Harvest Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

This year, instead of starting a diet on New Year’s Day, we had friends over for brunch. The only thing I resolved to do in the new year is the learn to be a better photographer, and to continue cooking and baking tasty and interesting things to share with you.

harvest cake with cream cheese icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

When it comes to New Year’s Day menu planning, Southern food is king. Most people know that collard greens and black eyed peas are a traditional staple for getting your year started out on the right foot. When it comes to planning a brunch for New Year’s day, most people might stop with the collards and peas, but not me. If I’m going to the trouble of hosting a brunch for 15 or 20 people, you better believe I’m going to make a big fancy dessert to go along with the meal. I’m a sucker for a show stopper, and love the ooohs and aaahs when a multi-layer cake comes out after a big meal.


harvest cake with cream cheese icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I was trying to think of a cake to fit with my southern themed menu, carrot cake immediately came to mind. I’ve always thought of carrot cake as one of those desserts that Southern homemakers would make to bring to a ladies garden party, church picnic, or social club. What better way to round out a big Southern brunch at the beginning of a brand new year? As it turns out though, carrot cake, or at least carrot based desserts, have been around much longer than the American south. People have been using carrots in desserts to help sweeten them since medieval times, and carrot cake as we know it today was likely adapted from earlier recipes brought by immigrants from Eastern Europe. Whatever the real origins, the wide popularity and availability of carrot cake in the American South still makes it feel “Southern” to me.

harvest cake with cream cheese icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

The thing is, when it came time to start baking, I decided not to do a standard carrot cake.  I wanted to make a carrot cake with a little something extra. Something that still kept that traditional and comfortable feel, but with a new and modern twist. I once saw a recipe on Pinterest for a cake with grated zucchini & apples along with the carrots. I thought the concept for this cake was amazing, and could be really delicious, but that particular recipe didn’t really appeal to me. I think they were trying to make something super healthy, subbing dates for sugar, ground nuts for flour, and goat cheese for cream cheese. I suppose it could be tasty, but I worried that it could come out gummy and bland. I love the idea of adding fresh, good-for-you elements into a dessert, but I would be really upset if “healthy” was the first word that came to mind while eating a cake I’d made.

harvest cake with cream cheese icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

To make this cake I took a standard carrot cake recipe and tweaked it a bit. I added more spice, and subbed in fresh grated granny smith apples and zucchini in for some the carrots. I ended up with a ratio of about 1 part zucchini and 1 part apple to 2 parts carrots. I didn’t want to mess with perfection though, so I stuck with the traditional cream cheese icing. Since I wanted this cake to be as picture perfect as possible, I decided to make it with 3 layers, with the cream cheese icing as the filling and the icing.

When you’re making a multi-layered cake I think it’s important that all three layers are the same size. Not only will this make for a more professional presentation, but it will also help make sure your layers all bake at the same time instead of one drying out while the other is still underdone. To ensure even layers, I like to use a kitchen scale to make sure the batter is evenly distributed between the pans.

When I first announced my plans for this cake, Russell was skeptical, thinking that carrot cake was just something that shouldn’t be messed with, but I’ve converted him. In the end, this cake was divine and everyone loved it. Although it has a few different fruits and vegetables in it, healthy is the last word that comes to mind when you take a bite. The cream cheese icing is wonderfully creamy, and perfectly sweet & tangy. The cake itself is super moist and delicious, with a hearty hint of spice and a traditional carrot cake flavor. There’s just a hint of tanginess from the tart apples and a nice summery freshness from the green zucchini and fresh carrot. If you love carrot cake, you will surely love this cake too. Go preheat the oven. It’s cold outside, it’ll help you warm up.

harvest cake with cream cheese icing | Brooklyn Homemaker


Harvest Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

makes one 8 inch 3 layer cake

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/4 cups peanut oil (or any neutral vegetable oil)
4 large eggs
2 cups grated carrots (approximately 3-4 carrots)
1 cup grated zucchini (approximately 1 small zucchini)
1 cup peeled, cored & grated granny smith apple (approximately 1 large apple)
4 ounces finely chopped walnuts (optional)

1 1/2 pounds powdered sugar
16 ounces room temperature cream cheese
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 stick (8 tablespoons) room temperature unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. With cheesecloth or paper towels, squeeze excess moisture out of grated zucchini and set aside. Butter 3 (8-inch) round pans and line bottoms with parchment. Butter and lightly coat with flour.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, spices, and salt and make a well in the center.  In a small bowl beat together eggs and vegetable oil until combined, and pour into flour mixture. Using a mixer or wooden spoon, blend until combined. Stir in grated carrots, zucchini & apple.

