I remember I was talking to someone about carrot cake, and they said with surprising vehemence that vegetables had no business in being in a dessert. I don’t see it that way at all. In fact, when I eat a carrot cake, I don’t even notice the carrots. I like the cinnamon-y, gingerbread-like qualities of the cake itself, and it’s complemented so well by a cream cheese frosting. I guess the carrots add texture and an earthy depth to the cake, but otherwise they could get away with calling it spice cake or something like that.
I had a huge tub of cream cheese frosting left over from my coconut cake project, and so I decided it made sense to utilize it for a carrot cake. Again, I referenced my Joanne Chang cookbook Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe. Surprisingly, I only made one substitution and basically followed the recipe to a t. The hardest part was grating the carrots. I cheated and bought a tub of diced carrots from Whole Foods, and then ran these through the food processor, and they worked out fine. Everyone loved this cake, including my son, which is very important because he is the world’s pickiest toddler. Yet he ate this all up, literally, even though there were strange things like walnuts and raisins in it. This carrot cake recipe from Flour Bakery is on the denser side and is full of texture, almost a border-line fruit cake, but even with all that character, the most suspicious eater will be won over.
Classic Carrot Cake from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
*3 tablespoons nonfat buttermilk (I used 3 tablespoons of 1% plain yogurt as a substitute. I didn’t water it down or anything.)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup + 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups (260 grams) tightly packed shredded carrots
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
Frosting from Ina Garten’s Coconut Cake
1 pound cream cheese (~2 packages), at room temperature
1/2 pound (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
Making the cake
Position the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans. (If you’re like me, you’ll only have one round cake pan, so you’ll just have to bake the rounds one at a time. Let the first one cool completely before moving on to the second one).
Place the eggs and brown butter into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip for about 5 minutes.
Add the canola oil, buttermilk and vanilla extract in a separate bowl and mix well. Pour the oil mixture into the brown butter and egg mixture. Whip for about 30 seconds.
Combine the dry ingredients–flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger. Mix until well-incorporated. Fold in the dry mixture into the wet mixture and mix until just wet.
Add the carrots, raisins and walnuts to the cake batter and mix so that they were distributed evenly throughout.
Divide the batter between the two pans.
Bake for ~1 hour and cool completely on a wire rack. The cookbook recommends 1 hour and 20 minutes but mine were done well before that. Basically, after an hour, just keep your eyes on the cake and do the fork test (if you pierce the cake with the fork, it should come out clear). If you want to make the cakes ahead of time, wrap each round in plastic wrap then aluminum wrap and put it in the freezer. Thaw on the day that you will frost and decorate it.
Put the cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract in the stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Combine on low speed. Add the confectioner’s sugar GRADUALLY and continue combining on low speed. (I made the mistake of dumping all the confectioner’s sugar into the mixer, there was powdered sugar everywhere). Mix until it starts looking like frosting.