The Best Humble Carrot Cake Ever

August 20th, 2009  |  78 Comments

carrot_cake_final

The gods of Hades are laughing at me. As much as I am an unwavering, single-minded, all-things-food glutton, my boyfriend, Scott, is a man who wishes he could take a pill instead of having to eat. Oh, the irony of it all. And as far as desserts go, forget it.

When we go out to a restaurant (one I make him go to, of course), after dinner I’ll always order dessert. The waiter sets down two pairs of silverware for sharing, and something gooey and irresistible between us. Scott’s spoon remains pristine and unused. I, on the other hand, plow into the plate as though its going to be snatched from my trembling hands. Sometimes we end up in a prix fixe place, where they serve a 3-course menu. I’m only slightly ashamed to eat both of our desserts, all the while wondering how he can be so indifferent. Was his sweet tooth extracted when he was a small child?

He carries on this way all year, every year. At the family Christmas dinner, where many of the guests bring something for the ever-growing dessert buffet, I’m all antsy, barely able to wait to get at everything. If there is conversation going on, I couldn’t tell you what it’s about, thanks to my dizzy distraction. When they ring the dessert bell, it’s like an olympic event, with everyone racing and climbing over each other. Scott sits calmly in a chair, swirling his cocktail, waiting for the frenzy to die down.

carrot-cake-slathered

On his birthday, when presented with cake, he waves it away and utters a listless “No, thanks.”

So that’s his M.O. I’ve never once seen him eat a dessert. Never, never, never, never. No exception, never. He’s simply immune. That’s how I know him and that’s how I’m used to him.

Never, that is, until I made the carrot cake. Aaah, the humble carrot cake. Able,  it seems to knock the resolve out of even the most stubborn non-dessert eater. I knew something was up when, on the fateful day I decided to bake it, he came ’round the bend from the other room, sniffing the air and wondering what was up in our very own kitchen. He poked around the shredded carrots, circling them like a vulture. I gave him a suspicious look. He gave me a wry look. We were like a couple of western gunslingers, eyeing each other, sizing each other up.

Off he went. I finished baking the cake, sampled a slice as usual,  and put the rest in the fridge.

The next morning the alarm goes off. Still groggy, I watch Scott get up. Without a word, he ambles toward the kitchen. He grabs a plate and quietly and deliberately,  slices off a hunk of carrot cake, then proceeds to sit down at his desk. I peer at him from a safe distance wondering what, exactly, he plans to do with it.

Lo and behold, he eats it for breakfast. I’m overcome with smugness.

The next day, he does it again. Then again, and again, until there is none left.

Irresistible Carrot Cake
Makes 1 tall, 9” cake

This recipe was given to me by my former boss and pastry mentor, Joe, when I worked in my first restaurant kitchen. Though other recipes typically use oil, he uses butter, which makes the fantastic flavor.

You can play around with the types of additions you throw in your cake. I like walnuts and golden raisins, but you can use pecans, dried pineapple, crushed pineapple (drained), coconut flakes… or you can leave them all out,  and enjoy the citrus notes.

True, the ingredient list is a little long. I suppose, if you twist my arm, I can tell you to leave out the… oh, who am I kidding. Better not to leave out anything. Just take the hour or so it takes to make this cake as is. It’s so good!

Cake:
1 cup + 1 tablespoon (8 oz) light brown sugar
1 cup + 1 tablespoon (8 oz) granulated sugar
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter
4 eggs
zest from 1 lemon
zest from 1 orange
2 tablespoons (1 oz) lemon juice
2 tablespoons (1 oz) orange juice
2 3/4 cup (15 oz) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 lb carrots, peeled and finely shredded
1 cup (5 oz) walnuts, optional
1 cup (5 oz) golden raisins, optional

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 lb cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups (12 oz) powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Toast walnuts on a sheet pan for 15 minutes and chop, if using.

carrot-cake-nuts-on-sheet

carrot_cake_chop-nuts

2. Here’s the stuff for the cake part:

carrot_cake_mise

3. Prepare the cake pans:

Spritz each cake pan with a little cooking spray. (Or alternately smear a piece of butter around to grease up the pan.)

carrot_cake_spray_pan

We interrupt this program to demo an easy trick to cut a parchment circle for lining your cake pans. Grab a piece of parchment paper that’s bigger than the cake pan. Fold in half…

carrot-cake-paper-in-half

…then in half again. You can see where the natural center starts to develop.

carrot-cake-fold-in-half-again

Being mindful of the center, fold this piece in half again. Here is the imaginary line where the fold happens.

carrot-cake-paper-line

You end up with a pointy cone shape.

carrot-cake-paper-folded

Now hold it over your cake pan and align the center point of the parchment with the center of the cake pan. I just eyeball this. Cut away extra parchment along the red line, just inside the edge of the cake pan.

carrot-cake-cut-parchment

Unfurl the paper. It should fit. If not refold, and trim off a bit more. Spray the top of the parchment paper lightly, too. Repeat the lining process for the second cake pan. (Look at these crazy prices. $4.29 for a can of PAM? Seriously.)

carrot_cake_sprayed_pan

Back to our carrot cake.