Divide batter evenly between pans. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes. Remove from pans, turn over onto parchment paper and allow to cool completely before assembling.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter until completely smooth, about 5 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla and stir in very slowly until incorporated. Once the sugar is mixed in, turn mixer up to high and beat until smooth, about 5 minutes more.

To assemble your cake, level your layers with a sharp serrated knife or cake leveler. Spread about 3/4 cup of icing between each layer of cake, and cover the top and sides of the cake with a thin layer of icing to seal in the crumbs. Refrigerate the cake for about 30 minutes before finishing with another layer of icing. Decorate with swirls, piped details, chopped pecans, or however desired.


My family background is mostly German. Both sides of my family have German origins, but my paternal grandfather is the most recent to have moved to the US, having immigrated after WWII. I remember when I was younger he would spend hours on the phone speaking German to his brothers and sisters, most of whom all live spread throughout upstate New York. Christmas was always a time when they would send each other gifts that reminded them of home, and that time of year meant my grandparents house would be filled with all kinds of German treats.

pfeffernusse | Brooklyn Homemaker

Grandpa had an ever growing collection of beer steins that his cousins would send him from Germany. When my sisters and I turned 21 we started trying to find his favorite types of German liqueurs (he’s a fan of the sweet stuff) like Kirschwasser and Barenjager. My grandmother never really cared much for German food or cooking, so the German edibles around the house tended to be candies, cookies and cakes. One of his favorites was Stollen, a bready yeasted fruitcake filled with marzipan, candied fruit and nuts, and usually covered in powdered sugar or a thick white glaze.  I never really developed a taste for Stollen, but another one of his favorites, Pfeffernusse, I absolutely love.

pfeffernusse |Brooklyn Homemaker

Pfeffernusse, AKA Peppernuts, is a strongly flavored European spice cookie. It’s kind of similar to a strong gingerbread in flavor, but with a bit less ginger, and with finely ground black pepper instead. Pfeffernusse traditionally has some ground or finely chopped nuts in it, along with citrus zest, molasses and brandy. Some say this is an acquired taste, but I just think it’s not what people expect when they pick them up. Either way, this is an amazing underrated cookie that you will love if you give it a chance. They have a very subtle sweetness with a pleasant old-world holiday spice flavor. They also have a really fun name. Just say it out loud. Pfeffernusse. Pfeffernusse. Pfeffernusse!

pfeffernusse |Brooklyn Homemaker

There are a lot of pfeffernusse recipes out there, but this one is as close to traditional as I could find. A lot of recipes I found didn’t have enough spice, many of them skipped the nuts and citrus, and most omitted the brandy. This recipe, from the Joy of Cooking, is just what I was hoping for. Store bought pfeffernusse can sometimes be a bit dry, but this recipe produces a moist, chewy and cakey cookie. It’s got a very respectable amount of spice, the molasses and brandy flavors really come through with the citrus close behind, and the soft almonds give it a bit of texture.

pfeffernusse | Brooklyn Home

The list of ingredients in this recipe is substantial, with many different spices going into this cookie to give it it’s distinctive flavor. One spice you might not have in your cabinet is cardamom, but I implore you to try to find it. It has an exotic floral citrus flavor and is slightly reminiscent of cinnamon & ginger. It goes really well in spice cakes and similar desserts, especially desserts with apples. I love to add it to apple pie, and when I used to make apple butter I considered it my secret ingredient. As for the brandy in this recipe, it mostly bakes off in the oven, but imparts a great flavor and adds moisture, so I definitely wouldn’t skip it. If you don’t have brandy and don’t want to buy it to use a few tablespoons, you could sub it with another alcohol like rum or bourbon. Orange liqueur could be nice too but might make the cookies too sweet so you might want to reduce the sugar a tablespoon or two. I wouldn’t use Irish or Scotch whiskey because the flavor can be too strong or even smoky.

