Italian carrot cake is a light, airy cake made without butter, oil or dairy. The lift comes from whipping egg whites to stiff peaks then folding them into the batter. It's just barely sweet, scented with orange zest finished with a drizzle of warm honey. Healthy carrot cake has never tasted so good!
A carrot cake hailing from Northern Italy, Torta di Carote is a light, elegant dessert that contains no butter, oil, or dairy. This healthy carrot cake recipe has a subtle sweetness from early summer carrots, orange zest, and a small amount of sugar especially when compared to American carrot cakes.
I have nothing against cakes coated in cream cheese frosting, but sometimes I prefer the sweetness in my desserts to be more of a whisper than a cheer. When I'm in the mood for subtle sophistication to punctuate my meal, Italian carrot cake comes to mind.
This is one of my favorite cakes to make for holidays or when I'm planning for company because it tastes even better the day after it's made. Serve it at Easter brunch, on Mother’s Day with a cup of lemon ginger tea or after your finest summer soirée with a cup of spiked coffee.
Table of Contents
- What is Italian Carrot Cake?
- What is in Italian Carrot Cake?
- How to Make Italian Carrot Cake
- Tips and Tricks for Making Italian Carrot Cake
- Swaps, Subs, and Variations
- What to Serve with Italian Carrot Cake
- Other Italian Dessert Recipes we Love
- Greek Honey - Thyme, Forest & Wild Herbs
- Torta di Carote (Italian Carrot Cake) Recipe
What is Italian Carrot Cake?
If you’re wondering how Italian Carrot cake compares to its American sibling, well, let’s just say you would never guess they were related. Italian Carrot Cake is frosting-less, with a more savory almond flavor due impart to toasted almond flour. To me, this makes it worthy of your table at both breakfast and dessert.
If your only experience with carrot cake is the sweet American-style carrot cake—heavy with dried fruit, spices, and cream cheese frosting—then you’re in for a real treat.
A lightly sweet, dairy free dessert recipe, this healthy carrot cake recipe needs nothing more than a dusting of powdered sugar and a drizzle of honey. However, if you want to guild the lily a little bit add sweetened yogurt, whipped cream or ice cream.
What is in Italian Carrot Cake?
In this healthy carrot cake recipe, grated carrots may play a starring role, but toasted almond flour provides a nutty backdrop. Orange zest and almond extract round out the flavor party, while whipped egg whites ensure the cake is springy and tender.
- Blanched almond flour: Sometimes called almond meal, blanched almond flour is made from finely ground sweet almonds that have had their dark skins removed. Almond flour gives baked goods a moist, crumbly texture and nutty flavor. In this carrot cake recipe, I toast the blanched almond flour, which really brings that nuttiness to the forefront. Due to the high oil content in almond flour, it tends to go rancid quickly. I recommend storing any extra in the freezer.
- All-purpose flour: Made from wheat, all-purpose flour provides structure to the carrot cake. If you’re avoiding gluten, substitute a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend. However, the cake will likely be denser than the original.
- Baking powder: When added to liquid, baking powder releases carbon dioxide bubbles that create a soft, airy texture in the finished cake.
- Organic cane sugar: Compared to refined white sugar, organic cane sugar retains some molasses, which creates a deeper flavor. The crystals are slightly larger and lightly golden in color. White sugar is a fine substitute if that’s what you have on-hand. I recommend organic cane sugar because I enjoy the slightly caramelized flavor.
- Orange zest: Fresh orange zest adds a burst of bright, citrusy flavor and aroma. Be sure to rub the zest into the sugar with your fingers to release the flavorful oils.
- Eggs: Eggs add structure and richness to the cake. The eggs are separated and the whites are whipped to stiff peaks. They are then folded into the batter. This technique gives the cake an airy, loose crumb and counterbalances the heaviness of the almond flour and grated carrots.
- Grated carrots: Spring carrots are delicately sweet and extremely tender. Look for firm, bright orange carrots and scrub them well. You want to rid them of any dirt hiding in their nooks and crannies. I don’t bother peeling carrots, especially fresh carrots, when I am going to grate them. Finely grate the carrots. This helps them disappear into the batter and results in a smooth, gently sweet slice of cake.
