When “Eat Your Plate”‘ was raging full force last year, these were the star of the show. Customers boasted that these were the very best carrot cake morsels they had ever put in their mouth. Personally, I have never been a huge fan of anything carrot cake, but these, I would happily eat. They are a wonderful mix of flavor with all the ingredients pulling together to make something really special. There are a lot of ingredients but this recipe is extremely easy to make and difficult to screw up. Just remember, shred your carrots very fine, that’s the trick to the fabulous consistency.
•1 cup packed light brown sugar
•3/4 cup canola oil
•3 tablespoons nonfat buttermilk
•1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
•1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
•1/2 teaspoon baking powder
•1/2 teaspoon baking soda
•1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
•1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
•2 cups tightly packed shredded carrots
•1/2 cup raisins
•1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
For the cream cheese frosting:
•12 ounces cream cheese, left at room temperature for 4 hours
•1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
•1 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
For the candied carrot strips (optional):
•1 small carrot
•1 cup granulated sugar
•3/4 cup water
For the carrot cake:
Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch cake pan (or line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners).
Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat together the eggs and brown sugar on medium-high speed for 3–4 minutes, or until the mixture is light and thick. (This step will take 8–10 minutes if using a handheld mixer.) In a small bowl or pitcher, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla. On low speed, slowly pour the oil mixture into the egg-sugar mixture. This should take about 30 seconds.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the egg-sugar mixture. When most of the flour mixture has been incorporated, add the carrots, raisins, and walnuts and continue to fold until the batter is homogenous. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan (or divide evenly among the prepared muffin cups).
Bake the cake flour for about 1 hour and 20 minutes (or the cupcakes for about 50 minutes), or until the top is golden brown and springs back when pressed in the middle with a fingertip. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
For the cream cheese frosting:
While the cake is baking, put the cream cheese in the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat on medium speed for about 1 minute, or until smooth. If you have forgotten to take the cream cheese out of the refrigerator 4 hours in advance, you can soften it in a microwave on medium power for 30 seconds. Add the butter and continue to beat for another 1 minute. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and add the confectioners’ sugar. Beat for 1 more minute, or until well mixed. You should have about 3 1/2 cups.
Cover the frosting and refrigerate for 2–3 hours before using to allow it firm up enough to pipe and spread. (The frosting can be made up to 5 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)
For the carrot strips (optional):
In a small saucepan, combine the granulated sugar and water and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the carrot strips and boil for 10 seconds. Remove from the heat and let the strips cool completely in the syrup. (The strips can be stored in the syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.)
Remove the cake from the pan and split it into two layers. Place the bottom layer, cut-side up, on a cake plate. Spoon about half of the frosting onto the layer and, using an offset spatula, spread it evenly to the edges. Place the top layer, cut-side down, on top and press down to adhere. Spoon on about 1 cup of the frosting and spread it over the top and down the sides of the cake. This is the crumb coat which will keep any loose crumbs from migrating to the surface of the finished cake. Spoon the remaining frosting on top of the cake, and spread it evenly across the top and down the sides. If using the carrot strips for decoration, lift the cooled strips from the syrup and blot gently to remove the excess syrup. Coil the strips into little spirals and place them whimsically on the cake.
(If you have baked cupcakes, remove them from the muffin tin. Fit a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch star tip and fill the bag with the frosting, then pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes. Or, spread the frosting on the cupcakes with an icing spatula.
The cake (or cupcakes) can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It is best served a little cooler than room temperature, so remove it from the refrigerator about 2 hours before serving. (ti’s delicious straight from the fridge, too, so don’t worry if you forget to pull it out in time.)
Note: Softening the cream cheese in the microwave might sound like a strange step, but I’ve learned if the cream cheese is at all cool, it will get lumpy when you try to combine it with the butter. Just 30 seconds in the microwave (or about 4 hours on a countertop) ensures that the cream cheese, butter, and sugar will blend together seamlessly to create the silkiest, creamiest frosting ever.