Carrot Cake, French-Style

Carrots

An American pal said to me the other day, “The French like carrot cake. You just can’t tell them what’s in it first.” Indeed, I remember making an all-American dinner for some friends and when I’d mentioned “carrot” cake coming afterward, the look on their faces was like, “WTF?

One mouthful, and of course, they loved it. But then again, you could slather cream cheese frosting on an Michelin tire and it would be enticing as well. There’s a certain amount of chefs in France who are experimenting with vegetables in desserts, with mixed results—a gâteau au fenouil (Fennel Cake) I had at Le Grand Véfour comes to mind which, after a few bites, the waiter swiftly offered to replace.

Grated Carrots

Much of it may be attributed to cultural differences. After all, when was the last time any of you Americans out there looked forward to digging in to a pile of sausages made from the bowels of pigs?


Aside from ordering a 36€ piece of fennel cake (and an unfortunate incident when I accidentally ordered the aforementioned sausages) another one of my biggest regrets was when Richard Olney came to Chez Panisse and we did a dinner for his book on Château d’Yquem, the most famous—and the most expensive, wine in the world.

The first time I had Yquem, Danny Kaye was entertaining a group at the restaurant and had a special bottle from 1938 and graciously sent me back a small sip. One single taste of the burnished syrup, with a cacophony of flavors that I can still recall, and included roast apricots and honeyed-almonds, absolutely justifies the insane price. So I guess I shouldn’t bad-mouth him.

But for some stupid reason, I didn’t get a copy of Olney’s Yquem book, signed or otherwise, and I spent a few years afterward trolling websites selling used books looking for a copy. Unfortunately each one I found was priced as much as a bottle of the elusive sauternes itself, although it’s fortunately been reprinted.

lulukitchen.jpglulu.jpg

Richard also wrote Lulu’s Provençal Kitchen, where he followed Lulu Peyraud around while she cooked. When eliciting ideas for serving suggestions for her bagna cauda, she offered forth such dining advice: “It’s very messy. It is best eaten out-of-doors and it has to be eaten standing up, with an apéritif.”

This kind of writing and cooking, comes from a time when cookbooks were published not because they were marketable or the author had a potty-mouth (does calling someone a ‘dick’ count?) or could toss dinner together in 22 minutes. But it was because the cook had something to contribute and their recipes absolutely needed to be documented. And there was no better food writer than Richard Olney to do it.

Lulu is the proprietaire of Domaine Tempier in Province, and is a natural cook, using products from the region; lots of spring garlic, just-caught fish from the Mediterranean, locally-pressed olive oil, and pungent thyme.

This is her recipe for Carrot Cake. It’s not a traditional two-layer pièce de résistance, but moist and compact. And it’s a recipe I’ve always been intrigued by. I like it cut into wedges and served alongside a compote of fresh fruit. Or when my ship comes in, a cool glass of Yquem. Any year will do. But if you want to ‘Americanize’ it, a scoop of Cheesecake Ice Cream, enriched with cream cheese, might not be such a bad thing, either.

French Carrot Cake

And you’re looking for an American-style cake, check out the post: Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, for a recipe for the two-layer classic.

Gâteau aux carrottes
Makes two 10-inch (23cm) cakes

(Adapted from Lulu’s Provençal Table* by Richard Olney, foreword by Alice Waters.)

Although Lulu calls this a gâteau aux noix, I’m featuring the carrots, which appear in the cake as little orange flecks, hence the name change. I swapped out almonds for the walnuts since I like them better, but free to use either. Or another nut.

When I get more time, I want to try this with different kinds of flour, as well as trying to make it a thicker, yet lighter, cake. In the past, I’ve played around, replacing one tablespoon of the butter with a tablespoon of a good nut oil. Walnut, plum kernel, or hazelnut all add a terrific nutty aroma to the finished gâteau.

  • 8 tablespoons (115g) butter, salted or unsalted, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups (250g) sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups (225g) toasted almonds
  • 2/3 cup (90g) flour
  • 1/4 cup, packed, (40g) finely grated carrot

1. Preheat the oven to 325F (160C). Butter two shallow 10-inch (23cm) cake pans and line each with a circle of parchment paper. Then lightly butter the top of each circle of paper.