4. Beat butter, and both sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. (You can alternately use a hand-held mixer.)

carrot_cake_butter_sugar

5. Scrape down the sides to evenly incorporate everything and add eggs, one a time. Mix on medium speed until each one is incorporated before adding the next.

carrot_cake_add_eggs

 

Once all the eggs are added, batter will be loose and curdled looking and that’s ok. Scrape the sides.

carrot_cake_eggs_in

6. Mix in the orange and lemon zests and their juices on sloooow speed. The fats from the butter and eggs help distribute the citrus oils from the zest into the batter better (heh.)

carrot_cake_add_zest

7. Stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

carrot_cake_dry

8. Add half of the dry ingredients and mix on the slowest speed setting. As they are mixing, pour in the lemon and orange juices.

carrot_cake_half_dry

 

carrot_cake_add_juice

 

Toss in the rest of the dry ingredients, and continue mixing just until they are fully incorporated but no longer. Don’t overmix or your batter will get tough and gluey.

carrot_cake_batter

 

9. Dump in the carrots, nuts and raisins (if using) and fold in with a spatula.

carrot_cake_add_carrots

Finished batter:

carrot_cake_batter_ready

 

10. Divide batter evenly among the two prepared pans and smooth out the tops.

carrot_cake_batter_divided

carrot-cake-batter-in

 

Bake in preheated 350 degree F oven for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and the centers spring back when lightly pressed.

carrot-cake-in-oven

 

Here’s a cake tester that still has wet cake clinging to it. Not ready yet.

carrot-cake-wet-tester

Baked and cooled cakes. Let your cake cool completely before proceeding with frosting.

carrot_cake_baked

 

Time to make the frosting:

1. Dem ingredients. The butter and cream cheese should be at room temperature.

frosting_ingredients

2. Cream butter on medium speed until very smoooooth.

frosting_cream_butter

3. Add cream cheese and paddle until that’s smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

frosting_cream_cheese

If you add your cream cheese too soon, before the butter gets really smooth, here’s what you’ll end up with:

frosting_lumpy

Can you see all the butter lumps along the side? Those are a bitch to smooth out. Near impossible.

4. Throw in powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Don’t forget to set the speed to low or you’ll look like you’ve been antiqued. Paddle until incorporated and smooth.

frosting_10X

Frosting ready to go.

frosting_ready

5. In order to keep your serving platter clean while frosting, we’re going to line it first. Cut some squares of parchment paper, and place around the perimeter.

carrot-cake-lined-platter

6. If the cake baked up with a little dome, shave it off with a serrated knife. Hold the knife parallel to the cake and use a gentle sawing motion.

carrot-cake-shave-cake

carrot-cake-shaved-cake

7. Center cake layer on serving platter and start the slathering with an offset spatula.

carrot-cake-slather-layer

8. Set the other cake layer on top. I like the cake bottom to face up for a neater appearance.

frosting_layer_2

9. Coat the cake with a “crumb coat.” This is a base layer, thinly spread over the cake to lock in the crumbs so they don’t get caught up in the rest of the frosting. The cake wants to be snowy white.

frosting_crumb_coat

frosting_crumb_coat_B

10. Then go to town and slather on the rest of the frosting. Carefully pull out the parchment pieces.

carrot-cake-frosted

If there is still schmutz on the cake stand touch it up with a damp paper towel.
carrot-cake-wipe-platter
Throw a carrot cake party, cuz that’s a lotta cake.

Irresistible Carrot Cake
Makes 1 tall, 9” cake

This recipe was given to me by my former boss and pastry mentor, Joe, when I worked in my first restaurant kitchen. Though other recipes typically use oil, he uses butter, which makes the fantastic flavor.

You can play around with the types of additions you throw in your cake. I like walnuts and golden raisins, but you can use pecans, dried pineapple, crushed pineapple (drained), coconut flakes… or you can leave them all out,  and enjoy the citrus notes.

True, the ingredient list is a little long. I suppose, if you twist my arm, I can tell you to leave out the… oh, who am I kidding. Better not to leave out anything. Just take the hour or so it takes to make this cake as is. It’s so good!

