Spelt Carrot Cake with Cardamom

Recipe By:
Nan Kohler

I really love carrot cake, but many that I buy are a disappointment: too sweet, too dense, too rich. Perhaps I’ve only been in love with the idea of carrot cake, as the more I think about it, the more I realize I’ve never really had that perfect one.

Spelt has always been my favorite flour for things like carrot cake and zucchini bread. It took many trials to come up with the ultimate recipe that showcases the tenderness of spelt on the palate and its naturally sweet, nutty flavor. I opted for slightly exotic flavor partners in the batter using cardamom, ginger and pistachios. For one of the final recipe tests, I was having a difficult time sourcing already toasted and shelled pistachios. Feeling a little desperate (and lazy, I suppose), I grabbed the only bag I could find – salt and pepper toasted pistachios – and the gamble paid off. You couldn’t single out the pepper, but it added to the warmth and depth of the mixed spices already in the batter. I will be seeking them out the next time I make this recipe.

I prefer a tangy, less sugary cream cheese frosting. The formula below will give you a very soft frosting. Be aware that it will not hold well at room temperature if the weather is hot and humid. You can adjust this by adding more powdered sugar (another cup should do) to create a thicker, more stable frosting. And you don’t need a huge amount of frosting between each cake layer. I divide the cake into 4 layers because I want a bit of tangy cream cheese with each bite of cake. However, the cake itself is not overly sweet, so it doesn’t take a lot to create that refreshing balance. When testing some traditional recipes, I found that for my taste, too much of a good thing did exist where the frosting was concerned. I wanted to be able to eat a slice and not feel sugar overload after the 3rd bite.

Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
45 mins



2 ½ cup whole grain spelt flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon cardamom

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

zest of 1 large orange

1 cup dark brown sugar

¾ cup sugar

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup (8 oz) safflower oil, or sunflower oil

½ cup (4 oz) crème fraîche or sour cream

3 cup shredded carrots, about 1 pound

1 cup pistachios, toasted and chopped

½ cup sweetened shredded coconut

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 stick (4 oz, ½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature

12 oz (1 ½ pkg) cream cheese, at room temperature

1 pinch salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 cup powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 325. Butter and flour two 9” round cake pans and line with parchment, or spray with nonstick baking spray and line with parchment.

Peel and shred/grate carrots. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together spelt flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices, and orange zest.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat sugars and eggs on medium speed until creamy and slightly thickened, about 3-4 minutes.

Add flour mixture alternately with oil and crème fraîche, mixing just to combine.

Remove bowl from stand, give the batter a couple of whisks with the paddle attachment, then fold in the carrots, pistachios and coconut.

Divide batter evenly into the two prepared cake pans. Bake until golden and a tester inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in pan then remove onto wire cooling racks to cool completely

Make Frosting

Place cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream together until soft and fluffy. Add vanilla and salt and mix for a couple of seconds. Add powdered sugar, mix on low speed to combine, then increase speed to medium high and whip until light and fluffy.


Cut each cake into two even layers. Place bottom layer of first cake onto cardboard round or serving platter. Spread ¼ of frosting evenly on cake, spreading to the very edge of the layer. Carefully place the other layer on top of filling and top with another ¼ of frosting. Repeat with the remaining cake layers. If frosting peeks out beyond edges of cake layers, you can simply scrape off with an offset spatula, use it to create a decorative skim coat on the outside of your cake as pictured above, or leave it as is.

Candied carrot strips, additional toasted pistachios, or toasted coconut all make excellent decorations for the top of the cake.

Great instructions for making candied carrot strips can be found here:


*this recipe yields a very large amount and can easily be cut in half. Hold finished cake in refrigerator until serving and store cold.

Photo credits Nan Kohler