Recipe: Saffron-Cardamom Carrot Cake

My friend Kathleen's birthday fell on Diwali this year, so we cooked a big Indian feast for her and I wanted to make a cake that fit in with the flavors.

Carrots and saffron are a natural pair, so I made a carrot cake spiced with cardamom and saffron, and then I grated a bunch of fresh ginger into the cream cheese frosting and used up all the gold leaf I had on top.  

Saffron-Cardamom Carrot Cake

4 ounces (1 stick) butter, plus more for the cake pan
1 big pinch saffron threads
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt
4 eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup oil (I used grapeseed)
1 cup crushed pineapple
3 cups grated carrots, loosely packed (about 1 pound carrots before peeling)
Optional: 1/2 cup raisins
Optional: 1/2 cup toasted, chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Adjust a baking rack to the center of the oven.  

Melt the butter in a small pan over low heat.  Add the saffron and let it steep for at least ten minutes.  

Butter and flour two straight-sided 9-inch cake pans, then line with parchment and butter again.  You can also make this cake in a single 9 x 13-inch pan and skip the butter/flour/parchment and just frost and eat it in the pan. 

Sift together the flour, powder, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and salt into a bowl and set aside.  

In a larger bowl, combine the eggs, white and brown sugars, oil, pineapple, carrots, and if using, raisins and/or walnuts.  Add the butter-saffron mixture.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the flour mixture into the carrot mixture in two or three batches.  Make sure that all of the flour is incorporated.

Divide into the cake pans and bake until the cakes are golden brown and just set, springing back to the touch and pulling away from the side of the pan, about 24-28 minutes (But don't blindly trust me! Check often!  Ovens are all different!)

Cool on a baking rack for at least 15 minutes before removing from the pan.  Allow to cool completely before removing parchment and frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting with Fresh Ginger

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
2 ounces (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature
1-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled
1 1/2 cups sugar

Using the paddle attachment on an electric mixer, whip together the cream cheese and butter, then grate in the ginger using a microplane grater.  Add the sugar and whip to combine.  Frost the cake and lick your fingers!

I don't like really sweet cakes or frostings, so both the cake and frosting recipes use less sugar than their traditional counterparts.  Taste the cake batter and frosting after you've added the sugar, and if you feel they need to be sweeter, then add more!


  1. do you mean powdered sugar in the frosting?? xo

    1. Ha! I actually just used regular old sugar and it worked fine (i.e it wasn't gritty), but you could totally use powdered sugar instead.