Cake:
1 cup + 1 tablespoon (8 oz) light brown sugar
1 cup + 1 tablespoon (8 oz) granulated sugar
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter
4 eggs
zest from 1 lemon
zest from 1 orange
2 tablespoons (1 oz) lemon juice
2 tablespoons (1 oz) orange juice
2 3/4 cup (15 oz) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 lb carrots, peeled and finely shredded
1 cup (5 oz) walnuts, optional
1 cup (5 oz) golden raisins, optional

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 lb cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups (12 oz) powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the cake:
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. If using walnuts, toast then on a sheet pan for 15 minutes, cool then chop.
2. Prepare the cake pans: spray two 9″ cake pans with cooking spray, line with parchment and lightly spray again.
3. Beat butter, and both sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. (You can alternately use a hand-held mixer.)
4. Scrape down the sides to evenly incorporate everything and add eggs, one a time. Mix on medium speed until each one is incorporated before adding the next. Once all the eggs are added, batter will be loose and curdled looking and that’s ok. Scrape the sides.
5. Mix in the orange and lemon zests on sloooow speed. The fats from the butter and eggs help distribute the citrus oils from the zest into the batter better (heh.)
6. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
7. Add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl, and continue mixing just until they are fully incorporated but no longer. Don’t overmix or your batter will get tough and gluey.
8. Fold in the carrots, nuts and raisins (if using) by hand, with a spatula.
9. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cake pans and smooth out the tops.
10. Bake in the preheated 350 degree oven until the tops spring back when gently pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Allow cakes to cool completely.

For the frosting:
1. Make sure the ingredients are at room temperature and start by creaming the butter until completely smooth.
2. Add cream cheese and beat until that mix is smooth, scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. Mix in the powdered sugar and vanilla until fully incorporated.

Assemble the cake:
1. If the carrot cakes baked up with a dome, trim it off with a serrated knife.
2. Center one cake on a serving platter and frost the top. Set the other cake layer on top.
3. Coat the cake with a “crumb coat.” This is a base layer, thinly spread over the cake to lock in the crumbs so they don’t get caught up in the rest of the frosting. The cake wants to be snowy white.
4. Finish frosting the whole cake with as thick a layer as you desire. Yum.

 






78 Responses to “The Best Humble Carrot Cake Ever”

  1. Micae says:

    My effort wasn’t set after 45 minutes! May have been too lavish with the lemon/orange, but the smell is delicious and the cream is exactly as it should be. Thank you for a beautiful recipe – my first effort at making a carrot cake seems O.K. after more than an hour cooking time :)

  2. Nikki says:

    Thanks for providing me with a recipe for carrot cake without using oil! I went to make one for a friend tonight and didn’t have the oil and all the recipes in my books used it. I’m just watching it rise in the oven and it’s looking fantastic. Thankyou.

  3. Thuie says:

    I made this cake tonight.. I’m waiting impatiently for it to
    Come out of the oven. Tasted my spatula and I almost licked the bowl clean! Haha
    Cant wait to cream it.. Then gobble it down :)

  4. Thuie says:

    So after tasting. my verdict is this is the BEST carrot cake that has ever touched my lips!!I had to stop myself from eating the whole thing!!
    Thankyou for sharing the recipe with the lovely photos.

  5. PastryPal says:

    Thuie — Thanks for letting me know, and thanks for trying it!

  6. Barbara says:

    Looks yummy, I have an easier way to cut out the paper for the bottom, just use the pan itself to trace a circle on parchment paper, then it out a little smaller (say 1/8 inch or so), and it will fit fine.

  7. Susi says:

    Without a doubt, this is the best carrot cake I have ever made…the butter raises it to a whole new, non-greasy level! I made the cake for my husband (Scott!) and he adored it, as did my kids. I love your blog…I plan to bake my way all the way through! Good resolution, no?

  8. PastryPal says:

    Oh, Susi, I’m so glad you liked it. And a big thumbs up for you resolution :).

  9. Blankie Monster says:

    For the first time ever, stuck to the recipe to a tee in order to see what the final product is all about. Took forever deciding whether or not to add raisins, they won in the end. Let’s say the cake disappeared before I even finished admiring my amateur icing job. Everyone but the stubborn boyfriend voted raisins (soaking raisins in Grand Marnier and oj may have affected the process)
    Prep time was well-worth the wait! Making it again tonight for my best friend who insisted on “no raisins, please”. Damn wrinkly grapes can’t catch a break. Thank you so much, Irina! <3

  10. Blankie Monster says:

    Alright, it’s official. Your carrot cake is now known as “heavenly”. Bestie took all of it home after sampling a slice and this humble guy got to party at her dad’s birthday, which was definitely an honour. This was a raisin-free version but I increased the amount of walnuts up to an extra 1/4 cup. Fool and fail proof, plus a good upper arm work out shredding them carrots ^_^ Good tactic: punishment before the reward. Love love love.

