Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Loaded Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

A simple, frosted cake is a wonderful thing. When cake is merely one element of a more complex or “fancy” dessert, the actual cake is often overlooked, leaving us with a dry, flavorless sponge. Such a foible, committed at the hands of countless unlearned pastry chefs, diminishes the taste of the dessert no matter how beautifully turned out or perfectly composed it may be.

Fancy, professional, multi-layered desserts are not easy things to pull off, even for professionals. So casual home baker that I am, I choose to glorify the kind of cakes that so many of us Americans got to enjoy as kids, if we were lucky: moist, sweet sheet cakes with sugary white frosting, round yellow layer cakes decorated with shredded coconut, or dense, spiced carrot cakes with irresistible cream cheese frosting. And what better time than a birthday to bake up one of these classics? It is guaranteed to make your birthday person feel special.

For Mike’s past birthdays, I have made some very successful German chocolate cakes and one ridiculously rich, huge, lopsided coconut cake. Despite its many faults, Mike liked my coconut cake so much that he froze what was left and carved off a slice every day or so until he had finished the entire thing. I did not have room in the freezer for another never-ending coconut cake, so I considered our other options. We are both huge fans of carrot cake, and it had been quite awhile since I made one. The last time I baked a carrot cake, I was hell-bent on finding the ultimate recipe for the cake of my dreams. I had clippings, cookbooks, the internet, all at my disposal. I knew what I wanted, and I liked a lot of the recipes I found, but none of them was my perfect carrot cake. I finally stopped searching and used the recipe in the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion , with a few tweaks of course, because it was the closest to what I had in mind. The King Arthur book is a great reference for home bakers. It has clear, exhaustively tested recipes for absolutely everything homey, American and delicious that could fall into the category of baking. All things sweet are covered, but there are also great chapters on breads and breakfast items.

In my mind, the perfect carrot cake is loaded with everything. Raisins and walnuts are required, but from there personal preference can dictate whether you want coconut, pineapple, both of those or neither. I wanted it all. My thought process went like this: “I know pineapple makes it moist, but the coconut probably adds sweetness and a nice texture. And Mike loves coconut. But I can’t give up the pineapple…oh, why not, I’ll add it all!” So I did; and while this carrot cake is thick, rich and definitely loaded, it is simply dreamy.

Carrot Cake
Adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baking Companion
Makes one 9 x 13 cake or one three layered 8-inch cake

4 eggs
1 ½ c. vegetable oil (I used Spectrum Super Canola Oil; it is expeller-pressed)
2 tsp. vanilla
1 ¾ c. sugar
2 c. AP flour, or 1 c. AP flour plus 1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tblsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg
2 c. grated carrots
½ c. finely chopped walnuts
½ c. raisins
1 c. shredded coconut
1 8 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained

Preheat oven to 350. Grease your baking pans with butter or line with parchment paper. Beat the eggs with an electric mixer, then slowly add the oil while the mixer is running. Add the vanilla, then add the sugar about 1/3 cup at a time, beating on high speed after each addition. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, a bit at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon to combine. Next, add the carrots, walnuts, raisins, coconut and pineapple.

You can’t have carrot cake without some mighty fine carrots.

Pour the batter into your prepared baking pans. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes for 9 x 13 or 35 minutes for 8-inch rounds, rotating the position of the round pans in the oven during cooking so they bake evenly. You should use a toothpick to test for doneness, but it may never come out of the cake clean. As long as the center of the cake is no longer liquidy, it is done. The cake will start to brown before the center is completely set, but that is okay. This cake is so moist, that you will not be over-baking it. Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and cool completely. You can sprinkle the cooled cake with powdered sugar and serve, but you’ve made it this far, so you might as well go for the cream cheese icing.

Cream Cheese Frosting
From The King Arthur Flour Baking Companion

6 tblsp. good unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 8 oz. package cream cheese (I use Philadelphia’s low fat version because I honestly think it is just as good as the full-fat variety)
1 tsp. vanilla
4 c. (a one pound box) confectioner’s sugar
2 to 4 tblsp. milk, half and half, or soy milk

Beat the butter, cream cheese and vanilla together for several minutes. Add the sugar about 1 cup at a time, beating after each addition. Start on a low speed, then gradually increase so sugar does not fly all over the kitchen. Add some milk, one tablespoon at a time, just to achieve a spreadable consistency. You will probably need 2 or 3 tblsp. at the most.

For reasons that remain unexplained, I prefer a 2-layer cake, as opposed to a 3-layer. In that case, I just use 2 round baking pans and fill them with a about ¾ of the batter. I know, it’s a terrible waste! What can I say, I like it the way I like it. Either way, ice the bottom of one cake (it is flatter than the top), then stack the next cake on it. You may want to use a large serrated knife to trim the slightly rounded tops off the lower layers so that you have completely flat surfaces for stacking. Once your cakes are stacked, ice the sides and the top. I like to press chopped, toasted walnuts onto the sides of the cake, although I know of no easy way to accomplish this, short of tossing nuts against the sides or gently pressing them on.

This is a creation for serious carrot cake lovers. It is so packed with spice (I like to add a little extra nutmeg) and other goodness that one sliver will satisfy. But please, don’t skimp on the cream cheese icing.

Can’t you see how special he feels? Very special, and very hungry...

Whether they were treated to a childhood full of birthdays with mom’s homemade cakes or had an entirely different experience due to culture or circumstance, a cake like this, covered with glowing, rainbow-colored candles will make anyone feel like a kid again.


Kevin said...

I agree with you about most cakes -- and so seldom eat or make cake, but here's one you might like, also with a cream cheese icing:

J said...

hi julie, cake looks spectacular! - i'm a huge fan of the king arthur book too (the cookie companion is just as awesome) but have yet to try this recipe. thanks for pointing the way ;)

lobstersquad said...

oh that icing! amazing.
And totally agree about the Philadelphia light.

Anonymous said...


I just had to post a comment after trying your recipe. I have never baked a cake from scratch in my life, but I decided to give your recipe a try. It was honestly the best carrot cake I have ever eaten. This is a great recipe and I think that anyone could do it with a little effort. I made it on Mother's day and it was a huge hit (there was none left). Thanks again for the recipe. Just a tip that I tried (and that worked well) ... I made 1 1/2 times the icing and it came out grest. I noticed that you had suggested that we "please do not skimp on the icing" so I didn't. Thanks a million, Cyndi

Julie said...

Wow, your comment made my day! I LOVE hearing that people have success with my recipes. I go out of my way to write my recipes well and don't post them if I don't think people will have good results. I'm SO happy to hear that your family loved it and that your first scratch cake was such a big hit! Thanks for your comment. Julie

kershaw knives said...

You could further flatten the top with a knife or. Looks great though!

http://lyxol.com said...

It must be the best desert ever. My cousin still rings for the recipe :D