Category: Dried Cherries


Carrot cake is delicious.  And I’ve made Smitten Kitchen’s version (layer cake style) with great success in the past.  Seriously, it was one of the most delicious cakes ever.  And I think I still have some in the freezer somewhere.  I may need to go thaw that out…

Unfortunately, carrot cake also tends to be ridiculously bad for you.  Now I’m not one to turn down delicious desserts just because they’re unhealthy–far from it!  I love dessert and I have a terrible sweet tooth.  I don’t buy in to all the sugar-free, low fat, fake butter, weird chemical trends.  However, I’m trying to eat somewhat healthier of late and (more importantly) I’ve been itching to try my hand at baking experimentation for a while!  So I wanted to see if I could make a version of carrot cake that was still delicious and moist but didn’t contain a cup and a quarter of oil.

Now baking is finicky.  Unlike cooking, where you have a lot of freedom to adjust things as you go along, with baking, if you measure wrong or add the wrong ingredient, there’s no way to salvage it once it’s in the oven.  I was always a bit hesitant to try experimenting because I didn’t want to have a lot of good ingredients go to waste.  So I decided that I needed to do some research.  I compared four different recipes: Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, Chuck Hughes’ recipe, Alton Brown’s recipe, and the recipe from Advanced Bread and Pastry (which is definitely a book you’ll want to invest in if you’re serious about baking like my husband is!).  By studying the recipes, I got a pretty good idea of the ratios of the different types of ingredients involved in making a carrot cake delicious.  So then I started to contemplate substitutions.

The first thing I decided I wanted to include was some banana puree.  I figured that since, like applesauce (a common healthier substitution for oil), bananas contain pectin, it would probably work to sub it in for some of the oil.  I also guessed that I could cut the sugar in the recipe since bananas are naturally sweet.

The next thing I decided to include was crushed pineapple.  Again this is a naturally sweet ingredient, and in fact is commonly included in many carrot cake recipes including Chuck’s, so I figured I could get away with it.  (Also it meant that I got to have a big glass of pineapple juice to drink since I drained the crushed pineapple before mixing it in.  I love me some pineapple juice!!)

I also substituted a quarter of the flour with whole wheat flour.  I seriously considered doing more–and in retrospect I probably could have gotten away with it–but I was already not entirely sure how these were going to turn out so I didn’t want to press my luck!

The results of all this tinkering were surprisingly delicious.  The muffins were soft and moist, with sweet bursts of chewy dried fruit in the middle (I used dried cherries and raisins).  While I wouldn’t call these muffins a health food, by making the substitutions of the bananas and pineapple, I was able to cut the oil content from a cup and a quarter down to just half a cup!  And I really don’t feel like lost anything by it.  I definitely think I’m going to keep playing with this recipe–I’d like to create a version that reads more like a cupcake, and I’d like to find a way to make cream cheese frosting healthier (because I’ve been known to eat it with a spoon.  I am a cream cheese frosting junkie.)  But I hope that this convinces you, like it convinced me, that with a little research, baking is definitely something you CAN experiment with, and the outcome can be delicious!

*Originally these were meant to be cupcakes.  And really, there’s a very fine line between sweet muffins and cupcakes sometimes.  And if you want them to be cupcakes, all you really need to do is frost them.  (You could also eliminate the dried fruit if that would make them feel more cake-y to you.  Feel free to play around!)

P.S. If you’re wondering about the lack of pictures, it’s because the muffins were all gone before I remembered to take any!  My apologies!

Carrot Cake Muffins
(makes about 24 muffins) 

  • 1.5c all purpose flour
  • .5c whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • .5 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp garam masala (or ground cinnamon if you prefer)
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 4 large eggs
  • .5c canola oil
  • .5c mashed overripe bananas
  • .5c crushed pineapple, drained
  • 1.5c granulated sugar
  • 3c grated carrots
  • .5c raisins (optional)
  • .25c dried cherries (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line your muffin tins with paper liners.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the two types of flour, the salt, baking soda, and the spices.  Set it aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together oil and sugar.  Then whisk in the eggs, and when they’re fully combined, mix in the mashed bananas and the crushed pineapple.  Then mix in the grated carrots.

