[Note: This recipe got fresh photos in 2019 and it’s a very good thing.]
If I could have a breakfast rallying cry, a breakfast mantra, if you will, it would be, It’s not cake! It’s breakfast! It would be rather dull, naturally. I know that the line between Cake For Breakfast and our various formats of Breakfast Cakes (muffins, coffee cakes and pancakes) is thin, I know the distinctions on either side of it are, at best, tiny, but they are what allows me to pretend I’m eating cake for breakfast when I’m really not, so I cling to them.
I said as much a few weeks ago when I made coconut muffins. Oh sure, they’re like a glorified macaroon, but! a macaroon full of healthy oils and Greek yogurt and whole wheat flour and a moderate level of sugar. They win at breakfast. Cake, 0, Breakfast 1, you could say. But when I spotted a recipe for carrot cake pancakes, replete with what we all know is the very best part of carrot cake, a sweetened cream cheese topping, I said, “No way, uh-uh. Carrot cake is dessert, not breakfast.”
Thank goodness I studied them more closely from there because when I did, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find a trace of evil. A smallish amount of flour, minuscule amount of sugar, single egg and not a lick of melted fat (inside the pancake, that is) batter up with the better part of a pound of carrots, and together they make The Very Best Way To Skirt The Breakfast/Cake Divide and Totally Win. Or, more succinctly, you could just call them Carrot Cake Pancakes.
I should have known they’d be delightful, based on the source, the first cookbook from one of my favorite voices in food blogging, Joy the Baker. Joy is — in case the glamour gal in the cocktail dress, holding a towering pink birthday cake, on an even pinker book cover didn’t give it away — a delight. When I found her blog a few years ago, I was drawn to the girly chattiness, like being on the phone with a friend and realizing that you’re eating chocolate cake for dinner and laughing about it. She’s that kind of fun. But when I think of Joy, I really think of pancakes because this woman, she knows her pancakes. From the The Single Lady Pancake to Cornmeal Molasses and Smashed Raspberry and Chocolate Chunk Pancakes, she’s got more pancake recipes on her site than I can count on both hands and I love this story about her dad and pancakes. If I was going to drag her book into the kitchen with me, I knew it would have to be to make pancakes.
This recipe is the kind that will go instantly into a regular weekend morning rotation. Or, perhaps, you regularly get your meals mixed up like I do. I made these on Thursday afternoon, thinking we could heat and eat them on Saturday morning. But Thursday 5 p.m. crept up, then 5:30, then 5:45 and I couldn’t put off making dinner any longer, and little thought crept into my head… two cups of carrots, two cups of carrots and I think we know what happened next. By Saturday, it was time to whip out the grater again.
One year ago: Poppy Seed Hamantaschen, Tiny
Two years ago: Spinach and Chickpeas
Three years ago: Penne with Potatoes and Rocket and Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Cornbread
Four years ago: Pasta with Cauliflower, Walnuts and Feta
Five years ago: Skillet Irish Soda Bread and Lighter Than Air Chocolate Cake
Carrot Cake Pancakes
Adapted, barely, from the Joy the Baker Cookbook
It’s delicious sailing the rest of the way. If you’re of the misconception, as I was, that cream cheese frosting has no place at the breakfast meal, I think this will change your mind: softened cream cheese is beaten with just a fraction of the sugar you’d use in a real frosting, and milk, not cream, is used as a thinning agent. Despite concerted dolloping efforts, we had a bit of extra and should you, as well, I advise you to definitely not try to figure out whether it would taste good on banana bread, or an oatmeal muffin, or a… spoon. Just don’t. It’s a slippery slope.
Updated: The original headnotes for this recipe warned against using a food processor to shred the carrot because the carrots needed to be more finely grated than it usually makes them. Good news: Years later, I cannot be bothered to hand-grate carrots and have found no problem with making it faster in the machine. Pre-grated carrots from a store might prove to coarse (i.e. the carrots could take longer to cook than the pancake).
The second update is that I start with half the buttermilk these days — 1/2 cup instead of the 1 cup in the original recipe. I find they cook through better. If your pancake batter ends up too stiff for your liking, you can always add a little bit extra before cooking them, as noted.
Yield: About 12 to 16 3- to 4-inch pancakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (I used a smidge less)
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts (optional, I skip them)
2 tablespoons golden raisins (optional, ditto)
1 large egg
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk, plus more if needed (updated, see note)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups finely grated carrots (from about a 3/4 pound bundle whole carrots)
3 tablespoons butter, for griddle
Cream cheese topping
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Dash of ground cinnamon
Place a rack in the upper third of your oven and preheat to 200°F. This will keep the pancakes warmed as they’re fried in batches.
To make the pancakes: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and, if using, nuts and raisins. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, brown sugar, buttermilk and vanilla. Stir in carrots. Stir carrot mixture into dry ingredients, stirring until just incorporated. Let rest for five minutes while you make the cream cheese topping.
To make the cream cheese topping: In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese until fluffy and lump-free. Whisk in powdered sugar, two tablespoons milk, vanilla and cinnamon. If you’d like the mixture thinner, add the remaining tablespoon of milk (I did not).
Over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a cast-iron skillet or griddle pan. Check your batter; if it seems too thick to you (although I like a thicker batter because it spills less in the pan), add a splash or two of extra buttermilk, as needed. Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons batter into the hot pan per pancake (to me, this seemed like too little but after experimenting with larger pancakes, I advise you to listen to Joy; it’s nice in small puddles), flipping once, until pancakes are golden on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer finished pancakes to a serving dish or tray in the oven, to keep warm while you repeat the process with the remaining batter, adding more butter as needed.
Serve warm with cream cheese topping.