2. Beat the butter, sugar and salt until smooth.

3. Meanwhile, pulverize the nuts and flour in a food processor or blender until relatively fine, but not powdery. If you don’t have a machine, simply chop the nuts by hand and toss them with the flour.

3. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Afterwards, stir in the ground nut mixture and the carrots, mixing just until smooth.

4. Divide the batter into the pans, smooth it evenly, and bake for 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool, then release the cake from the pans and cut in wedges to serve.

(Note: This is a rather unusual cake. More like a flat griddle-cake. Next time I might try it with one less egg and maybe a bit more flour since I think the recipe was written with American flour in mind, and French flour is quite a bit softer.)

*The original edition of Lulu’s Provençal Table shown above, was originally published by HarperCollins, and subsequently re-published. It appears to be out of print, but one can easily find used copies available. I suggest if you get one, try for an original edition, which are not at all expensive (for now) and includes photographs by Gail Skoff.

56 comments

  • David, it I’m intrigued by this recipe as it’s the first one I’ve seen for carrot cake that doesn’t call for a cup of oil (which is kind of gross to me). It looks very French, though, and not an enormous cream cheese covered extravaganza (which I have to admit I love)!

  • I have to say, my french colleague just turns her nose up at carrot cake and refuses to eat it. I’m intrigued as to whether she’s ever tried it. Good tip on not saying its carrots!!

    Looks like a delicious recipe. Anything made with almond meal is wonderful as far as I’m concerned!

  • Meg: I perhaps prefer the American version, too. But I wanted to show that, yes, indeed there is a French Carrot Cake recipe out there.

    And it’s far better than the Fennel Cake…

  • that looks wonderful — i’ve never liked “american” carrot cake at all. i love the idea of playing around with subsituting different oil for a bit of the butter — my first thought on seeing that recipe was that replacing some of the butter with olive oil (or — gasp — truffle oil!) might give an interesting flavor!

  • I agree with Meg. I believe it’s also the first carrot cake recipe I’ve ever seen that doesn’t call for cinnamon or some other spices.

    I bet you could come up with a good fennel cake…

  • Hi David – love your posts very much. My favorite carrot cake in the world is directly from the Joy of Cooking, but I think you could modify this one by upping the flour to 1 1/2 cups (maybe 200 g) and adding 1 t. of baking soda to get it both thicker and lighter, but still keeping its essential French character. Just a thought. Of course we eagerly await the updates.

  • Is it wrong that I imagine eating this cake slathered in soft, creamy salted butter? Maybe a second slice with butter and marmalade as well would be a good chaser?

  • I have never been much of a fan of carrot cake (perhaps yours will change my mind) but do have an affinity for those “sausages from the bowels of pigs”, as does my husband..link

    Perhaps his love of this food comes from his French roots, but mine (given my Jewish ones) is inexplicable.

  • I am intrigued… it certainly doesn’t look like my grandma’s cream cheese frosting-slathered cake, but I do like the look of it. On a side note, I’m very sad to hear that Danny Kaye was a dick… he’s one of my favorites! :)

  • I will never forget when a French friend tried my family recipe for carrot cake. She was intrigued by the carrots, but she spat it out in disgust because it contained cinnamon. :)

  • Swapping carrot for parsnip in a carrot cake and making a honey-cream-cheese icing is a wonderful way to turn the classic parsnip/honey combo into a cake. I love beetroot cake, and courgette cake… vegetables in cake are amazing, no doubt about it.

  • All the suggestions in the comments sound good. For some reason, I can’t see the last photo – it’s all blue and green and pixelated.

    But the recipe somehow brought to mind Indian carrot halvah, being that you described it as moist and compact, and with the almond meal…

  • Just realized the last photo is from your seaweed salt post (which I did make myself, being halfway around the world from your Parisian vendor, and it is great!), and I also came across this great recipe for carrot halvah baked cake that sounds kind of amazing: link

  • Bah on carrots. I’m allergic but my five year old loves carrot cake w/macadamia nuts and pineapple in it. Sort of a tropical version.

