I have a habit of sneaking root vegetables and other clandestine, healthy foods into my baked goods, including beet brownies and a zucchini chocolate cake that once prompted my friend Calvin to exclaim, "We may be BFF forever, but I will never let you molest my desserts with vegetables."
I think even Calvin would like these cookies, seeing as carrots have somehow passed the cultural acceptability test. Why is that? What makes a carrot any less of an "un-dessert" food than a beet, or a new potato, or beans?
Since the middle ages, whenever sugar was expensive or hard to come by, certain fruits and vegetables were used to add sweetness to puddings and baked goods. Carrots (and sugar beets, I might add) have a very high sugar content and were able to add that extra something to cakes and sweets. The popularity of carrot cake peaked in the Second World War, due to sugar rationing, and by the 1970's, there was no looking back. Those little iced orange and green carrots on top of a thick layer of cream cheese frosting became a staple in bakeries, cafeterias, and American kitchens. I asked for a carrot cake year after year for my birthday as a kid, and I still love the textures and colors of the old favorite, though I'm now more inclined to favor the natural orange (or other heirloom colors) over the artificial neon colors of yesteryear.
Though we now combine carrots with the sugar they were intended to replace, it's hard not to feel a little virtuous when you pour in a cup of grated, raw carrots to a bowl of cookie dough. This take on carrot cake is a really fun, portable way to bring individual, hand-held desserts to a BBQ. I incorporated more spices and mixed carrots directly into the frosting, which gives great color and texture to the sandwich filling. If it feels a little decadent to eat two cookies at once, slathered with icing, just think of it as a small portion of cake. But don't argue with yourself too much over the merits or demerits of the inside-out carrot cake cookie, or they'll disappear before you make up your mind.
Inside-Out Carrot Cake Cookies with Carrot Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Gourmet, April 2004
1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups coarsely grated carrots, divided
1 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar or 1/4 cup honey
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 375°F. Grease 2 baking sheets or line with parchment paper (these can get sticky, I recommend the parchment).
Whisk together flour, spices, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
Beat together butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in 1 cup of the carrots carrots, all of the pecans and cranberries at low speed, then add flour mixture and beat until just combined.
Drop 1 1/2 tablespoons batter per cookie 2 inches apart on baking sheets and bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are lightly browned and springy to the touch, 12 to 16 minutes total. Cool cookies on sheets on racks 1 minute, then transfer cookies to racks to cool completely.
While cookies are baking, blend cream cheese, butter, and sugar (or honey) in a food processor until smooth. Add the other cup of grated carrots to frosting, mix well.
Sandwich flat sides of cookies together with a generous tablespoon of cream cheese filling in between.