I’m not a baker. At all. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it from time to time if it’s for fun. This is probably because as a kid baking was the only thing I could help with in the kitchen. I remember helping my mom make cookies when I was young and baking brownies and cupcakes with friends in junior high. It was enjoyable then, easy.
But as I began cooking professionally I realized just how scientific and precise baking can be. While precision isn’t a problem, the scientific part can be challenging for me and my slight ADD tendencies. But I do still like to bake for fun and for my family who will eat anything sweet. It’s just sometimes I lack the patience to bake the same thing again and again, tweaking a little each time until I get it just right. But there are a few exceptions when the results are really, really worth the effort, like with this carrot cake.
As long as I’m confessing, I should add that until recently I had very little experience with carrot cake. In fact, the only carrot cake I’d ever eaten was when I was working the pantry/dessert station at a restaurant and one of the menu items was deep fried carrot cake. The cake itself was made off-site and while tasty, it was also very dry. My job was to make a beer batter to coat the cake squares, deep fry them and inject the centers with a thin cream cheese filling. I’d then arrange three deep fried carrot cake squares on a plate, dust with powdered sugar and send it to a table with a side of thick cream cheese dipping sauce. It was tasty although a bit strange.
So you can see how I was at a bit of a loss when I had a sudden craving for carrot cake about two months ago. In fact, I’d actually dreamed about it (and subsequently tweeted that dream), so I was really excited when I had the opportunity to make a carrot cake for Rosh Hashana dinner at my sister’s house.
To toot my own horn a bit, the cake was fantastic! It was flavorful but not overwhelming and had a scrumptious moist crumb that made each and every bite heavenly. The frosting, well, that was another story.
Something went horribly wrong when I made the cream cheese frosting (I suspect it was because I used low-fat cheese the first time) and it became very thin and watery. Although the frosting tasted great with the cake, the presentation was off, so much so that the layers kept sliding apart because the frosting couldn’t hold them.
Happily for my family, I had to make the carrot cake again so I could perfect the frosting. The second time was the charm. The cream cheese frosting was thick yet spreadable and both a little sweet and tangy, and absolutely perfect for the carrot cake.
Here’s the recipe:
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from “Cooking Jewish,” by Judy Bart Kancigor)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups peeled and grated carrots* (from approximately 1 1/4 pounds whole carrots)
Preheat the oven to 350°F and spray two 9-inch round pans with nonstick spray. Cover the bottoms of each pan with parchment paper and spray again (see photos above for how to cut parchment circles). Set aside.
Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, salt and nutmeg in a bowl. Whisk gently a few times and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the eggs at medium speed for two minutes. Slowly add in the sugar and mix until the eggs become light and fluffy, then drizzle in the vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Mix well, about 2 minutes longer.
Add half the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined, then add the remaining flour. Mix for 30 seconds then add the carrots. Mix briefly until the carrots are incorporated.
Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and tap each on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles. Bake the cakes 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Rotate the cakes after 15 minutes.
Remove the cakes from the oven and cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer the cakes to a baking sheet. Allow the cakes to cool completely before icing.
* I find the best consistency for the carrots comes from grating them in a food processor (push through opening on top), then pulsing no more than 3 times in the bowl of the food processor. This way the carrot pieces are small but defined and not watery.
Cream Cheese Frosting
1 pound cream cheese (full fat works best), at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
4 cups powdered sugar
Combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla, ground ginger and 1 cup powdered sugar. Mix well. Continue adding the sugar one cup at a time until it’s all incorporated. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Refrigerate the frosting for 15 minutes before using on the cake.
To ice the cake, spread a thick layer of frosting evenly over one cake. Invert (flip) the second cake over the first and refrigerate for 5 minutes. Once cool, continue adding frosting in an even layer over top of the cake and sides.
If you’re feeling fancy, go ahead and decorate the cake by piping frosting through a pastry bag or adding chopped nuts to the sides.