    I’m disappointed that Danny Kaye was not pleasant. I love me some Danny Kaye (based on the movies) and that’s a bummer. I want everyone to have fond feelings towards him.

  • i often eat dinner with the french family i rent my apartment from and last night we had a raging debate about the idea of carrot cake so this post is well timed. now that i have found philadelphia cream cheese in paris (at a price!) i am thinking of making them a traditional american masterpiece to try. i’ll be disappointed if they don’t like it, but i suppose that just means more for me!

  • that recipe sounds similar to one in a Sahker cookbook my mum had when I was a kid – still prefer the “American” version, the Silver Palate one specifically

    and as for Chateau d’Yquem, about 15 years ago my mum and I “found” a bottle at a tiny wine store in Richford, Vermont – the store itself was an Atco trailer, the lone bottle was sitting by the cash and it was priced at $50.00. on reflection it was likely priced worng, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable!

  • Clementine: Save those euros! You can use St. M^acirc;ret, which is cream cheese, available at some supermarkets, as well as the Franprix store brand. I forget what it’s called, but look for the familiar shape.

    For more tips & substitutions: American Baking in Paris

    Kathryn: Great find! A friend found a couple of cases at a Trader Joe’s many years back, priced even less. I have a bottle in my cupboard that I’m waiting for a special occasion to uncork.

    But just one bottle…

    Maxine & Christy: I, too, was disappointed. He was just kind of a knucklehead. He told me that I was whipped egg whites wrong and grabbed the bowl and whisk out of my hands and insisted on showing me how to do it properly.

    In his defense, he did send me that nice glass of Yquem. So he couldn’t be all bad! : )

    (And being a dick isn’t necessarily a bad thing—I’ve been a dick too!)

  • I’m hung up on the 36 euro piece of cake- how can a slice possibly be that expensive?

  • This looks really interesting. It’s so flat! It looks like it would be great with a nice cup of coffee.

  • My sister makes a carrot cake with glace fruit. Sounds as if it would be too, too sweet but it comes out quite nice.
    It’s a shame that you had to mention Danny Kaye, David. I’m not doubting it, I’ve heard the same, and more forcefully put, before. We know too much about the personal lives and personalities of actors. It really intrudes on ones watching pleasure.
    PS. Love your books, David

  • The only improvement I make to the traditional American carrot cake is to ice it with a frosting that consists of butter, white chocolate and cream cheese instead of the strictly traditional one. It’s even better that way.

  • It’s impossible to surmise anything about M Kaye without getting into trickier language than I can do in the mornings.

    I was more surprised at 5 eggs than any other part of that recipe, but with only 40 g of carrot, I’m for calling it eggy almond cake.

    As to the innards, I want you to know I butchered (but didn’t kill) a whole lamb last week. I was the one who had to decide which innards were for humans and which for cats. It was a heck of a lot of work, so I probably made some errors. What I have eaten so far has been excellent.

  • David, is this a carrot in your pocket or are you pleased to see me?

  • Well put about Richard Olney’s writing and recording. Since I have a little age on me, I remember the time when cookbooks were published for different reasons. It was good.
    Even though I am not a fan of carrot cake, your recipe intrigues me. Something about the simplicity and denseness. Like your idea about the nut oil!

  • Alex: At 3-star restaurants, that’s about the going price for a dessert. But in fairness, you’re not just paying for a piece of cake, but all the little treats that you get afterwards and the fine service. (And to get to sit in that fabulous dining room of Le Grand Véfour.)

    It’s a different concept than in the states, where food value is a big factor in people’s enjoyment & evaluation of a restaurant. I don’t eat at many 3-star places, and often don’t think they’re worth it. But if I get invited, I’m a good sport and accept the invite.

    Just to be polite…of course!

  • Funny that I would post a carrot cake recipe, and the next day see one posted on your site! They are different as night and day thats for sure. When I first introduced this cake to my husband and his friends they fell in love with it. When I told them it was carrot cake all of their mouths dropped open. They decided they didnt care though and licked the platter clean. This has quickly become one of my husbands favorites. I think I might try yuour recipe also though, and have a comparison taste test :p

  • A good friend of mine is the mother-in-law of Richard Olney’s nephew. The nephew has given me cookbooks that he got when his uncle died. I’ll have to ask if he’s got that out-of-print book.

