Tri-Colour Harvest Vegetable Cake


I thought the produce at the Old Strathcona Farmers Market was more plentiful and beautiful than usual this week

but that’s probably a function of me getting there earlier

before all the good stuff was gone.

I can’t remember what gave me the idea, but I’ve had it kicking around in my head for a while now,

and this weekend I finally decided it was time to do it

while local farm vegetables are in such glorious profusion.

I think I’ve told you my idea, Crabby, for a multi-layered vegetable cake. Like a carrot cake, but each layer would be made from a different vegetable, and each layer would be a different, vibrant colour (natural colours only, no food colouring allowed).

One layer would be carrot cake, of course. Beets seem a natural, for the extraordinary colour (there are lots of beet cakes online but they tend to have chocolate in them). Zucchini would work.

I used this recipe as the basis for the cake batter. I mixed it as per the recipe, without adding the grated vegetables. I divided the batter equally into three bowls (this cake requires a lot of washing up).

I grated the vegetables finely, reasoning that they would be dispersed more evenly through the batter than if I grated them coarsely, producing a brighter colour once it’s baked. That’s my theory anway, we’ll see how it pans out.

I wanted to pair each vegetable with a single spice, something to complement it without disguising its vegetable essence. I considered cinnamon for the carrot layer (of course), but the recipe I used as my starting point also has ginger in it and I thought that was a much better idea.

What spice to go with beets? I’m not sure why, but cardamom came to mind. It may turn out to be a mistake – I hope not. I crushed some whole green cardamom pods and extracted the seeds. I was thinking it might be more interesting to have little bursts of intense fresh cardamom flavour from seeds than to use ground cardamom.

I folded the grated vegetables and their respective spices into the batter.

Carrot and a scant teaspoon of chopped ginger (don’t want to overdo it).


Beets and cardamom.

Look at that colour!

Zucchini has a lot of water so I squeezed most of it out before measuring. I couldn’t think of a spice that would complement zucchini without squashing (bad pun) its delicate flavour, so I used a little bit of fresh thyme for a herbal accent.

Because I wanted a rich green colour, I used all of the skin and only a bit of the flesh. You could use smaller zucchinis to get a higher surface-area to flesh ratio.

The beet layer had a rich reddish brown crust when it came out of the oven. I’m hoping the interior will be intensely red – like red velvet cake.

Compared to the carrot layer (left).

Because the different vegetables have different amounts of moisture, each layer had a different cooking time. The carrot layer was ready after 25 minutes, the zucchini needed 30 minutes and the beet layer took 35.

Zucchini layer.

All the layers look to have turned out beautifully. I’m putting them in the fridge overnight and I’ll ice the cake tomorrow before taking it to my parents’ house for Sunday supper.


Here it is, all finished. You can see the “ribs” of the cake sticking through. That always happens to me. There never seems to be enough icing to completely hide the cake. I think the frosting recipe should be increased a bit because of the extra layer that needs to be filled.

I was going to cut it in 12, but but they were fairly large slices so I started making them smaller. You can easily cut this cake into 16 pieces.

On my first glimpse of the interior I was disappointed that the beet layer (top) wasn’t the red I was dreaming of. It was the more the color of a spice cake. The zucchini layer had a nice light green tinge with one vibrant green streak – I guess I didn’t mix it enough. Too bad the whole layer wasn’t this colour. The carrot layer had the best, most consistent colour. I guess I had some pretty unrealistic ideas about how the colours were going to turn out.

The real

The ideal

It tasted great though and I was very please with the results. It has a nice texture that isn’t as dense as a typical carrot cake.

The carrot combo worked well – just the right balance of carrot and zingy ginger. The zucchini layer was a real surprise. The thyme complemented the subtle flavour of zucchini without overwhelming it. The beet layer, however, had no discernible beet flavour – only cardamom. I don’t think you’d know it was a beet cake in a blind tasting. I guess this is good news if you don’t like beets (and it seems a lot of people don’t). Though the cardamom was very prominent it wasn’t at all unpleasant.

