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No-Sugar-Added Carrot Cake Recipe

Yvonne Spence loves to create healthy recipes and believes we don't have to give up enjoyment when we give up refined sugar.

The completed carrot cake, make without added refined sugar.

The completed carrot cake, make without added refined sugar.

Is There a Sugar-Free Carrot Cake Recipe?

Many people search the internet for sugar-free carrot cake, but this is impossible to make since carrots naturally contain a small quantity of sugar! However, it is possible to make a cake that contains no added refined sugar.

Our bodies do need some sugar for energy, but we can get this from natural unrefined sources, and we don't need refined sugars. Many sugar-free cake recipes use artificial sweeteners instead, but these have potentially serious side effects, and even some "natural" sweeteners such as Stevia or xylitol have been heavily processed.

I prefer foods as close to their natural state as possible, so this cake is sweetened with pureed dates. Date puree is easy to make and is high in fiber and nutrients, so it makes a great alternative to sugar. Although dates are sweet, several studies (such as this one in the Nutrition Journal) suggest they are safe for diabetics.

If you are following the FODMAP diet, dates aren't a suitable sugar substitute. An alternative would be maple syrup, which should be used in small quantities because—although it contains antioxidants and minerals—it is still high in natural sugars.

Finding the right ingredients for icing your sugar-free cake can be a challenge! This is a sugar-free cream cheese frosting.

Finding the right ingredients for icing your sugar-free cake can be a challenge! This is a sugar-free cream cheese frosting.

How to Ice a Sugar-Free Cake

The most challenging part of making a sugar-free cake is finding a way to make an icing or frosting. Luckily, carrot cake traditionally comes topped with soft cheese, and on its own this makes an acceptable topping. You can use a low-fat variety if keeping fat levels low is important.

Natural Topping Sweeteners

To make the topping more frosting-like, you can ass a small amount of a natural sweetener. It’s best to experiment a bit to see which you prefer. The options include:

  • baobab powder
  • lacuma powder
  • vanilla extract
  • applesauce
  • honey
  • date puree

I like to use either baobab or lacuma powders. These are low-glycemic powders made from the fruit of the African baobab tree or the South America lacuma tree. Both have many health benefits. The drawback with baobab in particular is that it is not always readily available and is fairly expensive. However, both powders last a long time because you only need a small quantity.

One advantage to using a powder is that this keeps the topping firm. With the other suggested sweeteners, the cream cheese topping can sometimes become a little runny, so it’s best to make the it in advance and let it firm up in the fridge.

The other natural sweeteners you could use include vanilla extract, applesauce and honey. (Recent studies suggest small quantities of honey do not raise blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetes.) Another option is to make some extra date puree and use that in the frosting. This will probably not be as smooth as the other options, but it will taste just as good!

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

30 min

50 min

1 hour 20 min

Approximately 12 slices

Ingredients

For the Carrot Cake:

  • 190 grams (6 ounces or 1 cup) dates
  • 250 grams (9 ounces or 1 1/2 cups) flour (wholemeal or spelt, unsifted volume)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 240 milliliters (8 fluid ounces or 1 cup) sunflower oil (corn oil is suitable substitute)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 340 grams (12 ounces or 2 cups) carrots (the cup measure is for carrots that have been grated or shredded in a food processor and is the volume when packed)

Optional:

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  • 120 grams (4 ounces or 1 cup) chopped walnuts (it’s also nice with some ground almonds, as much or little as you fancy)
  • Whole walnuts to decorate

For the Topping:

  • 1 (225-gram or 8-ounce) pack of cream cheese, any variety. (Mascarpone cheese is also good, though pricey so best kept for special occasions.)

