Desserts

My Best Carrot Cake

As crazy as one of my college roommates was, she once gave me a piece of sage wisdom I’ll never forget.

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She said, “This is a carrot cake. And you are crying.” The situation was this, it was spring time and I was beyond overwhelmed by the graduate course load I was taking as a junior. This one class in particular had me writing two papers per week, on top of reading dozens of pages of intense, boring articles. I was struggling with some health issues. The front bumper of my PT Cruiser was smashed following a stupid accident that was 100% my fault. Holy week was a-comin’ which is the equivalent of tax week for church employees. Times, dey was tough.

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So I responded to the stress as I always do, by baking really challenging recipes. I was determined to develop a vegan, whole wheat, naturally sweetened carrot cake that didn’t taste like any of those descriptors. After many attempts and wasted ingredients, I just started crying. Angsty ol’ me needed just one thing to go right and damn it why couldn’t it be carrot cake? My roommate came through the kitchen. Something I always liked about her was she would eat absolutely anything. So she started eating my ruined cake. “What’s wrong with it?” she asked. “Bfhtgfjth fgjuydny woo-ined dfhsh baaaad.” I answered. Then she laughed and said, “Sara. This is a carrot cake. And you are crying.”

It was an enlightening moment for me. I started laughing too. I was so upset. Over what? A cake. Of all things not to fret over. Obviously, it was all the other things I had going on in my life which had driven me to that emotional point, but who was to say any of those “serious” things really warranted such distress either?

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Carrot cake is my “spilled milk.” My “life is too short,” and “don’t sweat the small stuff.” I still continue to get waytooupset over silly little things, and trust me I’ve cried over recipes in the years since, but at least now I try to maintain some perspective on what is really going on.

Such has been the case more than I’d like to say lately, so I made a carrot cake in the wee hours of the night (8:30-10:00 PM on my old lady schedule) after work this week. It also happened to be both my and my father’s half birthdays on the 15th and 17th, and I decided that warranted celebration of the carrot cake variety.

This recipe is not vegan, it’s not whole wheat, it’s not sugar free… it’s just good Carrot Cake. Great carrot cake, if I do say so myself. This will be my third year making this recipe. I’ve mentioned it on here not once, but twice now, and decided it was time to share it. It would be perfect to serve at Easter dinner next Sunday!

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This Carrot Cake is packed with all sorts of good things. Carrots, pineapple, coconut, walnuts, and sultanas. Even with these additions, the layers remain light and fluffy, just as cake should be. And thanks to the moisture from the carrots, not dry in the least!

This cake always gives me a serious arm workout, because I like to shred the carrots super finely using a small plane grater. I find the texture is best that way, and I recommend you take the time to do the same. If you have a food processor with a grating attachment, I’ve also gone that route and it works well. I choose to use walnuts and sultanas in my cake, but pecans and golden or regular raisins are just as good.

The tall layers get put together with a thick layer of cream cheese frosting. Classic and simple. When making this icing to use on Carrot Cake in particular, I use a little less sugar than I do for other recipes, as I find the extra sweetness is unnecessary and a lesser amount allows for all the flavors of the cake to come through.

No extravagant decorating is needed when it comes to Carrot Cake, as it speaks for itself. It’s always adorable when bakeries pipe little carrots out of frosting, but knowing if I attempted to do so there would most likely be tears, I put a couple fresh flowers on top and called it a day. And I didn’t even get stopped by Trader Joe’s security for picking them off of three different bouquets and stuffing them in my purse before anyone saw.

Whether I need something to brighten my day, a reminder to take life a little less seriously, or just a dessert to serve for Easter, I make My Best Carrot Cake. I hope baking it it will bring out your best as well.

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Carrot Cake

Yields an 8-9″ double layer cake

Tall, spiced layers dense with finely shredded carrots, crushed pineapple, shredded coconut, walnuts, and sultanas, covered in a thick layer of classic cream cheese frosting. My best carrot cake. 

INGREDIENTS

Cake:
  • 2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 cup (150g) brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 (8oz) can (1 cup) crushed pineapple, drained
  • 2 cups (220g) finely grated carrots (about 6 large)
  • 1/2 cup (2oz) walnuts, finely chopped (or pecans)
  • 1/4 cup (1oz) shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/4 cup (1oz) sultanas, golden raisins, or regular raisins
Frosting:
  • 12 oz. brick-style cream cheese, softened
  • 6 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/4 cups (270g) powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Dash of salt

INSTRUCTIONS

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350º F. Lightly spay two 8 or 9” cake pans with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices, and set aside.

In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the canola oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until slightly foamy. Stir in the drained pineapple.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet in two batches, gently mixing with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Before everything is fully combined (and some streaks of flour can still be seen in the batter), add the carrots, walnuts, coconut, and sultanas. Fold until incorporated, but try not to over mix.

Divide batter evenly between the two pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow layers to cool for 10 minutes in the pan before inverting onto a cooling rack. Cool thoroughly before frosting.

 For the frosting:

Using an electric stand mixer or hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese and butter on medium speed until fully smooth. Turn the mixer to low and gradually add in the powdered sugar. Once all the sugar is in the bowl, add the vanilla and a dash of salt.

Set the mixer to medium-high speed and continue to beat until very light and fluffy, about 2-3 full minutes. Refrigerate until you’re ready to assemble the cake.

To assemble, spread a thick layer of frosting atop one cake layer, and place the other on top. Smooth the remaining frosting over the surface of the cake, then decorate as desired. Keep chilled in the refrigerator.

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