pfeffernusse | Brooklyn Homemaker

Most Pfeffernusse recipes I found called for them to be rolled warm through confectioners sugar. I’ve had them this way and they’re delicious, but I remember the cookies my grandfather eating when I was young having a stiff white shell of glaze, so that’s what I wanted. After a bit of searching I found what I was after. When you whip this glaze up it resembles marshmallow fluff, but thinner. You basically dip the whole cookie into it, let the excess drip off, and then dry the glaze in the oven while it’s cooling. Once the glaze has hardened you’re good to go. To dip these cookies I attempted to be dainty and polite, using a slotted spoon, but I quickly realized this was a job for clean hands. You’ll have it everywhere, and it’s sticky, but it’s so worth it. Once all your cookies are dipped you transfer them back to your baking sheet to dry. I used a small offset icing spatula, but a large butter knife should work well too.

pfeffernusse | Brooklyn Homemaker

If you’re looking for a new cookie recipe for the holidays, look no further. These cookies are said to be a favorite of Kris Kringle’s and they’re about to become one of yours. They might be a little unexpected, but most people with a grown up pallet will appreciate this European holiday treat. Anyone who enjoys spice cakes and gingerbread will surely fall in love with pfeffernusse. Traditionally they’re a small cookie, about an inch across when baked, but I made mine just slightly larger. I used a #60 cookie scoop, or about a tablespoon of dough for each cookie. I’d say a more traditional size would be about 2 teaspoons of dough, which would give you a few more finished cookies. They store and travel really well, so they’re perfect for taking home to family for Christmas, for sharing with friends at a cookie swap party, giving as gifts, or even mailing to the grandparents. They even improve with a few days age, so making ahead is a good idea, and they stay fresh for two weeks or more, so you might want to make extras!

pfeffernusse | Brooklyn Homemaker


  • Servings: about 4 dozen 1.5 inch cookies
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Adapted from Joy of Cooking

2 cups plus 2 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks (whites reserved for glaze)
1/2 cup finely chopped sliced or slivered almonds
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
6 tablespoons molasses
6 tablespoons brandy (or rum or whiskey if you don’t have brandy)

3 egg whites
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and spices in a medium bowl. With an electric mixer beat butter and sugar until very fluffy. Add egg yolk and beat until well combined. Stir in almonds and citrus zests, and scrape bowl. In a small bowl mix the brandy and molasses. Alternate stirring in flour mixture and brandy mixture until combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, up to 2 days, to allow flavors to blend together.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Scoop about a tablespoon of dough, I used a #60 scoop, and roll into a ball in your hands. Line up cookies about an inch away from each other on your parchment. Refrigerate for 10 minutes or more, then bake, 1 sheet at a time, for 12-14 minutes or until lightly browned and no longer wet looking on top. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes before dipping in glaze.

To make your glaze, whip your egg whites to stiff peaks with an electric mixer. Slowly mix in confectioners sugar, and whip until completely combined with no lumps. With clean hands, dip your still warm cookies into the glaze and completely cover them. Let glaze drip back into the bowl and transfer cookies to a wire rack to allow any excess glaze to drip off. Once all your cookies are glazed transfer them back to your parchment lined pan and put them back in the still warm oven with the door open just a crack. Let the glaze dry in the oven for 5-10 minutes and transfer the pan to the counter. Let the glaze harden completely, for an hour or more, before serving or storing. If storing immediately, turn the cookies over and let the bottoms dry for an hour before stacking, and divide layers with parchment or wax paper to avoid sticking.

Spiced Citrus Bundt Cake with Buttered Whiskey Glaze

Blogging is hard work you guys.  Who knew?