- Almond extract: When I first developed this recipe for a restaurant where I was the pastry chef, I used orange blossom water. Orange blossom water can be hard to source, so here I’ve substituted with almond extract, a concentrated liquid made from bitter almonds. Both add a distinct floral flavor to baked goods that I love. However, if you’re not a fan or don’t have any on-hand, you can substitute with vanilla extract. If you have orange blossom water, simply replace the almond extract for a delicate, citrus-scented cake.
- Kosher salt: Salt enhances the flavor of baked goods. Kosher salt is used here because it has a clean salty flavor.
- Powdered sugar is made from finely ground white sugar mixed with cornstarch. It provides a simple yet elegant topping for this healthy carrot cake recipe. Want something a little showier? Top each slice with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey. I'm partial to our aromatic Greek Honey from Crete.
How to Make Italian Carrot Cake
- Get ready: Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a 9-inch cake pan and line the bottom with a parchment round.
- Toast the almond flour: Spread the almond flour on a baking sheet in one even layer, breaking up any clumps. Toast in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, then remove the flour from the oven and stir. Shake the tray to redistribute almond flour evenly, then toast for another 2-4 minutes, or until evenly golden brown. Be sure to watch carefully so that the flour doesn’t scorch around the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before continuing with the recipe.
- Sift the flour: Sift together the all-purpose flour and baking powder into a small bowl. Add the cooled almond flour to the mixture and whisk until combined.
- Combine the sugar and zest: Place the sugar and finely grated zest from 1 orange in a large bowl. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until it’s evenly distributed and very fragrant.
- Add the flour, carrots, and almond extract: Add the flour and baking powder mixture, finely grated carrots, and almond extract to the egg and sugar mixture. Use a stiff spatula to stir until combined. The batter will be very stiff at this point, you may have to use your hands to gently knead it all together.
- Add the egg yolks: Separate the eggs and set the whites aside. Add the yolks to the sugar-orange zest mixture. Using a hand mixer with the whisk attachment (or a whisk and a strong arm), vigorously whisk the egg yolks into the sugar mixture until it is fluffy and turns pale yellow, about 4 minutes.
- Beat the egg whites: Add the egg white and kosher salt to a large, clean mixing bowl. Beat or whisk until stiff peaks form. “Stiff peaks” means that when you turn the egg beaters right-side up the egg whites clinging to the beaters stand up straight without drooping.
- Incorporate the egg whites: Use the stiff spatula to gently fold ⅓ of the egg whites into the carrot batter. Fold in another ⅓ of the egg whites. (Don’t worry about fully incorporating at this step–we’re just trying to loosen up that stiff batter a bit). When the egg whites are mostly incorporated, fold in the final ⅓ of the egg whites. Continue folding gently until no white streaks remain.
- Bake the carrot cake: Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Gently smooth out the top with a spatula, making sure the batter completely fills the pan. Place the pan on a sheet tray. Bake for 55-60 minutes, rotating halfway through baking to ensure an evenly cooked cake. The cake is done when it’s deeply golden on top and the sides of the cake begin to pull away from the edges of the pan.
- Cool and serve: Set the cake on a wire rack to cool completely in the pan, about 1 hour. To remove the cake from the pan, run a butter knife along the sides of the pan and gently flip onto a plate. Remove the parchment round from the top of the cake. If you’re not serving it immediately, let it cool completely. Then wrap the cake tightly in plastic and leave at room temperature. (I actually prefer this cake the day after it's made.) Just before serving, dust the top of the cake lightly with powdered sugar.
Tips and Tricks for Making Italian Carrot Cake
This cake recipe is fairly easy to make. It just requires a few simple baking techniques to achieve the right flavor and consistency. To help you make the perfect Italian carrot cake, I’ve outlined some of my favorite baking tips and tricks I’ve learned from years spent as a pastry chef.