Once the carrots are incorporated into the wet ingredients, add the dry ingredients to the wet and start to mix.  Use as few strokes as possible – you don’t want to overmix!!  When about half of the flour is mixed in, add the dried fruit if you’re using it.  Mix a bit more until everything is just combined.  If you can still see a little bit of flour here and there, don’t worry about it.  It will be fine.

Use a disher or an ice cream scoop to evenly distribute the batter into the muffin tins.  Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  (It might take longer–just keep an eye on them!)  Let them cool in the pans for a bit, and then when they’re cool enough, take them out and put them on cooling racks to cool down the rest of the way.  (This is especially important if you’ve decided to frost them.  If not?  They’re really good while they’re still warm!)

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I’ll admit it–I’ve been procrastinating on writing this post.  Why?  Because of the two people who tried this dish (me and my fiance) only one of us (me) liked it.  50% success rating?  Not very good.

But I liked it!  So I’ve decided to post it anyways.  Feel free to try it out, make your own tweaks, and tell me what you think.

squash

Yellow summer squash has a pretty delicate flavor, which makes it a good canvas for mixing with other, stronger flavors.  I decided I wanted to try marinating it in a mix of spices, so I pulled out all the spices I thought would work well together, measured them into a bowl (amounts based on how it smelled), and then I chopped the squash into 1 inch(ish) cubes, tossed them in a ziploc bag, poured in just enough olive oil to coat them, and then added the spice mix.  I sealed up the bag and tossed it around until all of the squash was well coated in spices and then I left it to sit while I got everything else ready.

Spice Mix

Marinating Squash

 

I put a pot of water on the stove to boil for making buckwheat, which I thought would make a good base for the spiced squash.  You could also use rice, quinoa, couscous, or any other grain you wanted.  Once that got going, I chopped up some baby red onions, and put my largest skillet on the stove to heat up.

Once the skillet was good and hot (check this by dripping some water on it–if it sizzles and evaporates right away, it’s ready), I dropped in the squash.  To get a bit of a flavor contrast with the savory spices of the squash, I also added about a third of a cup of dried sour cherries.  You could use any dried fruit, really, depending on what you’re going for, but I found that I really liked the sourness the cherries brought to this dish.

After half a minute or so, I added in some white wine,  because I had a bottle that was almost empty and it seemed like a good idea!  It turned out to be an excellent idea except that I only had about a quarter cup left.  If I were making this recipe again I would definitely use at least half a cup if not a bit more so that the wine flavor really gets in there.  The cherries and the wine really pair well together.

Simmering

I let everything simmer down for several minutes, and then I added the onions and covered it so that the squash would cook through faster.  (The buckwheat was almost done!)  After simmering for about 20 minutes, the squash was tender and it was time to serve it up!  I put a scoop of buckwheat on each plate, put a good-sized scoop of squash on top, plus a bit of the juice from the bottom of the pan.  And that’s it!

Spiced Yellow Squash

Spiced Yellow Squash
(serves 3-4)

  • 2 medium yellow squash, chopped into ~1″ cubes
  • 1/3c dried sour cherries 
  • 2-3 baby red onions or shallots, chopped
  • 1/2c white wine
  • olive oil
  • 1tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2tsp smoked paprika
  • 1tsp cumin
  • 1/8tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8tsp black pepper
  • 1c buckwheat or other grain
First, measure out your spices into a bowl and mix them together.  Feel free to vary the amounts–it has a pretty good kick the way I made it.  Chop your squash into approximately 1 inch cubes, then toss it in a ziploc bag with some olive oil and the spices.  Make sure it’s fully coated with the spices, and then leave it to marinate for a bit.
Put the water on to boil for the buckwheat/rice/whatever, and make it according to package instructions.  Meanwhile, chop the onions, and put a large skillet on medium heat.  When the skillet is hot, add the squash and the cherries.  Let it sizzle for half a minute to a minute, and then add the white wine.  When it starts to reduce, add the onions and cover so that the squash cooks through.  (If you don’t have a cover for your skillet, use aluminum foil).  When the squash is tender, serve on top of a scoop of buckwheat.
My fiance wanted the dish to be sweeter.  If you agree, feel free to add a few handfuls of golden raisins at the same time you add the cherries.  Personally I like it better without, but to each their own!