  11. PastryPal says:

    Wow, Blankie, you’ve been awash in carrot cake lately. I’m so glad it’s a hit. I think grating the carrots is a pain, too, but when you gotta have carrot cake, what’s a gal to do :)?

  12. Blankie Monster says:

    Maybe next time I’ll make the men of the household grate the carrots and earn the dessert privilege. I’ve been extremely nostalgic about old school desserts from former USSR, particularly the “potato” pastry and the “baskets” with meringue-like piping nestled on top of a tiny tart with a delicious crumble filling. I’ve poked my nose in every Russian bakery in Toronto and nothing tastes like childhood.
    Basically, I’d love to see your take on nostalgia, whatever it may be.

  13. PastryPal says:

    I’ll have to see if my mom knows these desserts, because I was so young when we came here, I don’t remember eating the desserts you describe.

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  15. Emily B. says:

    I made this cake for my friend’s wedding cake. It is THE BEST carrot cake I have ever tasted! The citrus notes in this recipe make it outstanding. My friend was very pleased with this cake, and I am excited to see what all her guests are going to think about it. I came across this recipe as I was searching the internet for a carrot cake that used butter instead of oil, and I am so glad I did. I have always been disappointed in carrot cakes because of their oily texture, but this cake comes out fluffy, flavorful, and exquisite. This will forever be my go to recipe for carrot cake. I can’t wait to make it for my mother in law at Thanksgiving. I wish I knew how to make it for my gluten free mother, as I know she would love it too. Great recipe! Well done!

  16. Marniedoll says:

    Thanks for posting this recipe. Could this recipe be made into cupcakes? It looks delicious but my 3 little girls love cupcakes so I might try it! :-)

  17. Luzel says:

    Wow! First attempt ever at Carrot Cake! Its the first time I’ve ever seen my dad finish a whole slice of cake, so thats saying a lot! My frosting was a bit runny though, but I figured its because it is very humid and hot where we live. Love your blog! Regards from Northern Mozambique!

  18. PastryPal says:

    Marniedoll — Yes, this could definitely be made into cupcakes. Just bake them for a lot less time, my guess is 25 minutes, but do keep an eye on them.

  19. Manu says:

    Hi there…i loved ur blog…..it makes things so simple….but i would love to have some gluten free recipes for carrot cake , chocolate cake, brownies etc…which not only looks great, tastes great & also uses simple homemade flours) for my celiac son. I live in India & Can’t buy all those Bob’s Red Mill Flours etc & other fancy stuff. Yet i want my son to gorge on fancy cakes & pastries jus like other normal kids of his age (my son is just 2). will you help me bake some Gluten Free, Egg Free, Dairy Free Cakes!!??!!
    Regards……. :(

  20. Diana says:

    Hi,
    I just found your blog recently and it is now one of my favorites!! I’ve never commented on recipes before but I thought that this one deserved it. I baked this cake a few days ago and it was DELICIOUS!! This is the first time I’ve made carrot cake. I saw the recipe and then thought about it all day at work and just had to bake it when I got home! It was well worth the effort. I did bake it for 35 minutes but I think next time I think I would bake it for just a few minutes less. Perfect! Thank you so much for this beautiful recipe!! :)

  21. PastryPal says:

    Diana — That’s a really nice comment, and thank you for taking the time. That carrot cake gets everyone, every time, hook, line and sinker.

  22. Caroline says:

    Really impressed! I baked it whilst juggling a 3 year old and 1 year old. I was delighted with myself – managed to follow the instructions perfectly until it was cooking in the oven – took much longer to bake. Then I realised I should have used two tins, not one! Still it worked if a touch too moist, but my husband still can’t stop eating it. My only query is, in the UK we tend to use caster sugar in baking – would it be ok for me to use caster and should I use the same quantity as granulated? Fantastic to find a carrot cake that doesn’t use oil.

  23. PastryPal says:

    Hi Caroline, caster and granulated sugar are the same thing. Glad you liked the cake!

  24. Ooo planned to make this for ages (found your site after googling marshmallows and macarons hehe).
    Just made it and waiting for it to cool, fingers crossed it’ll be impressive. I re-read the recipe multiple times but didn’t spot where to add the citrus juices so assumed they were to go in with the zest?

  25. Sue says:

    Really good. I wanted a receipe with no oil. I left out the walnuts and put in 8 oz. of crushed pineapple with half the juice. It never got a chance to cool or be frosted!

  26. Lynette says:

    One word …..Yum

  27. Karen says:

    can the cake be made ahead and frozen then thawed and frosted?

  28. Sadie says:

    I am gathering the ingredients together to try this recipe as I’ve always found carrot cake oily so looking forward to what everybody else agrees is the best cc ever!

    Just a point though – granulated and caster sugar are not the same. Caster sugar is much finer than granulated and thus easier to cream.

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