Sweet sweet Friday: Spicy parsnip and pecan cakes

Sacha is supposed to be having a baby today. She’s been expecting him for two weeks (as a former newspaper photographer she knows all about deadlines). But last night she sent me a text saying that the baby had to stay put until Monday, because she’s shooting a wedding tomorrow and she doesn’t have time to have it today!

When the Small Girl came into our lives the thing I appreciated most was people bearing gifts of food. I felt really bad when I realised we would be gone before Sacha’s new baby came, so I made her a double batch of cupcakes and some other, more wholesome, baked goods for her freezer. She laughed her head off when I told her they were for when the baby arrived. “Do you really think we can wait that long?!”

If he knows what’s good for him, little Reed will do what he’s told and stay inside for a few days longer. In the meantime, hope you all have a sweet, sweet Friday. If you’ve got a friend in need, bake them a batch of these spicy parsnip and pecan cupcakes, topped with a caramel cream cheese frosting. Or you could make them for yourself!

Spicy Parsnip and Pecan Cakes
This recipe is inspired by one I copied out of a Julie Le Clerc book when I was a bored personal assistant with time on my hands. I’d carted it around in my notebook for years, but didn’t make it until just before the Small Girl was born (when I also had lots of time on my hands). I’ve changed the spices, swapped brown sugar for white and added nuts, but Julie’s recipe is pretty much perfect.

1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
3 large eggs
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained
4 cups grated parsnip
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup chopped dates
3/4 cup pecans (or walnuts), roughly chopped
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp grated nutmeg (optional)

Preheat oven to 160C and either grease and line the bottom of a a 20cm springform cake tin, or put cupcake liners in about 18 standard-size muffin pans.
Beat the sugar, oil and vanilla together to combine, then add eggs one at a time, beating until mixture is creamy. Stir in pineapple, then sift in the dry ingredients. Stir to mix, then add the grated parsnip, dates and nuts. Pour into the prepared cake tin(s) and bake for around 80 mins (cake) or 25 mins (cupcakes) – or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. Ice with generous amounts of the following frosting:

Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting – inspired by the Ottolenghi Cookbook
Beat together 100g soft, soft, soft butter with 75g soft brown sugar (or that lovely dark, sticky muscovado sugar, if you can get it) and three tablespoons of golden syrup. Then beat in 200g cream cheese (room temperature) until you have a satin-smooth mixture. Eat this out of the bowl with a spoon, then make another batch to ice the cakes with. I went down the piped rosette route for Sacha, but this icing looks lovely just slathered on with a generous hand.



  1. October 22, 2010 / 8:16 am

    Oh,thanks for this recipe. I can't wait to give these a try. Will have to wait a wee while though as I have a heap of Halloween baking already planned. Can't be too long, though, as these just seem so perfectly Autumnal and that frosting looks amazing. I imagine we'll take your advice and make double so we can do a lot of licking the spoon and bowl!

  2. October 22, 2010 / 11:14 am

    These look gorgeous and so easily veganized too:) I love the idea of the crushed pineapple – yum!

  3. October 22, 2010 / 2:35 pm

    I would never have thought of a cake with parsnip…. but they look good! Your icing is so pretty!

  4. October 24, 2010 / 7:19 pm

    Parsnip and pineapple – sounds like a combination you just have to try. And I'm definitely up for a bowl full of that icing.

  5. October 25, 2010 / 10:21 am

    This sounds really interesting – it's hard to imagine that the strong taste of parsnips doesn't come through!

    I love "healthy" baking!!!

  6. October 25, 2010 / 9:06 pm

    I would never have thought of putting parsnip in a cupcake! What a lovely friend you are to make cupcakes. Hope the baby waited for the wedding to be over….

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