Counting Calories

Posted September 7th, 2010

I found the best foodie website ever:

My Dear One asked if I would make carrot cake. Years ago we found somewhat unusual recipe that makes a particularly savory cake, not terribly sweet, and pleasantly moist. Since then we have improved the recipe, bulking its nutritional value and reducing the calories due to sugar.

Or so we assumed.

As I measured, sifted and stirred I wondered–and not for the first time–about the nutritional content of the recipe. I knew I could add up the calories of the ingredients, divide by twelve and come up with an approximate percentage of my daily allotment. (My Dear One does not give a whit for such things.) What I really wanted to know, however, was the meaningful food value of the cake. For instance, could I have a piece for breakfast and feel both indulged andnourished?

While the cake cooled, filling the house with scents of cinnamon, nuts and sugar, I retreated to the computer. I typed in “figuring out nutritional information” and found a q&a site for people interested in calculating the value of dishes and meals prepared at home. A few responses suggested the Nutrition Data site and off I went.

What a great place. The target audience is obviously female, what with all the ads for feminine hygiene products and the like. The general purpose of the site is to put one in control of one’s kitchen. Diabetics, hypertensives, people who need to lose weight, people who need to gain weight, people who are trying to grasp the implications of a meal at McDonalds or Taco Bell, all are welcome here.

It took a while to master the recipe function, but pretty soon I was on my way to a tally of the good, the bad and the indifferent in every mouthful of the carrot cake. The coolest part was the “save and analyze button” that follows the details of the recipe.

I discovered that our carrot cake has genuine nutritional value. The website produces this in the format it appears on commercial items. The site blocks a cut-and-paste approach to the label but here is the information:

Nutrition Facts: Serving Size 1/12 of recipe

Calories: 322
Calories from Fat 168

Total Fat: 19g, 30%
Saturated Fat 8g, 41%
Trans Fat, 0g

Cholesterol: 55mg, 18%
: 303mg, 13%
Total Carbohydrate
: 36g, 12%
Dietary Fiber 3g, 12%
Sugars 22g
: 5g
Vitamin A: 89% Vitamin C: 7%
Calcium: 7% Iron: 7%

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

We got high points for manganese and stellar points for Vitamin A—but then we did load up on carrots.

The greatest criticism in the analysis was leveled at the amount of fat contained in each piece. I expected as much from a cake with cream cheese frosting.  Skip the frosting, however, and each piece is only 157 calories and 7 grams of fat.

That was an eye-opener. There are more calories in the icing than in the cake. The fat in the icing also outweighs that in the cake by a factor of two and a half. Skip the icing and this carrot cake is almost diet food. (Add tea or coffee and a piece of fruit and you are still under 300 calories, way under unless you go for a ripe peach during the dog days of summer.)

Interested in the recipe?

Dan’s Favorite Carrot Cake

Lightly grease an 8×8 baking dish and preheat the oven to 350° F.

Wet ingredients

4 Tbsps (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup Splenda® brown sugar, packed firm in the cup
3 Tbsps orange juice (although water will do)
1 large egg
4 large carrots grated fine (about 3 firm-packed cups)

Dry ingredients

½ cup all-purpose unbleached white flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
½ tsp double-acting baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
Scant ⅛ tsp ground clove
Scant ¼ tsp nutmeg

1 cup pecan halves for toasting and chopping
1 cup of raisins


Beat the butter and Splenda® until fluffy. Add the egg and orange juice and continue beating. Add the shredded carrot and mix well.

Sift together the dry ingredients. If any of the bran from the wheat flower remains in the sieve, then just add it back in.

Thoroughly mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Add the pecans and raisins and mix well.

Spread the batter in the prepared cake pan. The batter will be stiff. Smooth it out with a spatula to that if fills the corners of the pan and is evenly distributed.

Bake for 30 minutes and let cool in the pan completely before frosting. The frosting, of course, is optional. There is no reason to remove it from the pan.


1 8-oz package of Original Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese. Any cream cheese will work but Original is definitely the best. It should be a room temperature and soft.
2 oz unsalted butter
2 Tbsps sour cream
¼ cup Splenda® for cooking (not packets)
2 tsps vanilla extract
1 tsp Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur (optional)

Beat the cream cheese, butter and sour cream together until smooth. Beat in the Splenda®. Beat in the vanilla and Grand Marnier. Let the mixer run until the frosting looks fluffy. It will be very soft. I prefer to let the frosting cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour before spreading on the cake, but it isn’t necessary to do so. Leave the cake in the baking dish and frost just the top. Cake keeps well in the refrigerator for four or five days.

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