Carrot Cake

I haven’t always been a fan of carrot cake. To say that I actively hate carrot cake would be untrue but I’ve never craved it. (To put it in context- if you asked me if I’d like a slice of Roasted Clementine and Chocolate Tart? Yes please, I’ll take one right now!) Carrot cake doesn’t call to me that way. The truth is, until this weekend,  I hadn’t even eaten a piece of carrot cake in over 20 years.

Why? The memory of those sticky, bloated, too sweet raisins for one thing. And those crummy little bits of walnut. I love walnuts. Walnut cake, walnut ice cream, toasted walnut halves with beets. Walnuts are the king of nuts and it kind of drives me nuts (yes really!) to see them in a supporting role.  Would Laurence Olivier take the role of a mere page?! I don’t think so. I wouldn’t put them in brownies or chocolate chip cookies either. Don’t even get me started on that Carrot Cake / Pineapple variation. I’m not totally sure where this prejudice came from. But guess what? It all changed for me last weekend.

When I was asked to make a carrot cake for a fall baby shower, I was nonplussed. How about Parsnip Cake? – I thought, or Persimmon Cashew Cakes?!  Carrot Cake? But I could make anything you want! No, carrot cake please! was the answer – it’s perfect because it’s fall. So I did a little reading. I read every one of my carrot cake recipes. (There are so many!) Of course there are variations beyond mere pineapple! Of course you can skip raisins. Of course you don’t have to gutter the walnuts.

For example, carrot cake can have coconut instead of walnuts, currants instead of raisins. The sometimes gloppy and heavy cream cheese frosting can lighten up with lemon rind and juice. One can make beautiful ribbons of carrot, candied in maple syrup to garnish that swath of now tart ivory frosting. When I began to change up the classic recipe, the process started to get really fun! This was no tired, old-fashioned, cafe carrot cake, getting stale under a glass dome. No. I borrowed a little of this and a little of that, combined recipes and, wow -I guess I love carrot cake! Enough like the original not to disappoint a traditionalist but irreverent enough to please an obsessive cake eater like me. Very pretty too.

I combined fragments from Joy of Cooking, the Weekend Baker by Abby Dodge, the Barefoot Contessa Parties by Ina Garten, and The New Best Recipe from Cooks Illustrated. The stole of toasted flaked coconut is me. Thanks to Maria for the nudge which dashed all my boring preconceived notions. What a fun project. And it was perfect because it’s fall.

Here’s what I did. All of the parts are fast and beyond easy.

Carrot Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Preheat oven to 350.

  • 1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (or ground if that is all you have)
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 c. vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 c. finely grated carrot
  • 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1 cup currants
  1. Butter and flour (2) 9″ round cake tins.
  2. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. Pour the vegetable oil into a 2 cup liquid measuring cup. Add the eggs. Whisk with a fork.
  4. Whisk the dry ingredients with the oil and eggs mixture until smooth.
  5. Fold in the carrots, coconut and currants until evenly combined.
  6. Divide the batter between the two cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then transfer to a cake rack to cool completely.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting in the Food Processor

  • 12 ounces of cold cream cheese
  • 1 c. unsalted butter – can be cold, better at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 c. confectioners suger, measured then sifted.
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (a good job for a microplane grater)

Place all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until evenly combined. You may have to scrape the bowl once or twice. Do not over-process.

Maple Candied Carrots

  • 1 cup of finely grated carrot
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup

Melt the butter in a medium sized heavy saute pan. Add the carrots and the maple syrup. Stir over medium high heat until the liquid is reduced and the carrots are glistening. You will see small candy bubbles on the side of the pan, browning slightly.  The whole process of cooking the carrots should take about 3 minutes. Turn all the carrots onto a paper towel lined plate and cool.

Toasted Coconut

  • 1 1/2 c. wide coconut shavings

  1. Preheat oven to 300.
  2. Spread 1 1/2 c. coconut in large roasting pan.
  3. Toast for 10-15 minutes stirring every 5 minutes. Watch for burning.
  4. Transfer coconut immediately to dinner plate to stop browning.
  5. When cool, store for up to 2 weeks in a tightly sealed container.

Assembling the cake

  1. In the center of a 10″ or larger flat plate, dab 2 tbsp of the frosting.
  2. Center one of the carrot cakes on the plate using the frosting as “glue” to hold it in place.
  3. Put 3/4 of a cup of the frosting on the cake and spread carefully up to the edge.
  4. Center the second cake on top. Then, using a scant 1/2 cup of frosting, carefully spread a very very thin layer of frosting all over the cake. This is called a crumb coat and it will keep the frosting crumb free ( Crumb-y frosting looks very messy.)
  5. Place the cake in the refrigerator for a half hour so that the crumb coat has a chance to set.
  6. Then proceed to frost the rest of the cake.
  7. Holding the cake over a roasting pan or a half sheet pan to catch the falling coconut, press handfuls of coconut gently into the frosting until the sides of the cake are completely covered.
  8. Take about 1/2 cup of the candied carrots and looking directing down over the top of the cake, heap the carrots artfully right in the center. Ta-da!

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3 Responses to Carrot Cake

  1. I’m so glad I got to have some! the lemony frosting was particularly inspired. yum!

  2. Oooo, thank you so much. Marcelle is our mutual friend, and she forwarded me your perfectly-timed post! It’s surplus carrot season here in Bosnia. My housekeeper has a farm and brings bags and bags! But the carrots aren’t sweet and the kids won’t eat them raw. Last week I made two VERY unsatisfying carrot cakes. Oily gooey and dry spongy were their names. I’m going to try your recipe right away!

  3. Thanks! It looks fabulous and sounds great. (I liked carrot cake to begin with.)

    For a lighter variation you could try using mascarpone instead of cream cheese. (I discovered this by accident once.) Just mix in some lemon juice and powdered sugar, and maybe some lemon zest. And don’t beat too hard or it’ll curdle.

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