Parsnip-Ginger Layer Cake with Browned Buttercream Frosting | Renee's Kitchen Adventures

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Parsnip-Ginger Layer Cake with Browned Buttercream Frosting

Eat your veggies....for dessert!

Yes, you heard it right. Veggies for dessert! Parsnips and fresh ginger take center stage in this moist and delicious homemade spice cake recipe. I promise you, you won't believe Parsnip-Ginger Layer Cake with Browned Buttercream Frosting is full of veggies! This outstanding spice cake isn't hard to make and promises to be the showstopper dessert you are looking for for any special occasion!

Parsnip Ginger Layer Cake with Browned Butter Frosting on cake platter with book in background

The Vegetable Butcher

I was a big fan of Cara's before I even knew who she was. I'm no stranger to Columbus, Ohio since my son started attending Ohio State University. When we visit my son we like to experience everything the Columbus area has to offer, including one of our favorite spots, the historic North Market located in the Short North off of High Street. 

It's in this market that I first experienced Cara's cuisine by enjoying the produce-inspired dishes at her restaurant, Little Eater. My vegetarian son and I were smitten by the delicious seasonal vegetable-based salads on the menu and enjoyed every bite of our order! 

So when I was given the opportunity  to review Cara's cookbook, The Vegetable Butcher, I emphatically said, "YES!" 
Image of The Vegetable Butcher Cookbook

The Vegetable Butcher is a 2017 James Beard Award finalist and winner of two IACP Cookbook Awards (Single Subject and People’s Choice).

Cara comes from a family of traditional butchers but she was one of the first official "Vegetable Butchers" at Eataly in New York City and she really knows her way around produce!

In this book you will learn how to select, prepare, slice, dice and cook an array of wonderful vegetables complete with step-by-step photographs. Each vegetable featured also comes with several, easy-to-follow recipes to make the most of your precious produce! Click here to find out more about The Vegetable Butcher.

But now...let's get back to this gorgeous spice cake!

Parsnip Ginger Layer Cake with Browned Butter Frosting on cake platter with serving knife , book in background and daffodils in foreground

Full disclosure. I have never baked with parsnips before. I've baked sweet treats with zucchini and carrot plenty of times, but never parsnips. I wasn't sure if this cake would be a success or a fail, but I am always so intrigued by using ordinary ingredients in extraordinary ways! 

Let me just say, this spice cake was a huge success!  The parsnips give it a very moist crumb and the fresh ginger just elevates the spice factor to a new level. 

Finished with a sweet and nutty Browned Buttercream Frosting and you've got yourself a veggie-centric dessert fit for any occasion...even the special ones! 

Slice of Parsnip Ginger Layer Cake with Browned Butter Frosting on a white plate with fork, whole cake in background


While preparing this cake I learned a thing or two about parsnips that I did not know before thanks to Cara's book. For instance, I had no idea that sometimes they can get a woody core that is best cut out of the root vegetable before preparing. I also learned that they are at their sweetest (even sweeter than a carrot) in the late fall after the first frost! 

Open book, parsnips and fresh ginger

Unlike when I have made carrot cake and used raw carrot, in this recipe you start by sauteing the parsnips and fresh ginger in a little oil until they are nice and tender. 

Shredded parsnips in pan with spatula

You won't need to pull out the electric mixer to make the cake portion of this recipe, it's all mixed by hand, but remember to keep the cake as tender as you can by making sure you don't overmix the batter. Less is more when it comes to mixing homemade cakes! 

Cake ingredients in bowl being mixed

The cakes baked up beautifully and made my kitchen smell wonderful! 

Baked cakes cooling in pans on wire rack

To get the best flavor for the frosting, make sure you let your butter get good and browned, but be careful it doesn't burn! It always helps to be patient when you are browning butter. 

Brown butter in pan with spoon

There should be enough frosting to frost the tops of both layers of cake as well as the sides, but I followed Cara's lead and left the sides of my cake unfrosted.  This Browned Buttercream Frosting is outstanding! You may want to double the recipe...just because it's THAT good! 

So what does the cake taste like?  It's a nicely spiced moist cake with a tender crumb (remember, don't overmix!) with a strong, but not overpowering, flavor of ginger. I really cannot detect the flavor of parsnips, but I know they help keep the cake moist and I love the nutrition they bring to the cake! The frosting compliments the cake perfectly.  

I'd say, this recipe is a keeper! 

It's the perfect homemade spice cake for your holiday table or to serve anytime! 

Glob of frosting on cake half being spread with offset spatula

Join me in following Cara Mangini on Instagram and watch her work her magic on vegetables! 

Parsnip Ginger Layer Cake, Spice Cake,
Dessert, Cake
Yield: 10 servings

Parsnip-Ginger Layer Cake with Browned Buttercream Frosting

Parsnip-Ginger Layer Cake with Browned Buttercream Frosting

prep time: 30 Mcook time: 35 Mtotal time: 65 M
Amped up spice cake with fresh parsnips and ginger balanced with sweet-and-nutty, browned buttercream frosting. From the cookbook: The Vegetable Butcher by Cara Mangini (Recipe used with permission from Workman Publishing Company)


For the Cake
  • Unsalted butter, at room temperature, for greasing the pans
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting the pans
  • 1 cup grapeseed or canola oil 
  • 3 cups peeled and shredded parsnips (about 1 1/4 pounds)
  • 1 1/2 inch knob (1 to 1 1/4 ounces) fresh ginger, peeled and grated on a Microplane
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup low-fat or whole milk
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped
For the Frosting
  • 12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 4 to 4 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 to 6 Tablespoons milk or warm water, plus extra, if needed


