Parsnip Cake with Browned Butter Mascarpone Buttercream
Recipe Intro From cynthiajordan

Parsnips, a member of the carrot family, add a hint of spice to this cake. With citrus and warm spices like ginger, fennel, and coriander, this cake has a savory flavor that makes it less sweet. The entire cake has only 1 1/2 cups of sugar, and the texture is extra nutty thanks to the addition of toasted pecans and sunflower seeds. Frosted with a brown butter ermine-style buttercream (my fave), which is smooth like pudding and free of cloyingly sweet confectioner's sugar.


Prep time 1hr
Cook time 40mins
Serves or Makes: 8



  • 1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
  • 1/ 2 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
  • 1 1/ 4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/ 2 cup sunflower oil
  • 1/ 2 cup full-fat buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces parsnips, peeled, woody centers removed*, and grated
  • Edible flowers (optional), for garnish

Mascarpone Buttercream:

  • 8 ounces unsalted butter, browned
  • 1/ 2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/ 4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the cake:


  • Step 1

    Preheat oven to 300F.

  • Step 2

    Spread pecans and sunflower seeds on a baking sheet. Place in oven for 30 minutes until lightly browned and fragrant. Set aside to cool.

  • Step 3

    Increase oven to 350F. Butter or grease 2, 9-inch round cake pans. Set aside.

  • Step 4

    In a medium bowl, add flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, all spice, fennel, coriander, and poppy seeds. Whisk well to combine.

  • Step 5

    In a separate medium bowl, add sugar, orange zest, and lemon zest. Rub together to fully incorporate zests into sugar. Next, whisk in sunflower oil, and buttermilk followed by eggs and vanilla. Whisk together to completely incorporate.

  • Step 6

    Add flour mixture into wet mixture along with grated parsnips, toasted pecans, and sunflower seeds. Fold together until no flour streaks remain, batter will be thick and chunky.

  • Step 7

    Divide batter evenly into pans and bake for 40-45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

To make the buttercream:

  • Step 1

    Brown butter by adding to a small saucepan. Melt and cook on medium heat until butter begins to sizzle and foam, about 8-10 minutes. Making sure to stir frequently to prevent burning.

  • Step 2

    Once butter begins to turn from yellow to tan and smells fragrant, immediately remove from heat. Carefully pour into a container and set aside in the freezer to completely solidify.

  • Step 3

    In another small saucepan, whisk together flour, milk, and salt until completely smooth. Turn on heat to low and continue to whisk mixture constantly until thick and bubbling about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in mascarpone and vanilla. Mixture should be smooth, thick and no taste of flour should remain. Set aside to cool.

  • Step 4

    In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on medium speed cream together browned butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 8-10 minutes, making sure to scrape down sides of bowl frequently.

  • Step 5

    Add flour mixture and increase mixer speed to high and continue to beat until buttercream comes together. Another 10 minutes. Buttercream should be thick, creamy, and spreadable.

To assemble cake:

  • Step 1

    Place one layer on a 9-inch cake board top side down. Use about 1 ½ cups buttercream to spread evenly over layer. Top with second cake layer, also top side down. Use remaining buttercream to frost. Garnish with edible flowers. *Note: To remove woody centers of parsnips, cut into quarters lengthwise and cut off centers. Add chunks of parsnips to a food processor fitted with the grater attachment.