  • I’m sure the recipe is fabulous but I couldn’t read it – my brain stopped functioning when I read you paid 36€ for a slice of cake. A slice of cake you didn’t like!! Oi vay. The French do have an odd sense of humour…

    Seriously, carrot cake is my favourite – we had it for our wedding cake. This looks like an intriguing variation.

  • My husband, who is not at all big on sweets, loves carrot cake! I play WAY down on the fact that it’s cream cheese icing. He thinks he hates cheese of any kind. Philly now produces a tub of pre-made cheesecake filling; I’m thinking a scoop of that might be yummy on top of your French carrot cake. It’s tasty but maybe too soft and too sweet for an actual cheesecake. Slightly addictive, though, if you have a tub and a spoon.

  • mmm, all this talk of cream cheese frosting made me get up and start munching on the cupcake I bought yesterday – I couldn’t save it until the afternoon! Alice’s Tea Cup in Manhattan has my favorite cupcakes in the world, including this most delicious banana cupcake with cream cheese frosting – yum!

  • David, I searched your online library for Cheesecake Gelato, but came up empty handed, I have a special recipe for this in mind, but was wondering if you have one yourself (mine involved actually making the crust for the cake – but not with graham crackers. I use walnuts instead…..)and adding that into the cream cheese base gelato. Do you have anything like this, or might this spawn another experiment for you? What about carrot ice cream?

  • David, in your photo you don’t look old enough to have been a chef for Danny Kaye. Didn’t he die 20 years ago?

  • Siiri: There’s a recipe in my ice cream book for Cheesecake Ice Cream.

    Vicki: Hello? Photoshop!

    Actually Mr. Kaye came into the restaurant I was working at. (And who knew he was such a polarizing figure?) We had a fair amount of celebrities and everyone was pretty nice.

    He gets a shout-out since he actually came into the kitchen, and came into my workspace. If I was visiting his place of work, it certainly wouldn’t have been very nice of me to walk onto the set and give him an acting lesson, now, would it?

    And besides, only Daniel Craig, Lily Tomlin, or Barbra Streisand would have permission to come into my work area.

    Ok, and maybe Reese Witherspoon.

    I was very busy making 110 individual souffles that night and wasn’t exactly in the mood for a lesson in beating egg whites, and didn’t care who it was from. (With the exception of one of the 4 people listed above.)

  • I paid what would be $100USD for my copy of Yquem, I recommend keeping an eye out on eBay and bookfinder.com, if you are not already, and can be bothered. Given that the cheapest I have seen a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem here in Australia is $550usd, I think I have come out ahead.

  • Attention! Carrot Cake, it’s swiss, not french :)
    and it’s soooo delicous :)

  • When I was a little girl, every other year my British mother and I travelled on board ship to England to visit my grandparents. On one voyage Danny Kaye was also a passenger. He was a d___k then too.

    This cake sounds divine, and I will be trying it over the weekend, especially since I just got the Cuisinart hand-held grater, which I’ve had my eye on for a long time. (I love carrot salad, and I thought this tool would come in handy, but so far I’ve been less than impressed.) Marcella also has a flat carrot cake recipe – Italian style of course. Hers has almonds too, but they are not toasted. The skins, however, are left on to give the cake color. And Clotilde has a great orange cake on her blog Chocolate & Zucchini, Le Gateau Piege, which is also flat, and oh-so-good, although it has nothing to do with carrots.

  • Adding nut oil to cakes like this is a good idea. It enhances their moistness and lengthens their storage life. As some nut oils are rather overpowering in flavour on salads, it can be a good way of using up oil that you’ve paid a bit for and don’t want to go rancid, but find you don’t like as a dressing.

  • Thanks, David! It’s already on my Amazon wish list….but my birthday isn’t until August. (Can I wait that long? We’ll see…)

  • Hello,

    I’m a newcomer to your site, and absolutely love it. You and other readers might like to know that the UK Amazon site has some copies of the 2002 hardcover edition of Lulu’s Provencal Table, which contains Gail Skoff’s photography. I hope to make it to one of your Parisian tours one day when you start doing them again.