How to cook Parsnip-Ginger Layer Cake with Browned Buttercream Frosting

For the Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour the bottoms and sides of two 9-inch cake pans. Line the bottom of each with a round of parchment paper.
  2. Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it's hot but not smoking, add the parsnips and fresh ginger and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the parsnips are fragrant and tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan for the heat and let the parsnip mixture cool.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk together the ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice in a large bowl. Add the 2 cups of flour, the sugar, baking powder, and salt and whisk until incorporated.
  4. In smaller, separate bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup of oil, the eggs, milk, and vanilla.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in the parsnip mixture and toasted pecans until just combined.
  6. Divide the batter equally between the two cake pans. Bake until the tips begin to turn golden or an inserted toothpick or cake tester comes out clean, 30 - 35 minutes.
  7. Transfer cakes to wire cooling racks and let cook in the pan for 10 minutes. To remove the cakes, run a knife around the inside edge of each cake pan. Invert the pans onto the cooking racks, leaving the pans in place until the cakes release. Remove the pans and the parchment, and allow the cakes to cool completely.
  8. Place one of the cakes top side up on a cake plate. Scoop out about one third of the frosting onto the center of the cake, and use and offset spatula (or butter knife) to spread out the frosting evenly. Place the second cake, top side down, onto the frosted cake top. Scoop the remaining frosting onto the center of the second layer (you may use less frosting if you prefer--you want just enough to cover the top surface of the cake) and spread it in an even layer all the way to the edge (leave the sides bare.)
For the Frosting
  1. Heat the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat until it melts and becomes golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, sift 4 cups of the confectioners' sugar into a medium-size bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer).
  3. Add the browned butter to the confectioners' sugar along with the vanilla and beat together with an electric hand mixer (or stand mixer) on medium-low speed until just incorporated. Add 3 tablespoons milk or more to reach your desired consistency and beat on medium-low speed until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. If you add too much liquid and the frosting is too thin, just add more confectioners' sugar, a little at a time, to reach our desired consistency. Let the frosting cool before spreading on the cake.
  4. It (the frosting) will keep, in an airtight container, refrigerated for up to 1 week. Bring it to room temperature before using and add more milk or warm water to thin if needed.


Cara likes to leave the sides of this cake bare, spreading the frosting generously between the layers and on top-this way the parsnips really shine-but you can frost the sides of the cake as well. There will be enough frosting either way.

For a lower-fat version of this cake, replace 1/2 cup of the oil with 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce.

To make a 4-layer cake, bake the cake in 2 pans and turn them out of the pans as directed. Once the cakes have cooled completely, cut each in half horizontally with a serrated knife. Double the frosting. Layer and lightly frost each round.
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Nutritional Information provided is an estimate.

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Parsnip Ginger Layer Cake with Browned Butter Frosting pin for Pinterest with cake slice on white plate

This post is sponsored by Workman Publishing Company in conjunction with a social media campaign through Sunday Supper LLC. All opinions are my own.

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  1. I love this recipe! Can't wait to try it

    1. It's so different and so good! I hope you get a chance to try it!

  2. I would LOVE to learn more ways to prepare cardoons. I have only the one recipe I learned with I lived in Italy!

    1. Great choice! Cara will help you make Cardoon Pesto with them in her book!

  3. I would love to learn new ways to prepare eggplant, other than Eggplant Parmesan, LOL

    1. Yes! I only know eggplant parm and ratatouille for eggplant. I'm sure there is more. Cara has a recipe in her book for Honeyed Eggplant and Polenta Cake that looks amazing!

  4. I love sweet potatoes and would like more recipes for that!

    1. How do Sweet Potato Latkes with Cranberry Chipotle Jam and Sour Cream sound? the book!

  5. I would love to learn more about kohlrabi, please. :-)

    1. How does Kohlrabi and Cheddar Strata sound? The recipe is in this book!

  6. Definitely artichokes. I've been doing some research on them lately.

    1. How do Grilled and Smothered Artichokes sound?

  7. So parsnips and ginger are delicious little things but it's the frosting on this cake that has me drooling! I'd love to learn more about cooking with fennel!

  8. This recipe looks awesome ! I never thought of parsnip with ginger for a cake.. wow.. that new and pretty exciting..
    As for the book, i would certainly love to grab that copy and learn new tricks with vegetable :)

  9. I bet this cake is moist and delicious!! xo Catherine

    1. Very much so on both accounts! Thank you Catherine!

  10. Omg, this cake. I love everything about this cake! What a unique and different variety of flavors and I want to make this. Yours is beautiful and looks incredibly moist and delicious. This cookbook has to be amazing!

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, the cake is amazing and so is the cookbook!

  11. I'd like to learn more about chinese veggies, like bok choy, etc.

  12. This cake looks so moist and delicious! I love roasted parsnips because they're so sweet - I'm sure they would be wonderful in a cake. And ginger is great in everything - truly a winning combo!

  13. I love this cake Renee! It looks gorgeous and I'm totally intrigued by the parsnip in it! Great cookbook, so great I have already given one to a friend as a gift!

  14. I'd like to learn more about cardoons! Your cake is incredibly pretty, and I love the semi-naked strategy of the frosting. It kinda looks BETTER to me that way!

  15. I've love to learn more about preparing beets. I'm a runner and they have been popping up in magazine articles and online blogs. I have to admit, they scare me a bit but I know there has to be a way to make them appealing in my eyes!

  16. I love spice cakes that use vegetable purees, so I know I would love this. I've bookmarked it to make it as my next cake!

  17. I made this cake and it is my new favourite recipe. Delicious and easy, though a little time consuming.

    1. Thanks for your review! Yes, I agree a little time consuming but worth the effort. :)


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