How to toast nut flours and why:
- Why you should toast nut flours: Toasting nuts and nut flours adds complexity to the finished cake. Toasting almond flour until it’s lightly golden brown adds a warm, nutty flavor to the cake. It balances the carrot’s delicate sweetness.
- How to toast nut flours: Toasting the almond meal in the oven results in even browning. Stay by your oven and check often. Almond meal can go from brown to burned in a flash! To have perfectly toasted almond flour, stir the flour partway through to ensure even browning.
Separating eggs and preparing the yolks and whites differently may seem fussy and intimidating, but with a few simple guidelines, you’ll feel like a pastry pro in no time. But first, why is this necessary?
- Egg yolks: Beating the egg yolks with sugar does two vital things for our cake: it dissolves the sugar granules so they’re not gritty, and it incorporates air into the cake, resulting in a light, fluffy texture.
- Yolks + sugar: As soon as sugar and yolks come into contact, the sugar begins to suck water out of the yolks. If left too long, this can result in patches of “cooked” egg yolks in your cake batter. Because of this, it’s best to combine the two right before beating them together. I recommend using a hand mixer.
- Egg whites: Whipping the egg whites to stiff peaks adds volume to your cake. And, since the batter without the whites is quite thick, gently folding whipped egg whites into the batter results in an ethereal, fluffy finished texture.
- Stiff peaks: I recommend using a hand mixer for this step. (Even with a hand mixer, it takes about 3-4 minutes to whip the whites to stiff peaks.) If the egg white mixture stands up straight and tall from the end of your whisk or beater, you’ve reached stiff peaks! If it droops over a bit, continue whisking for a minute or so more. (If the whites begin to look crumbly, you’ve gone too far! They’ve been over whisked and it’s best to start over.)
My Egg Whites Don’t Jiggle, Jiggle They Fold
Now that we’ve done all the hard work of whipping our egg whites into stiff peaks, we don’t want to deflate all of that lovely volume by mashing the egg whites into this healthy carrot cake batter. Instead, we want to gently fold the egg whites into the batter. This process will lighten the batter and make a tender, delicate cake.
Folding is a technique that gently incorporates whipped ingredients into a batter, preserving a light and airy texture. Here’s how to fold egg whites into cake batter:
- Use a silicone spatula to fold a small portion of the whipped egg whites into the batter to loosen it up just enough to easily incorporate the remaining egg whites.
- Scrape ⅓ of the whipped egg whites into your batter. Then use your spatula to go around the rim of the bowl. Cut through the middle of the bowl and then scrape the rim again.
- Repeat these steps, making sure you’re scraping the bottom of the bowl when you pass through the middle, until only a few white streaks remain. Using the same technique, fold in the remaining egg whites.
- It will be a little difficult in the beginning, but resist the temptation to simply stir the egg whites into the batter—this will deflate them and you’ll end up with a dense cake.
Swaps, Subs, and Variations
Like its American counterpart, Italian Carrot Cake is very adaptable. Don’t like orange zest? Try lemon instead! Not an almond fan? Try walnut or hazelnut meal instead of almond flour. Whatever you do, avoid any temptation to garnish with cream cheese frosting. It will totally overwhelm the delicate sweetness of this cake!
- Extracts: If you don’t like almond extract, you can use vanilla extract or swap the almond extract for orange blossom water. Its soft, floral flavor is one of my favorites.
- Almond flour: I use blanched almond flour in this recipe. The almond skins are removed, resulting in a creamy, finely ground flour (also called almond meal). Unblanched or unskinned almond flour can be substituted, but it’s naturally darker in color so you’ll need to watch closely when toasting so it doesn’t burn.
- Orange zest: Feel free to substitute with lemon or grapefruit zest in this recipe if you’re looking to try something different. Whichever you use, don’t skip rubbing the zest into the sugar, as it releases the citrus oils, resulting in an intensely fragrant cake.
- Toppings: I like to serve Italian carrot cake with just a light dusting of powdered sugar or a swoosh of greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey. Keep the cream cheese frosting for American-style carrot cake, as a rich cream cheese frosting would overwhelm the delicate sweetness of this healthy carrot cake recipe.