One of the Following:

  • 1 tablespoon boabab or lacuma powder
  • 1 tablespoon finely pureed dates (just add an extra 4 dates when preparing those for the cake and reserve one tablespoon for the topping.)
  • 1 dessert spoon of honey
  • 1 tablespoon of applesauce

Instructions

  1. Set the oven temperature to 180°C (160°C fan oven or 350°F or gas mark 4).
  2. Cover dates in water, and boil while you get on with the rest of cake. (Alternately, you can cover them with boiling water and leave to soak for several hours until soft.)
  3. Grease an 8-inch (20-centimeter) cake tin, and line with baking parchment, making it higher than the sides of the tin. (This helps prevent the cake burning on top.)
  4. In a large bowl sift together flour, salt, baking powder, soda and cinnamon. Add nuts if you are using them.
  5. Beat the eggs (this is easiest with an electric beater, but a whisk will do).
  6. Grate the carrots.
  7. The dates should be ready now, so remove them from the heat and puree till smooth.
  8. Add all wet ingredients—the carrots, eggs, oil and dates—to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  9. Pour into the baking tin and bake for 45 to 55 minutes. To check it is ready, insert a skewer into the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean the cake is ready; if the skewer has cake mixture sticking to it, it needs to cook for longer.
  10. Tip: All ovens vary in how fast they cook, so it’s best to check the cake after the shorter time and leave in for longer if necessary. Do this quickly so the oven doesn’t cool.
  11. Leave the cake to cool for around 5 minutes and then turn onto a wire tray. Leave it to cool completely before adding the topping.
  12. Now make the topping: Beat the cream cheese till smooth. If using sweetener, add it to the cheese and beat till thoroughly mixed in.
  13. Spread on the cake. (It will not be completely smooth.)
  14. Decorate with walnuts if you are using them.

Cast Your Vote

Why Make a Sugar-Free Cake?

There is some evidence that excessive sugar consumption could contribute to high levels of unhealthy blood fats and lower levels of HDL (the good cholesterol.) High sugar consumption can increase the risk of contracting type 2 diabetes and can suppress the immune system.

Consuming refined sugar causes blood sugar levels to rise rapidly, and the body then produces more insulin to compensate. This then creates an drop in blood sugar. This seesaw effect creates energy slumps and can cause headaches. Often people eat refined sugar along with other refined carbohydrates such as white flour or white pasta. These have the same effect as refined sugar so adding to the seesaw effect.

On the other hand, eating complex carbohydrates creates more sustained energy. The cake in this recipe is made with wholemeal flour, which along with other ingredients, provides a steady release of energy.

Oil-Free Variation

if you want a low fat cake, you can simply omit the oil. We discovered this by accident when my daughter made the cake and forgot to add oil. The texture is more sponge-like, and it won't keep quite so long, but it tastes just fine.

This recipe makes a wonderful birthday cake!

This recipe makes a wonderful birthday cake!

Questions & Answers

Question: Do I have to add dates or can I just skip that for the carrot cake recipe?

Answer: It would taste more like a savoury cake if you didn't add the dates. If you don't have any you could use raisins or other dried fruit instead, but I find most other fruits have a stronger flavour. If you have a different sweetener you prefer to use, then it's fine to do so. I've made many variations of this cake and it's quite foolproof!

Question: I am icing my cake for a party. Should I ice it and then refrigerate, or ice it close to when it will be served? I made your recipe before, but when I put it in the fridge, the icing cracked. Obviously, I don't want that to happen before the party!

Answer: I'm glad you like the recipe! I'm not honestly sure of the answer to your question because I've never had that happen. I guess icing it shortly before you serve it would be the best idea. I'm sorry I didn't see your question earlier because I guess your party will have been now. I hope it went well!

Question: Do you strain the dates before adding them to this carrot cake? Do you have a measurement for how much water to soak the dates in? I made this recipe- it was very tasty! But the batter was very thick. I drained the water from the dates, so I'm wondering if that is where I went wrong.

Answer: I don't strain the dates before adding them, but if you want a very smooth texture you could do so to remove any more fibrous pieces. You don't need to drain the water from the dates, so long as you just use enough to cover them. (I can see that I could make this clearer, so thanks for your question.) If your batter is too thick when it's time to put it in the cake tin, just add some more water. It should be a dropping consistency.

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