I never understood parsnip as a kid. I never warmed to it like I did with many vegetables. I think for me it sat in the same realm as kumara (sweet potato). They were sweet aliens on a plate full of savoury. Like I did with many things (and perhaps still do), I compartmentalized my food – these sweet vegetables just did not belong on my dinner plate. And the occasional sweet potato that happened to get camouflaged as a real potato under a pile of beef gravy was rejected with a shudder and the occasional dry retch.
And then a few years ago I discovered sweet potato as it was always meant to be. My good friend Shanti made candied sweet potatoes at her Thanksgiving dinner, inspired by the time she lived in North America. And then I got it. Sweet potatoes shine when they embrace their sweetness, and these sugary, marshmallow-y, pecan crusted sweet potatoes shone their asses off.
So when I saw this recipe for Parsnip Cake, I thought it was genius. Of course, as it turns out, Parsnip Cake has been enjoyed by tea drinking Brits for centuries, but I’d never actually tried it. Maybe this was a chance for Parsnip to redeem itself and for me to appreciate what it has to offer. So for the first time ever I went to the store and I got me some parsnip.
I adapted the recipe because I didn’t want to use any highly processed sugars or flours. To sweeten it I used fresh dates melted in butter, and some mashed banana. I used wholewheat pastry flour in place of all-purpose flour, and I used only a couple of tablespoons of agave nectar to sweeten the lemon cream cheese icing.
End result? I would say this is actually better than carrot cake as the higher sugar content in the parsnips seems to work harmoniously with the other ingredients. The dates give it a lovely caramel flavour which doesn’t overpower the parsnip, and the banana keeps the cake nice and moist. Try it and let me know what you think. And tell me about any other vegetables you prefer to eat in dessert form.
Parsnip Cake Recipe
Adapted from Café Collection by Julie Le Clerc
For the Cake:
¾ cup fresh dates, finely diced and mashed into a paste
110g (4oz) butter
3 bananas, well mashed
3 cups grated parsnip (approx 3 medium sized parsnips)
3 eggs, whisked
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups wholewheat pastry flour (or all-purpose / standard flour)
½ teaspoon fine ground sea salt
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup currants
For the Icing:
150g cream cheese
40g butter, softened
Juice and rind of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons agave nectar
Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Butter your cake or loaf pan and line it with baking paper.
Melt the butter and date paste in a small saucepan over low heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the dates begin to soften and separate. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add currants.
In a separate mixing bowl, mix the melted dates/butter with the mashed banana, parsnip, whisked eggs, and vanilla extract.
Fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture until just combined. Pour into a lined cake or loaf pan. Bake for 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours, or until a toothpick comes out clean in the centre of the cake.
While the cake is baking whip together the cream cheese, butter, lemon juice/rind, and agave nectar. Taste. If you like your icing sweeter adjust to your liking. Ice the cake when it has completely cooled.
Makes one parsnip cake.