The first thing you think of when you read a food blog is, well, the food. But there’s a lot more that goes into blogging than just making food. You have to be able to sit down and write something, and you want it to be written well enough that someone will want to read it. Being able to write for an audience and have your writing be relatable and engaging is a challenge of it’s own. I definitely don’t want to be responsible for any eye-roll-induced headaches.

You also want to be able to photograph your food, and photograph it well enough that the food will look appealing and will make people want to make it themselves. Beyond having your food look nice in a picture, it should taste great too. I would never want to recommend a recipe I don’t stand behind. I could make a beautiful looking meal that tasted terrible, and no one would know until they tried to make it themselves. But what would be the point of blogging about food that isn’t any good? I want to share recipes with you that you’ll love and that you’ll want to make for your family and friends and keep on file to make again and again in years to come.

spiced citrus bundt cake with buttered whiskey glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

There’s also a certain amount of pressure, probably self imposed, but also probably better for the blog, to post unique and original recipes. I’d rather share something interesting, something that gives me bragging rights, than to post a recipe I copied word for word and ingredient for ingredient from someone or somewhere else. Every once in a while a recipe is so good that tweaking would be completely unnecessary, such as the Aunt Sassy Cake that was my very first post, and of course when I find such a recipe I definitely want to share it with you. For the bulk of my posts though, the meat and potatoes if you will, I want to be able to say, “Why yes I did think this up all on my own, thankyouverymuch.”

spiced citrus bundt cake with buttered whiskey glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

Over the 15+ years I’ve been cooking, I’ve learned enough to be completely confident toying with recipes to put my own spin on them. I think that most home cooks feel more comfortable making a savory meal their own than changing baking recipes. With a savory meal you can toss in a dash of this, a sprig of that, a splash of this other thing, and if you have a little experience and comfort with it, you’ll usually end up with something good, and sometimes something great. This makes cooking more exciting, and what keeps me wanting to get back in the kitchen to cook for myself and my husband.

When it comes to baking, it gets more complicated. Baking is about formulas and chemical reactions. It’s about math and science. Flour, sugar, leavening, fat & liquid; when combined in the correct proportions, should result in a tasty end product. If you get the ratio wrong though, you can end up with something heavy and flat, or dry, or burnt, or falling apart, or tasteless, or bad tasting. I am no pastry chef, and I won’t claim to be able to come up with a cake recipe from nowhere without needing at least a point of reference. I will say that I’ve been doing this long enough now that I’m comfortable toying with flavors and ingredients in my baking.  If I have an idea in my head for a cake with a certain flavor, I try to find a similar recipe that’s tried and true, and tweak it to try to make it my own.

spiced citrus bundt cake with buttered whiskey glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I dreamed up this cake I was thinking about cold weather, cocktails with friends, and the smells and flavors of the holidays. I was thinking of citrus and spice and a little nip of something to warm you up. I started by finding a recipe for an orange pound cake  that I could convert. A bundt cakes tends to be slightly denser than a layer cake, so pound cake recipes usually translate well. Once I found a recipe that I thought would work well, I set to changing a few things to put my twist on it. I wanted to add a layered citrus flavor so I swapped some of the orange zest and juice for lemon. I also wanted a hint of warm homey spice, so I added some cinnamon and clove, some cardamom and bit of ginger for kick.

spiced citrus bundt cake with buttered whiskey glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

Well. Sometimes things don’t always work out the way you expect them to. I’m not entirely sure what went wrong, but the first time around, this was a big ol’ failure with a capital FAIL. The flavor of the cake was great, with the perfect levels of citrus and spice, but the cake itself was dry dry dry. Like a loaf of bread. The original recipe called for an orange simple syrup to be brushed on the cake as it came out of the oven.  With a flat loaf-shaped pound cake it’s easy to brush on a syrup and let it soak into the cake, but with a bundt the syrup would run down the sloped sides and puddle on the bottom. I skipped the syrup, assuming wrongly that it was added mostly to boost the orange flavor and not needed to add moisture. Beyond being dry, I also thought the cake was just a bit too sweet for my taste, and if I’d used the syrup it would have been even sweeter still.

