We all have a favorite cake. Francesco has his Sacher Torte, my dad his Boston Cream Pie.
Me? I love carrot cake.
It is my all-time, hands-down, without a doubt favorite cake. I request it (to myself) every birthday. Our wedding cake was a gorgeous, three-tiered carrot cake courtesy of the always amazing Konditor Meister. The leftover layers, the ones you’re supposed to stick in the freezer for your first wedding anniversary? I finished them myself within a few days.
I could eat carrot cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I love it more than runners up Actually Squash Cake, Banana Dream Cake and coconut chocolate chunk cake – combined. And I do not understand carrot cake haters, nor do I have any respect for them whatsoever. Something truly heinous must have happened to your taste buds to make you hate something so purely delicious, so close to perfection. That, or you’ve never had a good carrot cake.
In my experience, making a proper, moist, spicy, sweet carrot cake is not that tricky. You just have to be patient enough to grate a bunch of carrots (or intelligent enough to own a food processor). One must? Cream cheese frosting and lots of it, on top, in the middle, on the sides. Another? Tons of carrots. Lastly? Don’t think that because you’re putting 6 carrots into a cake that it’s healthy or should taste healthy. Carrot cake may be a ’70s fad food boosted by the ’80s’ obsession with low-fat diets, but I’m pretty sure a cup of oil is not low-fat. And I’m pretty sure carrot cake is not a fad. According to The Internet, carrots have long (think: middle ages) been used to cheaply sweeten cakes. The carrots soften into nothing and make the cake incredibly moist. The spices deepen the cake’s flavor, and the tangy cream cheese frosting, which I tend to use on just about everything, both softens and livens it all up.
Some fellow carrot cake lovers fancy themselves purists, which means their carrot cakes have no pineapple, no coconut, no nuts, no raisins…the list goes on. When searching for the ultimate carrot cake recipe, I had no qualms about adding canned fruit, dried cranberries, or black pepper, but I insisted – and still do – on no nuts. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned before that one of the few things I do not eat (along with intestines, octopus, oysters and pasta with broccoli rabe) is nuts. I’ve become more tolerant over the years. I’m now at the point where I actually enjoy Reese’s Pieces (too bad they’re not available in Australia!), almond-based cookies like Florentines, and the occasional cashew in my Thai stir fry, but those walnuts in your classic carrot cake? I’d pick them out. It’s childish habits like this that ensure my dog’s everlasting love.
One thing I never share with the dog, no matter how sweetly he looks up into my eyes, is my carrot cake. Because I think I’ve found the perfect recipe. It’s taken some time, and many, many a half baked disaster (see above), but here it is in all its simple, spicy, sweet, stickiness. I just made it last week on a whim. I had some carrots and cream cheese in the fridge, and, once I realized I could there was no going back. I was out of dried cranberries and nearly out of raisins, but I didn’t care. It was still delicious. Though I know carrot cake isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it should be. Try and believe me…or try it for yourself.
The best carrot cake I’ve found so far, the one I turn to over and over again. Feel free to add nuts (blech), dried cranberries, raisins, or leave them out altogether. You can bake this in two 9″ spring form pans, a rectangular cake tin, cupcake molds, or whatever else you want. I sometimes make 2 layers in 7″ spring form pans, then bake the rest in a loaf tin and freeze it. Just make sure you don’t under bake the cake. Only when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, will the it be done.
3 1/2 cups grated carrots (about 7)
1 cup raisins
1 cup dried cranberries
zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cups applesauce (or 1/4 cup more oil)
Preheat oven to 350F / 180C. Grease and flour two 9 ” spring form pans or whatever pans you want to use.
Grate the carrots in a large bowl. Add the raisins, zest and brown sugar, and let it sit while you prepare the rest.
In another large bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt together.
In a third bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, oil, vanilla and applesauce if using.
Add the egg mixture and the carrot mixture to the flour mixture. Gently stir until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared tins. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Do not underbake!
Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing sides; cool completely before slicing and frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting (or see here or here):
16 oz. (500 g)
4 tbl (50 g) butter
1 tbl sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
orange zest & juice
2 1/2 cups icing sugar
Make frosting while the cake cools. Beat the cold cream cheese, room temperature butter, sour cream, vanilla, zest and juice together until smooth. Slowly add icing sugar until desired sweetness.
If you want, and you do want, cut each cake in half, to make 4 layers. Frost between each layer, on top and on the sides.