Spring, or maybe it’s Easter, often makes many of us think of carrot cake.
Spring, or maybe it’s Easter, often makes many of us think of carrot cake. (AP file photo)

Spring, or maybe it’s Easter, often makes me think of carrot cake. Not that I like carrot cake, but it’s probably my husband’s favorite dessert, and I know lots of other people enjoy it as well.

I love spice cake, which is basically carrot cake without all the texture additions. I’m not a fan of nuts in any baked good, but I also realize it’s not unusual to enjoy nuts in baked goods either. I enjoy coconut milk and coconut extract, but I cannot stand the texture of actual coconut in my food. I still remember a milkshake that I had on vacation in the Finger Lakes region 7 years ago that was ruined by tiny bits of coconut that must have been on the scoop or mixing wand from a previous customer’s order.

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So, if I haven’t already “yucked your yum,” as we like to say in my family, let me just move along to the recipes for some carrot cake-inspired dishes. First up are these carrot cake sandwich cookies, which remind me of the Little Debbie oatmeal pies, only with carrots, coconut and walnuts. These get a big thumbs up from my husband, and while making a sandwich cookie takes a bit of extra effort, they are definitely a crowd-pleaser.

Carrie's Kitchen: A trio of recipes from 'The Family Meal'

The book is divided into 31 meals, each with three courses, all of which the chefs considered to be simple and affordable food. Each recipe is sized to be made for 2, 6, 20 or 75 servings.

Next, for those looking for something lighter, a carrot cake smoothie. This has carrots, coconut and walnuts, but also oranges, banana and vanilla. Again, this is a lot of work for a smoothie, but if it keeps you from eating, cake, why not?

And finally, these carrot cake cinnamon buns. There’s no coconut in these, and it uses pecans instead of walnuts, but I love cinnamon buns so much that I would try one with almost any vegetable cooked into them, as long as they’re ooey gooey and soft in the middle. I won’t be eating carrot cake any time soon, but I would try one of these.

Enjoy!

Carrot cake sandwich cookies

For the cookies:

1/2 cup unsalted butter softened slightly

1/2 cup brown sugar packed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

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1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats not quick oats

1/2 cup shredded coconut sweetened or unsweetened

2/3 cup finely grated carrots, not packed

1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts optional

For the cream cheese frosting:

4 ounces cream cheese softened

4 tablespoons unsalted butter softened

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar plus more, if needed

1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (do not place the cookies directly on the baking sheets, they will spread too much).

Beat butter and sugars for 1 to 2 minutes until light and creamy. Add egg and vanilla and beat to combine, scraping the bowl if necessary.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low until just combined. Add the oats, coconut, carrots and walnuts and mix until just combined.

Place the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Scoop the dough evenly into 2 teaspoon sized mounds and place a couple inches apart on the cookie sheets (make sure they are mounded and not flat). Ensure that the cookies will be similar in size since the cookies will be sandwiched.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, until golden brown and still slightly soft in the center. Rotate your cookie sheets halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking. Cool the cookies completely on the baking sheets. Once cool, place the cookies in the refrigerator to firm up a little while you prepare the frosting.

For the frosting: Beat cream cheese and butter for several minutes, until combined. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Beat for a couple more minutes until smooth and creamy. If the frosting appears too thin, add a little more powdered sugar or place it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to slightly firm up.

Spread frosting on the underside of half of the cookies and top with another cookie.

These cookies are best within 1 to 2 days of making them. Store them in the refrigerator and eat them from the fridge or bring to room temp before serving.

Carrot cake smoothie

2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut (or coconut flakes)

2 tablespoons roughly chopped walnuts

3/4 cup grated carrot (about 1 large carrot)

1/2 cup frozen peeled orange segments

1/2 banana, sliced and frozen

1/2 cup low-fat Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup coconut water

Place ingredients in blender in the order listed and blend until smooth.

Carrot cake cinnamon rolls

For the rolls:

1 cup warm milk

2 eggs, room temperature slightly beaten

⅓ cup butter, melted

4½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup brown sugar

1 packet of yeast

For the roll filling:

1 cup brown sugar, packed

⅓ cup butter, softened, plus more for topping

1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

2 carrots, peeled and finely grated

1/2 cup of raisins

3/4 cup of chopped pecans

For the frosting:

½ cup of salted butter

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup of milk or cream

2 1/2 cup of confectioners sugar

For the rolls: Dissolve yeast into warm milk for 5 minutes or until foamy.

While yeast is dissolving, combine brown sugar, butter, salt, and eggs into a large bowl.

Mix in two cups of flour, and then mix in yeast and milk mixture. Mix in remaining flour until dough is easy to handle. The dough should be elastic but not sticky.

Sprinkle flour over a large surface and knead for 5 to 10 minutes.

Place dough in a large well-greased bowl and cover with two clean dish towels without touching the dough. Place in a dry area for an hour to double in size.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Punch down the dough and on a floured surface, roll out into a large 15- by 9-inch rectangle. Spread evenly with softened butter, brown sugar, shredded carrots, raisins, pecans, cinnamon and nutmeg. Very gently roll dough together. Cut slices about 1 inch thick and arrange close together in a greased casserole dish or on a large baking sheet. Brush the tops and sides of rolls with melted butter. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly golden.

For icing: In a large bowl fitted with a hand or standing mixer, add softened butter, cream cheese, and vanilla extract. Beat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1 cup of powdered sugar at a time and 1 tablespoon of milk or cream after every sugar addition. Spread evenly onto warm cinnamon rolls!

Notes: If making rolls the night before, wrap your baking sheet or casserole dish filled with cinnamon rolls extremely tight with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight. One hour before baking remove rolls from the refrigerator and let rolls come to room temp before baking.

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