I knew though, that the idea for the cake was solid, the flavors worked really well together, and the cake was actually really pretty to boot. So, rather than admit defeat and move on, I decided it was time to try, try again. The next evening after work I went back in for another round, zesting and creaming and sifting and mixing. I dialed down the sugar just a touch, and added a bit more liquid, boosting both the citrus juice and the buttermilk for flavor. I also think that while butter adds the best flavor, cakes baked with oil usually end up impossibly moist, so I increased the amount of fat just a bit and swapped some of the butter for oil. I’ve played with this recipe so much now that I consider it completely my own.

spiced citrus bundt cake with buttered whiskey glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

Boy did my determination pay off.  I was definitely able to fix the dryness issue, and now the cake is perfectly moist with a tender bite. This cake has it all. Good looks. Great flavor. Perfect texture. The total package. The combination of citrus and spice is comforting and somehow nostalgic. Cold weather always makes me want citrus. There’s something familiar and old fashioned about eating oranges shipped from warmer climates when the weather in the northeast is cold and windy. There is a reason that grocery stores start filling up with tangerines right around Christmas. This time of year you can usually start to find citrus married with spice too. Lemon and ginger tea, clove studded oranges, cinnamon sticks and citrus boiled on the stove to potpourri your home. Classic flavors people, now in cake form.

spiced citrus bundt cake with buttered whiskey glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

Then we have the whiskey glaze. The flavors of butter and whiskey drizzled over this cake is amazing. They marry incredibly well with the cold weather flavors of the citrus and spices, bringing to mind the flavors of a hot toddy. I used Bulliet rye, because that’s what I had on hand, but it would be amazing with Bourbon too. It’s easy to make, just a simple matter of melting some butter, mixing it with whiskey and whisking in confectioner’s sugar until there are no lumps. I melted the butter in the microwave in a pyrex measuring cup, and mixed the glaze up in the same cup for easy pouring.

The one word of warning is that this glaze is seriously boozey. Three tablespoons of whiskey might not seem like much, but there’s isn’t much else to this so the alcohol is front and center. It isn’t overwhelming since there’s just a small amount of it on each bite, but it definitely is an “adult” addition to this cake. If you want this to be a more family friendly recipe, or if you don’t like whiskey, skip it! A simple citrus glaze would be really great and just as easy- just whisk together some confectioners sugar and orange or lemon juice, maybe some zest too.

spiced citrus bundt cake with buttered whiskey glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

So go take some butter and eggs out of the fridge and let them come up to room temperature. Don’t kid yourself. Don’t stop yourself. You know you want to make this cake, so just give in and make it. It’s delicious and perfectly moist, and it has whiskey on top. In a couple hours you’re going to eat this cake, you’re going to eat it real good. Like this:

spiced citrus bundt cake with buttered whiskey glaze | Brooklyn Homemaker

Spiced Citrus Bundt Cake with Buttered Whiskey Glaze

finely grated zest of 3 large oranges
finely grated zest of 3 lemons
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup peanut or vegetable oil
4 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Buttered Whiskey Glaze (optional):
3 tablespoons good whiskey
3 tablespoon melted butter
1 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease and flour a 10-12 cup bundt pan.

With the paddle attachment in an electric mixer, mix your citrus zests and sugar together on low for 3 minutes, or until the sugar is golden yellow and you can smell the citrus from across your kitchen. Add the soft butter and cream with the sugar for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.  On low speed, add the oil and then the eggs, one at a time, until just combined.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. In another bowl, combine the orange and lemon juices, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Pour batter into pan and tap on the counter to even the batter and remove air bubbles. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool for an hour or more before turning out onto a cooling rack. To make the glaze mix the melted butter and whiskey together in a small bowl. Whisk in confectioner’s sugar and continue to whisk until combined and free of lumps. If too thick, you can add a few more drops of whiskey to thin it for easy pouring. Pour over the top of the completely cooled cake and allow the glaze to dry before serving.