    Many thanks,

    Lynn

  • My heart breaks, I’ve just finished off my last birth-year Bandol from Domaine Tempier, cuvee speciale, graciously offered by Lulu herself, along with a signed copy of her book. An amazing wine for a particularly awful year, and Tempier definitely is on my top list for my yearly vineyard tour.

    My ship for Yquem was a guy who came in the wine store and sold us a case of expensive wine he wouldn’t drink. Each was sold individually, and when the buying price was reached, there were a few Yquem and Mouton-Rotschild left. Talk about a deal…

    Anyways, carrot cake is an all time favorite, but here in Belgium it is often made with a lemon glaze and hazelnuts, a waste entirely if you ask me. I’ll go for cream cheese anytime.

  • I had carrot cake at my wedding and got a few “wtf” from people. Can’t wait to try this version, with cream cheese frosting and a garnish of chopped walnuts of course.

  • Is it bad that I’ve always considered carrot cake (although very delicious!) really just a vehicle for the cream cheese icing? In any case, this recipe improves the ratio proportions immeasurably.

    Having not seen your post on food substitutions until now my recent attempt at a lemon cream cheese icing for cupcakes left me unwrapping endless foil packets of kiri…. On the bright side, it led to a great discovery that adding a couple of tablespoons of mascarpone makes for a very velvety icing.

    Merci pour le blog David – c’est très jolie!

  • Ha! I made Zucchini bread for my English colleagues and they loved it, until one of them asked what the green bits were. They were shocked and amazed… but still wanted the recipe.

  • i made this awhile ago, it was delicious, merci beaucoup!

  • Hi David!
    Very interesting recipe, but you should have a look at the Brazilian version of the Carrot Cake! Like Brazil, bright colored, and color-contrast! Delicious and eye-catching!

    Regards,

  • Jenny, I think your French colleague doesn’t like American-style carrot cake for the same reason I don’t like: the amount of spices is overwhelming!

  • Is it possible to print the just the recipe without commentary and pictures?

  • Is it possible to print the just the recipe without commentary and pictures?

    Hi Beverly: At present, there isn’t a print option. I’ve discussed it with my webmaster, but if we implemented it, I’d have to go back any modify hundreds of post on the site, which would take weeks. It may be something added in the future, though. Thanks -dl

  • Very interesting. Have been going through your recipes, you have a whole lot of baking which interest me. Carrot cake being the one which I made very often, is very american. This one is different and sounds delicious. I am thinking I can, take that butter off as well, and add some oil. Got to try this one, very neat recipe.

  • And just to add to Andrea’s comment, the Brazilian version of Carrot cake is quite different from the American one. The Brazilian version is easier and fluffier and also has a chocolate ganache icing on top (or brigadeiro). If you want I can send the recipe, but you can find it anywhere in the internet, I am sure.
    Try it out, I am sure you will like it.

  • David, I just love the recipe’s you find and decide to share with the world. I just made your chocolate macarons yesterday and they are fabulous, our customers can’t say enough about them. This one is def going to be next on my list to try out! Thanks for another great recipe!

  • Hi David,
    Big fan of the website and all the french-influenced dishes. I just made this cake today for dinner with friends, and it was absolutely delicious. I halved the recipe to make one cake, but I kept the amount of carrots the same (so 1/4 cup for one cake) – since carrots are the stars of this show. I also ground half of the walnuts for the flour and kept another half chopped as chunks for texture. All in all, a very successful cake and I will put this on my blog next week (which I started very recently – “Plumcot” – so I’m a novice), credited to you (if that’s ok).
    Thanks,
    Kar

  • I had something just like this, only with hazelnuts, in a restaurant in Seattle last week. Was different and good.

  • I had a carrot cake recipe that I was happy with, and now you go and make me have to try another one. Geesh! (Can’t wait to test yours out.)

  • This is a pretty unusual carrot cake and if you’re looking for a more traditional American-style carrot cake, I’ll be posting the recipe on the site very shortly..

  • David,
    The density of this cake leads me to believe it would freeze and/or gift very well. Thoughts on that?

    Thank you!