeper look at how you can make tweaks as you please:
The recipe calls for rice flour for two reasons: One, because finding all-purpose flour is hit-or-miss right now, while alternative flours appear to be well-stocked in most grocery stores. (No sense in using your all-purpose stockpile if you have an easy alternative, right?) And two, rice flour happens to lend a phenomenal texture to baked goods like cookies and blondies. The best way I can think to describe it is an extremely pleasant sandiness. Plus, rice flour does an exceptional job of absorbing moisture—so, in a recipe like this, where we’re incorporating moisture (via the grated carrots) that’s not typically present in a cookie bar, the rice flour allows us to maintain a delightfully dense, satisfying blondie texture.
All of that said, if rice flour is just out of the question for you—Do. Not. Sweat. It. You can use all-purpose flour here. Just keep in mind, your “brownies” are simply going to have a slightly softer consistency. (If you go all AP, I would add a couple of extra tablespoons of flour to offset the additional moisture in the recipe.) Or you can use a blend; I had great success with trying a blend of 1 cup rice flour and ½ cup all-purpose. You could even use a gluten-free all-purpose blend. Wanna throw a little almond flour into the mix? Go for it. Again, don’t shy away from experimentation.
And if you’re interested to learn more about rice flour, along with other flour options, be sure to check out our Practical Guide to Alternative Flours.
We’re calling for coconut oil, to be considerate to folks’ butter supplies and because it lends a wonderful undertone of coconut flavor to the brownies. But if you don’t keep coconut oil stocked in the pantry, no prob. You can absolutely swap in unsalted butter, or even vegetable shortening if that’s what you have on hand.
The recipe calls for dark brown sugar, because it provides such a depth of molasses sweetness, but it’s completely fine to substitute light brown sugar or even granulated sugar. That said, I would proceed with caution before substituting liquid sweeteners like honey or maple syrup.
Besides fresh grated carrots, carrot cake recipes traditionally call for bonus flavor/texture boosters like walnuts or pecans, raisins, and coconut to be stirred into the batter. The thing is, not everyone likes coconut and raisins. Some folks have tree nut allergies. Or maybe you just don’t keep walnuts stocked in your kitchen. Again… no biggie.
For the walnuts called for in the recipe, you can substitute whatever nuts you like and/or have around. Pecans are an obvious choice but hey, who said you have to go with the obvious choice? Almonds, pistachios, macadamias, or even cashews would all be great. If you don’t have the golden raisins called for in the recipe, you could substitute a different dried fruit (chopped dried apricots sound like an awesome plan) or simply skip the chewy fruit element. I didn’t include shredded coconut in the brownies’ batter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t.
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Again, feel free to change up the spices from what’s called for in the recipe based on preference and what you have in your own spice cabinet. I used cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom in developing the recipe, but you could also opt for a little nutmeg, a touch of allspice, or even try adding in a bit of turmeric.
Alright, so this is an easy one: The Lemony Cream Cheese frosting is entirely optional. Yes, of course, it completes the look and makes for an even tastier final product. The bright tang of this lightly sweetened, citrus-kissed frosting provides a lovely balance to the densely sweet baked base. It is “the icing on the cake” in every sense. But, the blondies/brownies/whatever you want to call them are quite delicious even without it.
If you do decide to frost, feel free to swap coconut oil in for the butter, as you may already have the jar out from making the blondie batter. And if you don’t have cream cheese but are still interested in making a frosting, try a basic American buttercream. You can still add the lemon zest to give it a touch of aromatic sunshine. If you don’t have a microplane or comparable tool to zest a lemon (I highly recommend treating yourself—this will soon become one of the most beloved tools in your kitchen), use a teaspoon or two of fresh lemon juice. Or bottled lemon juice if that’s what you have. Or a different citrus fruit altogether! Pull out that bottle of lemon extract you never thought you’d have a use for. Whatever you might have around to add a touch of sunshine will be fantastic.
I think it goes without saying at this point, but the toasted coconut and walnuts that the recipe mentions sprinkling over top of the frosted blondies are also completely subject to your preferences.
One final flexible detail I want to point out on these Carrot Cake Brownies is the first step of the recipe—i.e. toasting the flour. As I’ve said before, toasting flour can do a lot for the flavor depth of a recipe. However, it’s not an essential step to the recipe’s overall success, so if you’re in a rush (or straight-up don’t feel like it), it’s alright to bypass this step.
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