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That was Awkward, But Let’s Talk About Carrot Coffee Cake

One of my favorite bloggers, Joanna Goddard recently wrote a cute little blog post, asking readers about their first kiss. Mine was at the ripe old age of 16 (or maybe it was 15?), with a boy who lived down the street (convenient) and had a car and a driver’s license before I did (even MORE convenient). It was totally awkward. I have yet to meet anyone whose first kiss wasn’t awkward. The first time you do stuff — and I don’t mean stuff —it’s not unusual for things to get awkward. Like the first time you try to ride a bike without the training wheels. Awkward. I mean, you have to wonder how the hell you’ll actually balance on that tiny little seat and two wheels. But all of a sudden, you have a breakthrough. You might not even realize when the breakthrough comes when, all of a sudden, things just feel natural. Like you’ve been kissing boys (or girls) and riding bikes all your life. In fact, you can’t even remember what it was like to have those training wheels.

This is precisely the way that I recently began to feel about cooking. When I began learning how to cook, things were often awkward. I never really felt comfortable throwing in extra pepper, or swapping butternut squash for pumpkin. I followed the recipe, precisely. I thought: this is what I am supposed to do. This is how you cook.

Growing up, watching my mom whip things up in the kitchen without recipes, I was dumbfounded. Every once in a while, I’d ask her to provide me with recipes for her dishes to which she’d send me instructions like “measure just a little bit of ingredient xyz” or “you can use any combination of these three things and bake until done.” Often, she wouldn’t provide temperatures, cook times, or numbers, for that matter, at all. She’d cook by taste, texture, and that certain feeling. It was crazy talk to me.

When I first started blogging, I hardly adapted recipes. I’d cook them exactly as instructed, and share them in my own words. I didn’t approach sharing recipes as a way to re-invent the wheel. But, slowly, I began to realize that cooking without a recipe, or changing a recipe dramatically to fit your taste, is a lot like kissing a boy or riding a bike for the very first time. At first, things will be totally awkward. You might eat a few really weird-tasting dishes. You might not want to experiment on others right away. And then at some point, after you’ve been cooking line by line, and you get pretty comfortable with how things are, you might realize you want to adapt. I’m in the process of creating the exclusive, original recipes for the 3rd Pairings Box (holy cow!) and it’s starting to feel…totally natural. I’m not saying that I choose to only create my own recipes now, or specifically adapt just to say something is adapted (I often cook recipes directly from cookbooks and re-tell them in my own way and find pleasure in curating great recipes that I try and love), but I’m definitely having fun coming up with my own combinations.

The recipe I’m sharing today was generously adapted from one of my favorite baking books, Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce. I’m a little (ok, a lot) obsessed. Kim shares her recipe for carrot muffins that I spun into my own treat: a carrot coffee cake laced with warming spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, freshly grated nutmeg, and topped with a graham flour-streusel. Though it sounds healthy, there is nothing ‘healthy’ tasting about it. It’s tender and moist and studded with the most beautiful bright orange carrot flecks.

Carrot Coffee Cake

For the graham flour streusel topping:

2 tablespoons of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of white cane sugar
pinch of kosher salt
3 tablespoons of butter, chilled and diced
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons of graham flour

For the cake:

1 cup of spelt flour
3/4 cup of white flour
1/3 cup of brown sugar
1/4 cup of white cane sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
pinch of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1 1/2 cups of coarsely grated carrots (use a food processor for evenly grated pieces)
1/2 stick of butter, melted
1 cup of well-shaken buttermilk
1 large egg

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and butter a 9 inch round pan.
2. Make the streusel topping by combining the streusel ingredients and using your fingers to rub them together until they resemble coarse crumbs (a mixture of fine and slightly larger pieces is ok).
3. Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, spices, sugars and salt over a large bowl. Mix any remaining ingredients in the sifter into the bowl. Add the grated carrots and stir to coat them.
4. Melt the butter and let it cool slightly. Combine the buttermilk, egg and melted butter in another bowl and whisk lightly. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the bowl with the dried ingredients and use a spatula to gently mix the batter until it just comes together.
5. Pour the batter into your prepared pan, spreading it with a spatula. Evenly distribute the streusel over the cake and bake it for approximately 35-45 minutes (until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean).

