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[Photograph: Sarah Baird]

On a recent dining excursion, I was fortunate enough to end my meal with a giant, crimson slice of red velvet cake, which had a depth of color and flavor I had yet to encounter in my years of baking and eating this Bible Belt favorite. The secret ingredient? Beets. The vegetable not only helped the nuances of the cocoa flavors to shine, but served as a natural food coloring for the cake that rendered the traditional seven drops of red-from-a-bottle seem like a complete relic.

Who knew that a paltry looking little root vegetable could be the star of such a sugary spectacle? While apples are notoriously delicious in a tart and no one is ever going to turn down a big, heaping slice of blueberry pie, it's high time that vegetables get their fair share of the limelight as beauties of baking.

Vegetables and sugar have been flirting for years with one another through dishes like the Thanksgiving stand-by sweet potato pie and autumnal pumpkin bread, but these relationships have been fleeting and seasonal at best. This week's carrot mascarpone pie is proof that veggies are ready to come into their own as a part of the dessert course by reimagining the springtime favorite carrot cake as a vehicle for creamy, complex flavors.

If you've always tiptoed around working with vanilla bean in dishes, this is the perfect recipe to revolutionize your baking through this tiny, powerful pod. Vanilla beans are a bit on the pricey side, so when selecting them ensure that the pod is aromatic, dense, and—most importantly—pliable. If you can bend it into an arc shape without it crumbling, it is still at the peak of freshness. After splitting and scraping your vanilla bean for the pie, don't let the pod itself go to waste. Fill a sealed container with cane sugar and drop the vanilla bean pod inside to create a delicious vanilla sugar.

The cream cheese crust, a play on traditional cream cheese frosting, is a joy. It holds its shape incredibly well, distorts less readily than traditional lard-based crusts, and tends to be more tender than flaky. Even if this crust endures a bevy of rolling, shaping, fixing, and general manhandling, it will retain a lovely, smooth texture. The cream cheese taste is able to peek through, and is well complimented by the vanilla.

Oh, and tiramisu, it's time you learn to share your favorite velvety component: mascarpone. In this pie, it shines as the perfect balance of tangy and rich against the earthy undertones of the carrot puree. The mascarpone and carrot also do an interesting two-step complimenting one another's understated sweetness. If mascarpone is unavailable, ricotta or cream cheese can be substituted, but the consistency and flavor will not be quite up to par—it's best to find this (alarmingly addictive) Italian favorite.

Get the Recipe

Carrot Vanilla Bean Mascarpone Pie »


About the author: Sarah Baird is a writer, editor, and petit four aficionado living in New Orleans, Louisiana. She likes planning elaborate dinner parties surrounded by her collection of dwarf citrus trees. You can read her latest musings and about her various misadventures on her website: hellosarahbaird.com or follow her on Twitter: @scbaird.

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