25 Mar Cardamom & Pistachio Carrot Cake + Orange Blossom & Honey Labneh
All the flowering trees in Austin are in bloom (so, allergies are in full swing, achoo!), grocery store shelves are stocked with little marshmallow bunnies and chicks in every shade of pastel, and I’m feeling like it’s just about time to pull my white jeans out of winter hibernation. This can only mean one thing — Spring has sprung! And more importantly, carrot cake. (I suppose that’s two things?)
Carrot cake has always been my mothers’s favorite (perhaps only trumped on occasion by Italian Cream Cake), and most years when I was growing up she used Easter Sunday as an excuse to bring one home from our local grocer as a special indulgence. And while there’s nothing wrong with the classic carrot cake of my childhood — cinnamon-spiked, a touch of pineapple, heavy on pecan-studded, intensely sweet cream cheese icing, and garnished with buttercream carrots — this year, I wanted to spice things up a bit. Pun intended.
I’ve been dreaming about this cake since I was first introduced to labneh a few years ago. If you’re not familiar, labneh is Middle Eastern yogurt cheese, made by combining thick yogurt and salt and straining it in cheesecloth in order to remove most of the moisture. The result is a thick, tangy cheese, akin to American cream cheese. It’s most frequently used in a savory capacity (hello, freshly-baked pita bread), but equally as addictive when mixed with orange blossom water and honey, as with olive oil and cracked pepper. Since carrot cake lends itself so perfectly as a palate for fragrant zest and spices, not to mention being the best possible vehicle for tangy, cheese-based frosting, I knew it had to be.
In fact, I attempted a more classically-flavored version of this cake last spring (my go-to carrot cake recipe + labneh frosting), only to result in massive failure when my labneh “frosting” turned to a goopy mess when I tried to beat it with powdered sugar in the bowl of my stand mixer. As it turns out, the labneh frosting works best when sweetener is added before the straining process, as it seems the water-content of the sugar puts us at risk for a runny disaster. In this case, I added honey and orange blossom water to full-fat greek yogurt, with just a touch of salt, and let it strain for a full 48 hours in the refrigerator before using. The salt pulls out all of the excess water from the mixture, and voila, you’re left with a thick, spreadable “frosting”, no mixer required.
For the carrot cake, I adapted King Arthur Flour’s recipe. I already had a go-to carrot cake recipe in my repertoire, a friends and family favorite that was passed down by one of my best friend’s mothers, but alas, a baker is always in search of the new & improved. In this case, I wanted a recipe that did not call for pineapple, as I was concerned it would interfere with the Middle Eastern-inspired flavor profile I was going for.
King Arthur’s recipe is as close as I could find to my go-to, but omits pineapple in exchange for an extra cup of carrots. The resulting cake is an impressively hearty one. It’s intensely moist and rich with a heavy crumb — completely delicious in its own right, but perhaps not the cake you’re looking for if “light and fluffy” fall under your requirements. To keep with the Middle Eastern theme, I added a fragrant helping of ground cardamom, along with orange zest, pistachios and sultanas. In the oven, the flavor of the orange zest permeates the cake, perfuming it with a light, citrus scent, and the sultanas absorb much of the moisture from the carrots, turning into juicy little bombs of flavor that I can only describe as gusher-like, in the best way possible. Thanks for that one, nature.
The entire situation is one part comfort food, one part flavor vacation, and altogether wholly delicious. Enjoy your weekend everyone, no matter how you celebrate, may it be filled with the most delicious of cakes and the best of company (and maybe a few peeps, too)!
Notes About This Recipe
This cake is more about the flavors than the recipe. If you already have a favorite carrot cake recipe, feel free to use it as a base, subbing any spices for the mixture noted below and adding orange zest, pistachio and sultanas.
If you do use the recipe below, for a lighter version, you can cut back on the oil by up to 1/2 cup. On King Arthur Flour’s site, many reviewers felt the cake was a little oil-heavy and still found success when they cut back.
Orange blossom water can be found at your local international food store. If you can’t find it, you can substitute rose water, or one tablespoon orange zest.
- 2 cups white whole wheat or all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil (see notes)
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- zest of one medium orange
- 4 eggs, room temperature
- 3 cups grated carrots
- 1 cup chopped pistachios, plus more for sprinkling
- 1 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
- 1/4 cup of honey, for drizzling
- 1 35.3 oz (1000g) container full-fatgreek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water (see notes)
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- At least 24 hours before you bake your cake (48 is preferable), line a mesh strainer with cheesecloth and place over a bowl that is deep enough so that the bottom of the strainer sits a few inches from the bottom of the bowl, so there is room for the strained liquid (whey) to collect.
- Stir together the yogurt, honey, orange blossom water and salt.
- Pout the mixture into the lined strainer and fold the cheesecloth over the top, and twist the ends of the cheesecloth to seal.
- Place in the refrigerator and let strain for at least 24 hours, up to 48.
- An hour before you're ready to frost your cake, remove from the refrigerator, unwrap, transfer to a bowl and let come to room temperature. Discard the excess liquid.
- Preheat the oven to 325F. Line two 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper, lightly grease and set aside.
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, spices and salt. Give the mixture a good whisk to ensure all ingredients are combined.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine the oil, sugar and orange zest and beat until combined.
- With the mixer on low, add in the eggs, one at a time, mixing between each addition.
- Add in the flour mixture and beat on medium-low until just combined. Do not overmix.
- Remove from the stand mixer and fold in the carrots, pistachios and sultanas.
- Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean.
- Transfer to a cooling rack and cool in pans for 20 minutes, then turn out and let finish cooling completely.
- Place on layer of carrot cake onto a serving dish. Top with half of the labneh and sprinkle with pistachios.
- Add the second layer of cake, and spread the remaining labneh over the top. Garnish with chopped pistachios and drizzle with honey.