tropical substitutions: papaya in carrot cake

One of the things about moving across an ocean is that you have to find new and imaginative ways to alter tried and true recipes. Things that were the norm because they were cheap, easy and accessible are expensive, time consuming and hard to find. It means finding a new norm.

In America I regularly substitute some of the oil in baking recipes with apple sauce (plain, un-doctored apple sauce). It cuts some of the fat, and often adds good moisture with but a small change in flavor. I often had an open jar in the back of the fridge just waiting to be used. Here in Rwanda when I can find apple sauce, it is expensive. True, apples (though not particularly cheap), could be made into apple sauce. But I work a job that is more than full time, so that is, at best, a laughable option.

So, I turned to the readily available tropical fruits: bananas, mangoes, tree tomatoes, pineapple, passion fruit….papaya. Nearly everyone I know who likes papaya grew up eating it or intentionally developed a taste for it. As a baby in Kenya, it was my first food… need I say more? But here is the deal: it is filled with moisture, easily mashes (just scrape the insides and you have instant puree), and readily available. So I gave it a shot when baking my famous and much loved carrot cake. It is as divine as ever. So now I have little bags of 1/2 cup and 3/4 cup amounts of mashed papaya in my freezer ready to go. A bit of creativity and now I have a new oil substitute that is cheap, easy and accessible. In case you presently live in a similar tropical location, here is the now-adapted, but proven, carrot cake recipe. I am still perfecting the cream cheese icing without cream cheese; I will keep you posted.

Carrot Cake for Tropical Locations

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar (if not cooking for Americans, reduce slightly)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup crushed pineapple (if using fresh: finely chopped with some juice)
  • 3/4 cup mashed or pured papaya
  • 3/4 cup vegetable or corn oil
  • 1 cup coconut (can do without, just add a few tablespoons flour; desiccated coconut is available in Nairobi)
  • 2 cups grated carrots

Mix all ingredients except the coconut and carrots. Fold in coconut and carrots, one at a time. Bake in a 9×13 pan (do not grease or flour the pan) at 350 F for 45 minutes or until test stick comes out clean. I have recently been using a 9 inch springform pan, which takes 50-55 minutes. Best served with cream cheese frosting.

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