Dense and chewy, these date-sweetened, vegan carrot cake bars are packed with spicy flavor. Plus they’re soy-free and can be made gluten-free.
I love getting recipe ideas from readers! Next to traveling and dining at vegan restaurants, it’s my favorite way to discover new foods. So I was thrilled to receive an email recently from Sharon Starr in San Francisco asking me to figure out the recipe for Whole Foods’ Vegan Carrot Spice Cake, which she described as “moist, dense and somewhat chewy.” I’m always up for a challenge (especially when it involves dessert), so I told her I would give it a try.
Before I get to the recipe, I have a little housekeeping to do. A few weeks ago I added a feature that should make searching for recipes a little easier for you. If you go to the top of the page and click on Recipe Index, you’ll see a new link to Master List of All Recipes. When you click on that, you’ll find a list of all the recipes on this blog, alphabetically by category, on one page. No photos, just titles. Now you have four ways to look for recipes: the search box in the upper right corner, by category (such as Salads), by tag/topic (such as Eat to Live), and this new page. You’ll also find this feature on the main Fatfree Vegan Recipes site, up in the top menu bar as Index. I hope it helps you find what you’re looking for.
Now on to this recipe:
Sharon sent a photo of the Whole Foods cake along with the ingredients list from the package. Her photo showed a dense bar, almost like a blondie, with lots of dark areas that I assume were the dates and raisins and just a few hints of orange from the carrots. The ingredient list was as follows: Carrots, Unsweetened Applesauce, Dates, Whole Wheat Flour, Raisins, Walnuts, Baking Powder, Vanilla Extract, Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, Allspice, Clove.
By law, ingredients must be listed on packages in decending order by weight, with the main ingredient listed first. Knowing the order of ingredients is a help, but it’s certainly not a formula, and if you don’t know the exact proportions, it’s hard to duplicate a recipe, especially a baked item. But I gave it my best shot. I began by weighing all the ingredients and deciding on a starting amount of my first ingredient, carrots. The 5 medium carrots I used weighed 7.4 ounces; once I had that measurement, I tailored the amounts of the other ingredients in descending order, using a little common sense and a lot of guesswork.
In the end, I guessed wrong about the amount of flour. My desire to avoid too much refined starch probably had a lot to do with my underusing the flour (according to my calculations, I could have used almost twice as much and still been on target, weight-wise). So my bars came out moist and dense and a little chewy, but not cake-like. However, my family absolutely loved them, so much so that we ate the entire pan in one day.
I considered trying again, using more flour and baking powder, but we’d already blown our family’s weekly sugar budget because even though these treats are refined sugar-free, they still contain a lot of sugar from the dates and raisins. I decided having another batch around would be too much temptation. And besides, my husband told me to leave them alone–they were perfect this way.
I may make the recipe again, once my sugar high wears off, and aim for a cake-like bar next time. But I think these bars stand on their own as a different kind of dessert, somewhere between a raw “Larabar” and a piece of Impossible Pumpkin Pie. Thank you, Sharon, for sending me off on this quest!
Carrot Cake Bars
- 10 medjool dates , pits removed (about 5.5 ounces)
- 2 cups shredded carrots (from about 5 medium carrots)
- 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1 teaspoon double-strength vanilla extract (or 2 tsp. regular)
- 1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour , white whole wheat flour, or gluten-free flour (such as brown rice flour)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts (optional)
Lightly spray or oil an 8×8-inch glass baking dish (or use a non-stick silicone pan). Preheat oven to 375F.
Place the pitted dates in a food processor and pulse until the dates are chopped and begin to form a paste. Scrape them into a bowl and add all ingredients EXCEPT flour, baking powder, and walnuts. Stir until all ingredients are well-blended.
Combine the flour and baking powder in a small bowl and mix well. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir until just blended. Spoon it into the prepared pan, sprinkle with walnuts if desired, and press them lightly into the batter with the back of a spoon. Bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting into bars and serving.
P.S. Try not to eat the whole pan!
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