An indecent post, if you ask me. And this late? Oh, but you just might thank me with this one.
I’ve been waiting, for what almost seems like forever, to bake a carrot cake. Just once, just once! I told myself. I had to, I needed to. One of those quintessential baking know-hows. Pretty high up on the list of any baker’s signature recipes. What really got me excited was when I saw this recipe. It was then, and only then, that I had the overwhelming urge to grate some carrots and start a cream cheese party. To whip up a storm without a care in the world. I really think something like cream cheese frosting is worth the extra effort, and this is one of the best recipes I’ve tried. It beats the previous one I’ve used on cupcakes or swirled into the fudgy bosom of a brownie, with the perfect 1:3 butter to cream cheese ratio. Beats it all.
What I particularly like in this version is the addition of applesauce, which yields an incredibly moist, wholesome and dense texture. This is by no means one of your airy-fairy cakes. No, this is a gleaming, robust, I’ve-got-more-substance-than-your-typical-vanilla-cupcake cake. Almost matronly. I implore you to try it. I’ve carried out the recipe twice– once just to test it, with a single layer, and the second to finalise my own proportions and make it my own, essentially, with a double layer and plenty of cream cheese frosting to oozing from the sides and spread all over. In the second trial, I used dark muscovado sugar instead of normal brown, which made the resulting cake even more dense and lovely, but if you prefer a slightly lighter texture, then be my guest and use the alternative. Truly deluxe, from yours truly.
Carrot Cake (serves 8-10, makes 2 layers)
Ingredients for the cake
150g unsalted, softened butter
70g chopped pecans or walnuts, or both (I used a mixture of both, and use more if you prefer a nutty surprise in your cake), and some additional (play around with the measurements here) chopped nuts for the decoration later on.
half cup white sugar
half cup firmly packed brown sugar (or dark muscovado if you’re feeling all sultry)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
230g finely grated carrots
half cup applesauce (if you use unsweetened, add an extra tablespoon of white sugar)
Ingredients for cream cheese frosting
100g room temperature butter (I really loved using salted, but unsalted is fine too)
300g room temperature cream cheese (it has, has to be very soft and pliable!)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, measured after sifting
2 tsp vanilla extract
Heat your oven to 177 degrees C (350 degrees F). Start by grating your carrots (I used around 3 large ones, but just as long as you get to 200-230g) Grease and flour 2 6 or 7-inch baking pans. In a large bowl and using either a hand mixer or a normal whisk and your more than capable biceps, beat the eggs and sugar together until pale and slightly fluffy. Your arms will ache and start screaming at you. Ignore their cries and carry on headstrong. Add the softened butter (half melted is perfect) and vanilla and beat to combine.
In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, leavening agents, salt and cinnamon. The original recipe calls for this to be sifted into the wet ingredients, but I just stirred it in with a spatula. Softly fold it in, but don’t mix it in all together at once. When there are still streaks of white in the pale batter, tip in the grated carrots, chopped nuts and applesauce. Fold in until just combined. The batter should be rather wet. Divide batter between the two tins (I used a weighing scale to be more accurate at this point), and pop it in the oven for 43-45 minutes. Mine took 45; I took it out at 43 the first time and it didn’t have as nice a solid, cake-like texture, the crumb a little weak despite being very, very tasty. So 45 it was, and what a difference 45 made. Of course, it all depends on oven temperature and your climate and whatnot, so just check with a wooden skewer at 40 minutes to be on the safe side.
When you’re waiting for it to bake, make the frosting. In a large bowl with an electrical whisk (the electrical sort really helps this time), beat the butter and vanilla until smooth and soft. Then beat in the softened cream cheese and finally, the powdered sugar. The cream cheese must be at room temperature, else you’ll end up with unsightly, miniature, irritating lumps of white in the batter. Like those ungodly whiteheads. You don’t want that. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and just give everything a gentle mix to ensure a homogenous result. Once the cake is completely cool, which will take at least an hour (it’s worth it, promise), gently tip it out and use an offset spatula to spread about half of the frosting onto the first layer, then plop on the second layer and do the same. To speed up the cooling process, put the cake in the fridge after around 20 minutes. If you wish to do a crumb coating first and frost the sides as well, then go ahead. It just means you have to put less frosting on the first and second layers (around 1/3, not a half). So simple, this cake. Because it’s on the denser side, I didn’t have to use a serrated knife to cut through any layers, and both layers were stacked right side up, so no cutting of tops was needed.
Once it’s all assembled, sprinkle on some chopped nuts, or if you want, desiccated coconut or coconut flakes. I think the latter gives off a more pristine, sophisticated vibe, whilst the nuts make it more rugged and rustic. This cake is dense, sweet, and lovely on its own. Pair it with some good vanilla ice cream, but I think it’s better left alone. It keeps for around a week in the fridge, so have fun picking at the frosting at midnight!