I never liked carrot cake much, but I’m willing to bet I’ve never had one made with real carrots. When a friend at work asked me to make one, she gave me a photo from a magazine (I won’t say which magazine) but I didn’t even read the recipe. That magazine and I go way back. We have a past.
My grandmother cooked, bless her heart, but she probably shouldn’t have. She had a talent for finding the most obscure recipes – some from that magazine. I love my Nanny but I didn’t love her food. Her desserts were concoctions of bananas and grapes suspended in gelatin. Sometimes yogurt was involved and I remember something pink and fluffy… I don’t even know what that stuff was.
So, no, unnamed magazine. Nice cover shot, but no thanks. I’m sticking with my tried and trusted Le Cordon Bleu to introduce me to a good carrot cake. Here we go.
- 4 eggs
- 6 oz. vegetable oil
- 14 oz. sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 9 oz. bread flour (I used Pillsbury SoftaSilk Cake Flour)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 lb. carrots, grated and peeled
- 2 1/2 oz. walnuts, chopped and toasted (or use candied walnuts for even better flavor)
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Prepare a round 10-inch cake pan (10×3 round pan) by placing a round of parchment paper on the bottom of the pan and a strip around the sides. I use a hinged cake pan. No more banging your pan upside down hoping your cake will come out in one piece. Hinges rock.
Seriously grate your carrots. The finer the better.
Whip your room temperature eggs and sugar into full volume using medium-high speed on your mixer for 3-4 minutes.
Meanwhile, sift dry ingredients together. Try not to forget the cinnamon, like I did. Oops!
Add the oil, sifted dry ingredients, grated carrots, and toasted walnuts into the bowl. Slowly mix until just combined.
Pour your batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Halfway through, rotate your pan if your oven cooks unevenly (like mine does). Set on a wire rack to cool for 10-15 minutes before you unhinge.
I cooled my cake overnight in the fridge and frosted the next day. There’s too much heat stored in a fresh cake, in my opinion, to risk frosting it too soon.
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 8 oz. unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/2 lb. cream cheese, softened but slightly cooler than room temperature
- 11 oz. powdered sugar, sifted
- Zest from 1 lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Beat the unsalted butter in a bowl until smooth. Add in the cream cheese and beat until no longer lumpy. Do not overbeat.
Gradually add the powdered sugar and mix on low. Add in the lemon zest, salt, and vanilla extract. Combine until smooth.
The Le Cordon Bleu recipe calls for a cake to be cut in thirds, but I didn’t feel mine was tall enough so I made two even layers instead. Use a serrated bread knife to cut the cake. Make a shallow cut around the sides by holding the knife still and turning the cake pedestal (I learned this from pottery class). Gradually go deeper until you have cut all the way through.
Use a few triangles of waxed paper or parchment paper to put under the edges of your cake. You can frost it like this and then when you remove the paper, your plate will be clean. Of course, remove the paper before you decorate the bottom edge!
Spread about 1/2 of your frosting on the bottom layer then place your top later on. I flip my top cake layer upside down so the flat side is the top. You’ll fill in gaps with frosting. Doing this gives you a flat top and more frosting in the middle – win win.
Spread liberally and get it as even as you can. I use an offset metal spatula.
I told you I forgot the cinnamon, right? Bob Ross would have called this a happy accident. I had another phrase, but I still remained positive. I sprinkled the top with cinnamon and a little powdered sugar. I think the cinnamon flavor is important. Next time, I will remember to add cinnamon in the batter.
Decorating a cake can also be intimidating. It’s a blank canvas, but it’s also something you’ve already put a lot of work into. The more you practice, the better you will be. Most importantly, try not to take it too seriously. In the end, after all, it’s a piece of cake.
Recipe from Le Cordon Bleu Schools North America (Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles).