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Cream cheese frosting gets a nutty spin on these mini carrot cakes

A homemade gift is among the sweeter gestures you can give Mom this Mother's Day, and even better if that gift includes food.

This week's recipe, mini carrot cakes that are fun to decorate and pack up as an edible present, are perfect. Or consider making a basket of scones. They make ideal breakfast-in-bed fodder, or a group activity if Mom wants to get in on the baking action.

I first made these carrot cakes for Easter, really as a way to use up extra whole carrots. They are a lovely addition to any holiday spread.

I love carrot cake, but if you don't, you could actually pretty easily omit the carrots here. The truth about carrot cake is it's just regular cake loaded with warm spices. Removing the carrots will cut down on a bit of moisture and texture, but otherwise won't ruin the recipe. In their place, you could even add another fruit like diced apples, or walnuts.

I had applesauce on hand for Easter, too, my German heritage requiring a bowl of warmed applesauce to go with our ham each year. So I added some to this batter to help limit additional fat. Olive oil joins the party as well, as a healthier alternative to butter but also as a way to get some deeper flavor into these little cakes.

Instead of the more traditional walnuts, I opted to work pistachios into this batter, and to use the green nuts as a fun garnish.

There's nothing wrong with using store-bought frosting, but I love to make frosting from scratch, especially because it allows you to customize it a bit more. I don't like overly sweet frostings, so this one balances the sugar with tahini and cream cheese.

Cream cheese frosting is standard with carrot cakes, but nutty tahini adds a little something extra. I tinkered with the blend a lot to get something that was just sweet enough without being overpowering. Feel free to add more or less sugar to your taste. A pinch of cinnamon wouldn't hurt, either.

Carrot Cake With Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cake:

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cardamom

1 cup brown sugar

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ cup olive oil

½ cup butter, melted and cooled (browned slightly if you like)

½ cup unsweetened applesauce

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cups freshly shredded carrots

½ cup roasted pistachios, roughly chopped, optional

Sesame seeds, pistachios, shredded carrots, for serving

For the frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

4 tablespoons granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons tahini

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8-inch cake pans or a 12-cup muffin tin and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cardamom.

In a separate bowl, mix the brown sugar and granulated sugar. Add the olive oil, butter and applesauce and mix well. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking until well combined. Whisk in the vanilla extract.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix just a couple of times. Add the carrots and pistachios, if using, and mix just to incorporate.

Pour the batter into cake pans or muffin tin and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. I'd start checking at around 25 minutes.

Cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then gently remove and cool completely on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the frosting: Blend cream cheese and butter in a bowl, then add sugar and salt and blend again. Add tahini and vanilla, blend and taste. If it's not sweet enough for you, add more sugar by the tablespoonful.

Frost cake liberally with frosting and decorate with sesame seeds, pistachios and shredded carrots.

Source: Michelle Stark, Tampa Bay Times