We took a look at this old favorite and decided it was time to update it with less sugar, more whole grains, and more flavor. Instead of boiling the parsnips, we roast them to concentrate their sweetness; this allows us to use less added sugar. We also switched from refined all-purpose flour to whole-wheat pastry flour, and simplified the format to a sheet cake. It’s moist, tender, lightly spiced, and capped with an indulgent caramel-flavored cream cheese icing.
To prepare cake, cut thin ends of parsnips into 3/4-inch pieces. Cut wide ends of parsnips lengthwise into quarters. Cut out and discard core from each piece; cut pieces into 3/4-inch pieces. Place parsnips on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil; toss to coat. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or until tender. (Leave oven on.) Place parsnips in a mini food processor with 1/4 cup water; process until smooth. Cool slightly.
Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Whisk together flour and next 5 ingredients (through nutmeg). Place remaining 7 tablespoons oil, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and eggs in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined (about 2 minutes). With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to oil mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Add parsnips; beat just until combined. Spread batter into a 13- x 9-inch light-colored metal baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan.
To prepare icing, place butter and cream cheese in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add powdered sugar, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; beat just until combined. Spread icing over cake; sprinkle with pecans.
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