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Here comes the sun: You'll never guess what's in this luscious cake

You probably don't think about parsnips when you first see this cake. But the sweet, nutty flavor of the vegetable shines through. Photo by Sue Doeden1 / 2
Parsnips, ivory-colored roots that have the shape of carrots, will be available in the produce department for another month or so. Photo by Sue Doeden2 / 2

When you live in the Midwest, March is never an easy month to handle. In more ways than one. As I sit in my office writing this on a March afternoon, I watch the snow swirl outside my window, a late winter blizzard showing off its stuff. Just a few days ago, I was wearing sunglasses and a sweatshirt outside. Deer, hungry for some fresh greens, were nibbling on some grass peeking out from areas along the river bank where snow had melted.

For those of us who enjoy cooking, baking and eating, March can be a bit annoying. In the produce department of grocery stores, the same old winter vegetables are beginning to look a little humdrum. We yearn for the fresh colors and flavors of spring.

It's just the right time to combine a pinch of winter with a heaping spoonful of spring.

This Sunshine Cake did the trick for me. One bite and I was reminded of sunshine and all good things ahead.

Parsnips, those ivory-colored roots that have the shape of carrots, will be holding their spot in the produce department for another month or so. Typically an autumn and winter vegetable, their pleasantly sweet, nutty flavor becomes a delicious, inconspicuous partner for a sweet-tart apple. Both are coarsely grated before being stirred into the cake batter.

There's nothing like the fresh fragrance and flavor of lemon to bring some spring sunshine into your life. A few scrapes of the grater across the thin skin of a bright, fresh lemon will yield a punch of powerful flavor to this moist cake. Don't save the juice of the lemon for another time. Squeeze the citrus of all its juice and stir it into the cake to enhance the essence of spring. One medium-sized lemon will usually yield about 2 tablespoons of juice.

It's the frosting, though, that will make everyone swoon over this cake. Adding just a little superfine sugar to cream cheese, butter and sour cream creates a very light, fluffy frosting. It melts in your mouth with not a bit of sweetness lingering behind.

This cake will welcome spring and help celebrate Easter. And then, parsnips will give up their place in the produce department until after the first frost of autumn.

For now, I will go cut a piece of Sunshine Cake and with each bite I will be happy with the world.

Sunshine Cake


2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup canola oil

2 cups coarsely grated peeled parsnips (start with about 8 ounces)

2 cups coarsely grated unpeeled Granny Smith apples (start with about 8 ounces)


2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

1/3 cup superfine sugar

½ cup sour cream

Fresh berries for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9x13-inch metal cake pan.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt together into a bowl. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla. Mix. Beat in the oil. Add the sifted flour mixture gradually, using a 1/4 cup measure to scoop it into the mixing bowl. Beat the batter until it is just smooth. Stir in the grated parsnips and apples. Pour the batter into the pan, spreading evenly.

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a wooden pick poked into center of cake comes out clean. After 30 minutes, the top of the cake may appear to be getting dark. Lay a piece of aluminum foil loosely over the pan for the remainder of the baking time.

Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan.

To make the frosting, place cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl. Beat until the mixture is smooth. Gradually sprinkle in the sugar, beating continuously. Add the sour cream and beat the frosting until it is creamy and light. Frost the cake. If you won't be serving the cake for several hours, store covered, in the refrigerator, until just before serving time. Garnish each serving with fresh berries, if desired.

Recipe adapted from Gourmet magazine, February 1985.

Tips from the cook

--The cake will taste best at room temperature. If you have it refrigerated, plan to allow some time for the cake to warm up before serving.

--Superfine sugar dissolves quickly, making it the perfect choice for this frosting. It is sometimes packaged as caster sugar. Find it in the natural food section near the granulated sugar in most supermarkets. You can make your own by putting regular granulated sugar in the blender and giving it a whirl to break the granules into a finer texture.

--Wash and dry the lemon well before zesting. Remember to grate only the colored part of the skin, leaving the bitter white pith behind.