Last, but not least, I’d like to announce the two randomly selected winners of our October Pairings Box Giveaway! Congratulations Rachel and Kathy Eyre! Drop me an email with your mailing address and we’ll get your Pairings Boxes out to you! If you didn’t win, remember, there’s still time to sign up for a subscription in time to receive your November Pairings Box

Musical Pairings: Cass McCombs – Humor Risk + Carrot Coffee Cake

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Posted by Kasey

Kasey is the food editor and co-founder of Turntable Kitchen. She loves dark chocolate, warm crusty bread, and traveling to new places. She speaks Russian, but does not like vodka.

  • Carrot… coffee… cake. Genius! Though I rarely made a recipe exactly as described, I’m getting so much more comfortable making big substitutions. And they’re working! Cheers to that!

  • That cake looks so welcoming! It’s so true that with practice comes ease and self assurance. It’s a wonderful feeling to get past the awkward stage!

  • Thanks lady! I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying’s fun! A big cheers to that for sure.

  • To getting past the awkward stage, my friend 🙂 Your recipes and photos have been KILLER lately!

  • Healthy cakes that taste unhealthy are the best kind of cake! This looks like such a nourishing and creative treat for fall – definitely not awkward at all! 🙂

  • I agree, Kathryn! I do what I can 😉

  • Cooking really does become comforting. I can smell something baking and know when its done or I know when my meat is finished searing by the sound. I find so much comfort in the kitchen now that the awkwardness is over! Great recipe too! Thanks!

  • You just made my day, Kasey! You’re the best 🙂

  • That streusel topping look so good! I’ve been wanting to try playing around some of Kim Boyce’s recipes too.

  • This sounds like a delicious cake. I love carrot cake, I love coffe cake, so I am pretty convinced I would also love your cake, great.

  • Meganjgordon

    Looks amazing, Kasey (and you know how I feel about Kim Boyce!) I know what you mean about developing recipes…so cool! I’ve been doing it more and more for the Kitchn and each time, I think: whoa, this works! I’ll have to give this a go–looks lovely. Have a great weekend!

  • Megan – exactly…it’s that ‘whoa this works feeling!’ that’s pretty special 🙂 Hope you are well! xoxo

  • Vin Biscuit

    I’m confused (or dumb or blind). Should coffee cake have coffee in it?

  • It can totally be confusing! Traditionally, coffee cake is just a cake served with coffee…a breakfast treat. So, while some coffee cakes might be made with coffee, it’s actually not a key ingredient. 🙂

  • Sarah Wilczak

    I remember that first kiss! and, this looks delicious, now I need to figure out how to make it work in the Denver altitude…

  • Ashley

    What is spelt flour and can I find that at any grocery store?=)

  • It’s a really nutritional flour and is lighter than whole wheat varieties. You can find it in the bulk bin at Whole Foods (it’s totally affordable). Here’s some more info:

  • Hahahah. It was sooo long ago! Don’t know much about baking with altitude, you’ll need to fill me in!

  • Pingback: Looking for the Silver Lining – Whole Grain Flour Carrot Coffee Cake « Penchant for Produce()

  • Justeen @ Blissful Baking

    Made this for Easter brunch and it was a hit! I used white whole wheat flour instead of graham flour because I didn’t have any, but otherwise followed your recipe exactly. And I whipped up a simple cream cheese glaze with neufchatel, milk, and powdered sugar and drizzled it on top, just to make it a bit more sinful 🙂

  • Thanks for letting me know, Justeen! Your additions sound fantastic.

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