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Parsnip cake is carrot cake’s cool older cousin. This low-key snack cake, adapted from my friend Jill Silverman Hough, is a terrific, unfussy fall and winter treat.

parsnip cake with cream cheese frosting
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Why we love this recipe

I first shared this recipe in my Crisper Whisperer column on Serious Eats back in 2010, when we had a glut of parsnips and I’d already exhausted my repertoire of savory uses for them. Even though carrot cake is a favorite and in retrospect it makes perfect sense, I don’t think I would have thought to use parsnips in sweets if I hadn’t come across Jill’s recipe.

Parsnip spice cake is:

  • Quick and easy to make
  • Perfectly spiced
  • Make-ahead friendly
  • Equally great frosted or unadorned
  • Right in the sweet spot between familiar and novel

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance at the ingredients you’ll need to make parsnip cake.

ingredients in bowls
  • Parsnips look a lot like white carrots when they’re whole. Choose firm, evenly colored ones that aren’t huge. You can grate them on the large holes of a box grater or in a food processor with the shredding disc.
  • You can use chopped pecans or walnuts in this recipe. Pecans have a slightly more bitter, brooding taste, and walnuts are a little bit sweeter. They both provide a similar earthiness and a great textural element in this cake.
  • Canola oil is neutral-tasting and provides moisture in this recipe. You can substitute safflower, peanut, corn, vegetable oil blend, or another refined neutral oil if that’s what you’ve got on hand.

How to make it

Here’s what you’ll do to make a great parsnip spice cake. It’s quick and easy! You can see all the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get the details in the recipe card below.

  1. First you’ll mix up the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Then, in a medium bowl or a 2- to 4-cup glass measuring cup, you’ll mix together the wet ingredients.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ones and stir to combine. Then stir in the grated parsnips and chopped nuts.
  4. Bake, cool, and frost if you like. It’s great either way.

Expert tips and FAQs

What do parsnips taste like?

Parsnips have a complex taste which, to be honest, is a little hard to describe. They share some of the sweetness of carrots but have earthier, nuttier, and sometimes even slightly spicy vibes, too.

The intensity of their taste and texture can vary quite a bit. I like them best in wintertime. Colder temperatures convert some of their starches to sugars, so they tend to be a little bit sweeter and crisper. You may want to explore available sources to suit your tastes, or simply bring a flexible attitude to the table.

Fun fact: According to The Produce Bible, parsnips were the most commonly used winter vegetable throughout much of Europe until the potato was introduced in the 18th century. 

Can I make parsnip cake in advance?

Absolutely! Make it up to a day in advance and, once cool, leave covered at room temperature.

Leftovers keep for several days. Even when frosted, I tend to keep it at cool room temp, but you can refrigerate it for the sake of the cream cheese frosting if your kitchen is warm.

Unfrosted parsnip spice cake freezes well for up to three months. Wrap tightly in cling film, then foil, and place in a zip-top freezer bag with the air squeezed out.

More favorite fall and winter bakes

two pieces of parsnip spice cake

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Parsnip Spice Cake with Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting | Umami Girl 780
4.50 from 36 votes

Parsnip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
This earthy, perfectly spiced parsnip cake is a terrific and slightly unusual way to take parsnips beyond purées and braises. Think of it as carrot cake’s cool cousin who’s genuinely comfortable chatting with the farmers at the local farmers’ market.
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Total: 40 minutes
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Ingredients 

For the parsnip spice cake

  • 1 ½ cups (180 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¾ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ½ ounces (235 grams) peeled, shredded parsnips to make 2 tightly packed cups
  • ½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts

For the frosting

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 ½ teaspoons peeled, grated fresh ginger (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups (240 grams) powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk, if needed

Instructions 

For the parsnip spice cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the center. Grease a 9-by-13-by-2-inch pan.
  • In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and salt. Whisk to combine.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, oil, milk, and vanilla. Whisk to combine. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed well. Stir in parsnips and walnuts.
  • Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for about 25 minutes, until a tester comes out clean from the center of the cake. Cool completely on a rack.
  • When cool, frost if you like.

For the frosting

  • In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, ginger (if using), vanilla, and salt and beat until very smooth.
  • Add the powdered sugar a little at a time, beating after each addition, until all the sugar is incorporated and the frosting is smooth. If frosting seems too thick, add milk and beat until smooth.
  • Pipe or spread over Parsnip Spice Cake and serve.

Notes

  1. Choose firm, evenly colored parsnips that aren’t huge. You can grate them on the large holes of a box grater or in a food processor with the shredding disc.
  2. Make this cake up to a day in advance and, once cool, leave covered at room temperature.
  3. Leftovers keep for several days. Even when frosted, I tend to keep it at cool room temp, but you can refrigerate it for the sake of the cream cheese frosting if your kitchen is warm.
  4. The unfrosted cake freezes well for up to three months. Wrap tightly in cling film, then foil, and place in a zip-top freezer bag with the air squeezed out.

Nutrition

Calories: 331kcal, Carbohydrates: 35.6g, Protein: 5g, Fat: 19.4g, Fiber: 2.2g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Cakes
Cuisine: American
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

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About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.