Spring has finally sprung, and I am psyched! Every year I am amazed at just how much the weather affects my mood. Winter is fine for a while, but I got so tired of wearing my duck boots every. single. day and dealing with tons of snow, slush and ice. This past weekend I went running outside in shorts, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I did that!
This cake screams spring. It also screams spice! And excitement! And a moist crumb! I love that it has all of the best parts of carrot cake; the freshness of the shredded carrots, lightness of the cream cheese frosting and just that wholesome feeling you get when you are eating a dessert made out of veggies, ya know?
Adding cardamom to this cake is life changing—it adds a whole new dimension to this tasty cake, and I can’t picture going back to any other plain ol’ carrot cake.
With spring outside and in my kitchen, I can’t help but be reminded of one of my favorite artists, Arcimboldo, and more specifically, his work Spring. Giuseppe Arcimboldo was a 16th century Mannerist painter, who is best remembered for his anthropomorphic portraits, using flowers, plants, fruits, vegetables and other inanimate objects to create the faces. Arcimboldo grew up in Milan when naturalism was really in style, which no doubt influenced his later work, though there is no question that he took it a step further than his contemporaries! When he was in his 30s, he left Milan and went to Vienna to work as a court painter, decorator and costume designer for the Habsburg court. It was here that Arcimboldo really flourished. Under the patronage of Emperor Maximilian II and Rudolf II, Arcimboldo was encouraged to study botany, and his works truly began to fuse art and science.
In the 1570s, Arcimboldo started his “The Seasons” series to celebrate the reign of his patrons, by personifying Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. The series was so popular that he created many reproductions and alternate versions (one version of Spring is hanging in the Louvre, and I saw it last month while I was in Paris!). In 1590, Arcimboldo created one of his most famous portraits, Vertumnus, which portrays Maximilian II’s son, Rudolf II as the god of seasons. In choosing this subject matter, Arcimboldo reinforced Rudolf II’s extreme power—he was Holy Roman Emperor, and ruled as king over Bohemia, Germany, Hungary and Croatia.
Now I realize that most of us don’t currently deal with the rule of monarchs (but some of us do, thank you faithful readers in London and Thailand!!), but with the changing seasons, this cardamom carrot cake is sure to make everyone feel a little bit like royalty! Now get to baking—hurry, before it gets too hot outside to comfortably turn on our ovens!!
Carrot Cake with Cardamom
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs, room temperature
4 cups shredded heirloom carrots
2 cups flour (1/2 of this can be whole wheat)
1 cup self-rising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cardamom
½ teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
dash of citrus extract (I used this)
¾ cup grapeseed oil
¾ cup plain yogurt
Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-2 cups powdered sugar
First bake the cake:
Preheat the oven to 325°F and grease two 9-inch cake pans. Lightly flour both pans and set aside. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs until yellow and then add in the vanilla and citrus extract. In a separate bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, salt, and spices. Add the carrots and stir until all combined. Pour half of the carrot and flour mixture into the stand mixer along with half of the oil and yogurt. Mix and then repeat. Pour the batter evenly into the two pans and bake for about 55 minutes, alternating halfway through. Let cool completely, no ifs ands or buts, I’m talking at least an hour before you frost! Or you can wait to frost the next day, but I doubt you will be able to wait that long!
For the frosting:
Cream together the butter and cream cheese in a stand mixer for a couple of minutes. Add in the vanilla, followed by a cup of powdered sugar. Taste, and add more sugar until the frosting reaches your desired level of sweetness. Yum!