I’m not sure how often I’d make all three layers, but I’d happily make any of these cakes again individually.

Here’s my recipe:


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 2/3 cup packed finely grated carrots
  • 2/3 cup packed finely grated beets
  • 2/3 cup packed finely grated zucchini (squeeze out water before measuring)
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom seeds (or ground cardamom)
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Grease three 8 inch layer cake pans and line the bottoms of the pans with a circle of parchment paper.

Scrape carrots and beets. Finely grate carrots, beets and zucchini (including skin) separately and set aside (make sure to thoroughly rinse grater after each vegetable to avoid “cross contamination”).

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In bowl of electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the eggs until frothy (about 1 minute). Gradually add the sugar and beat until the batter is thick and light colored (about 3 – 4 minutes). Add the oil in a steady stream, then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat just until incorporated. Fold in applesauce.

Measure cake batter (there should be approximately 6 cups). Divide into three equal parts in separate bowls. To one bowl, add grated carrots and ginger, stir to combine. Pour into prepared cake pan.

To the second bowl, add beets and cardamom to batter and stir to combine. Pour into prepared cake pan.

Add the zucchini and thyme to batter in third bowl and stir to combine. Pour into prepared cake pan. (If you don’t want to dirty three bowls, you can make the batters in sequence in the same bowl but be sure to rinse it well after each batch).

Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (times will vary depending on the moisture content of the vegetables – test each pan separately).

Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. After about 5 to 10 minutes, invert the cakes onto wire rack, remove the pans and parchment paper and cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 package (8 ounces/225 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest

In bowl of electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese and butter until blended. Gradually add the icing sugar and beat, on low speed, until fully incorporated and smooth. Beat in vanilla extract, lemon juice and zest.

To assemble: With a serrated knife, cut the tops off the bottom and middle cake layer so that they’re flat for stacking (you can also trim the top layer if you want the cake to have a flat top). Place one of the trimmed layers onto your serving plate. Spread with about a quarter of the frosting. Gently place the other trimmed layer on top and spread with another quarter of the frosting. Place the top, untrimmed layer on top and spread the rest of the frosting over the top and sides of the cake.

Posted by Jean Poutine


7 thoughts on “Tri-Colour Harvest Vegetable Cake

  1. Beautiful veggie photos. And a beautiful, if subtly coloured, cake. I’m coming over to get me some of that cake!

  2. Wow. Great job! What a delight to eat 3 different flavored cakes, stacked on top of each other. I giggled about your ideal color of each cake layer. hehe. I understand but I think it looks beautiful as is too.

  3. What a GRAND idea. Bravo! And, what is the matter with a little photo shop? Great work there, too! I was thinking caraway with beets – but that might be too savoury, as well. Maybe if you set the batter overnight to let the colours really diffuse through the batter – or, if you used the squeezed liquid for the cake liquid… or… roast the beets and then grate them… etc as that intensifies the flavour and colour and decreases the moisture. I love the idea of just using the zucchini skins and maybe a different nut with each layer might also be fun? Pistachio with zucchini (I loved your thyme idea), pecans with beets and walnuts with the carrot cake?
    And – there is also beet dust that you can buy at Bosch Kitchen Centre on 51st which would intensify the beet flavour and colour. I love this brilliant creation!

    • Photoshop fixes a lot of things.

      Thanks for the great suggestions, Valerie. I’m definitely going to keep working on this recipe. And thanks for the tip about beet dust. We we actually talking beet powder last night – Truly Scrumptious wants to use it as a pigment in her art.

  4. Pingback: Happy Birthday Gregg and Gabby | SAdamson

  5. Your problem could be the baking soda. Beetroot is a pH indicator and changes colour if the environment is too alkaline. A tablespoon is a lot! If you could find a recipe with no baking soda in it (perhaps baking powder, and a good dose of lemon juice to make sure) I feel sure at least the beet cake would have turned out a better red colour. Also have you considered using pureed peas to help with the green? I saw a recipe for green pea cupcakes which was gorgeous.

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