My great-grandmother’s carrot cake is, hands down, my all-time favorite cake. This recipe is based on that one but uses yellow beets in place of carrots—they’re a little earthier (but milder than red beets) and give the cake a comparable savory base. A trio of floral but still warming spices (coriander, fennel, and cardamom) stand in for Mamaw’s lone choice of cinnamon. I also prefer the bright pop of jarred sour cherries in juice instead of the candy-red maraschinos she relied on. If you can’t find jarred sour cherries, then frozen sour cherries, thawed, work too—just make sure to thaw them in a bowl to catch their juices as they defrost since they also go into the cake.
The icing here is a twist on ermine, an old-school frosting made with softened butter whipped with a cooked paste of flour, milk, and sugar. I add in cream cheese to make it tangy. It’s less sweet than most frostings, with a texture I can only describe as being like enriched whipped cream. It spreads onto cakes more easily than powdered-sugar-sweetened frostings and holds up well if you want to keep the cake around for a few days in the fridge.