What to Serve with Italian Carrot Cake
My favorite occasion to serve this cake is Easter. The lightly sweet, delicate slices won’t overwhelm after a big holiday dinner filled with Mediterranean-Style Roasted Leg of Lamb, Blanched Asparagus with Mediterranean Salsa and a Tuscan White Bean Salad. Or, keep things simple with a classic Pasta Pomodoro.
But you don’t save this delicious and healthy carrot cake for special occasions. Serve as part of a beautiful brunch spread, alongside Italian Style Open-Faced Breakfast Sandwiches, or a simple Italian-inspired Strata Baked Egg Casserole.
Don’t forget to brew lots of strong espresso or maybe even some Carajillos!
Other Italian Dessert Recipes we Love
Greek Honey - Thyme, Forest & Wild Herbs
A drizzle of this high quality Greek honey adds the perfect finishing touch to your Torta di Carote!
Torta di Carote (Italian Carrot Cake)
- 2 cups (202g) blanched almond flour
- ⅔ cup (89g) all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon (14g) baking powder
- 1 cup (228g) organic cane sugar
- 1 orange, zested
- 5 eggs, separated
- 3 large carrots (313g), finely grated (about 4 loosely packed cups)
- 1 teaspoon almond extract or orange blossom water
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- Powdered sugar
- ¼ cup honey, warmed for serving
- Preheat your oven and prepare the cake pan: Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a 9-inch cake pan, then line the bottom with a parchment round.
- Toast the almond flour: Spread the almond flour on a baking sheet in an even layer, breaking up any clumps. Place the baking sheet in your oven and toast for 5 minutes. Stir the browner edges into the middle, spread, and toast until the almond flour is golden brown, about 2-4 minutes more. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
- Sift the flour: In a small bowl, sift together the all purpose flour and baking powder. Sift in the cooled toasted almond flour and stir to combine.
- Combine the sugar, zest, and eggs: In a large bowl, combine the sugar and orange zest (store the orange in your fridge for another day). Using your fingers, rub the zest into the sugar until the sugar is slightly clumpy and smells very fragrant. Add the egg yolks to the bowl.
- Beat the yolks and sugar mixture together: Using a hand mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar mixture together until it becomes fluffy and lightens to a pale yellow, about 4 minutes.
- Add the flour, carrots, and almond extract: Add the flour mixture, shredded carrots and almond extract to the egg yolk and sugar mixture. Use a stiff spatula to stir everything together until just combined. The batter will be quite thick so you may have to use your hands to gently knead it together.
- Whip the egg whites: Wash the egg beaters thoroughly or switch to the whisk attachment. In a large, clean bowl, combine the egg whites and salt. Beat or whisk the mixture on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes.
- Fold the egg whites into the batter: Carefully fold ⅓ of the egg white mixture into the carrot batter. Repeat with another third, then, when mostly incorporated, fold in the remaining egg white mixture. It will be very stiff at first but keep at it until no white streaks remain.
- Pour the batter into the cake pan: Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top. Place on a sheet tray (this will make removing it from the oven much easier) and set on the middle rack of your oven. Bake, rotating half way through, until the surface is evenly browned and the sides of the cake are beginning to pull away from the tin a little, 55-60 minutes.
- Cool the cake: Allow the cake to cool completely on a wire rack. Once cool, run a butter knife along the side of the cake and gently turn the cake out onto a plate, top side-down. Peel the parchment round from the bottom of the cake.
- Serve: Dust the cake lightly with powdered sugar right before serving and drizzle with wamed honey. For an extra punch add a dollop of slightly sweetened greek yogurt. The carrot cake will last, tightly wrapped, for up to 5 days at room temperature.
- When toasting the almond flour, be sure to watch carefully in the last few minutes so that the flour doesn’t scorch around the edges.
- Stiff peaks mean that when you turn the egg beaters right-side up, the egg whites clinging to the beaters stand up straight without drooping.
- This carrot cake tastes even better the next day! If you’re not serving right away, wrap the cooled cake tightly in plastic and store at room temperature.
- Visit our shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including olive oils, honey, jams and spices.