18 Carrot Gold
“Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin pie.” –Jim Davis
Carrots, those orange-hued gems, have been playing starring roles in baking since medieval times. Prized for their high sugar content (second only to sugar beets) and availability, they stood in nicely for desserts when sweeteners were too expensive or sparse (perhaps rationing was the reason behind carrot cake’s revival in Britain during the Second World War). This unusual cream cheese frosted treat hopped its way across the pond in the early 1960′s, showing up in restaurants and cafeterias across the United States. But carrot cake really came into its “Golden Age” in the 1970′s when this popular confection enjoyed a slot in the Top 5 Food-Fads, ballyhooed for its “health-conscious” properties. (Well, carrots are good for you.) Carrot cake is so well-liked, we have set aside a whole day (back in February) to nationally celebrate this delicious sweet ending.
This is one of Adam’s fav-o-rite desserts (I know, they all are…), but this one, he professes, is the solid gold winner (evident by his scarfing down half of the cake seconds after the photo shoot wrapped). I have to agree – this recipe has everything I want in a carrot cake, too: soft, moist layers with a nuance of pineapple and spice, nestled in a creamy, tangy frosting and showered with crunchy toasted walnuts to boot. It’s pure bliss. Make this little jewel for your spring celebration and you’ll make some bunny very, very happy.
Old-Fashioned Carrot Cake with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
For the cake:
- unsalted butter and all-purpose flour for the pans
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 1-3/4 cups sugar
- ¼ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup canola oil
- 2 cups freshly shredded carrots
- one 8-ounce can crushed pineapple in its own juice, well-drained
For the frosting:
- 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- ¾ cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 2 cups toasted, cooled and chopped walnuts
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-inch cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment rounds, butter the paper and lightly sprinkle with flour. Tap out the excess flour and set pans aside. In a bowl, sift together (a fine mesh strainer is fine) the flour, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon and salt and set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the eggs and the sugars and beat on medium-high until slightly thick and pale in color, about 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. With the mixer on low, slowly add the oil in a thin stream and mix until combined. With the mixer still on low, add in the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Add in the carrots and pineapple and mix until just combined.
- Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake until the tops are golden and a cake tester comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes before turning out onto the racks to cool completely.
- Make the frosting: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth, occasionally scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat in the vanilla and salt. With the mixer on medium, gradually add in the confectioner’s sugar and mix until frosting is smooth.
- Place one cake layer on a cake stand or plate. Spread a thick layer of the frosting evenly over the cake. Top with the second cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting evenly over the sides and top of the cake. Sprinkle the walnuts over the top of the cake.
…from the Picture-Perfect kitchen:
Planning: I leave my cream cheese and butter on the counter overnight to soften. This cake can be refrigerated for up to 2 days (just keep it tightly covered). Take the chill off before serving.
Product Purity: Pure vanilla extract here is essential.
Presentation: Layer cakes, like this one, have that “clearly homemade” look that I absolutely love. It deserves your very prettiest cake stand. Choose a vibrant plate to serve the slices on – the bright color really makes the cake pop. To get the very neatest slices, use a long, thin knife–run it under hot water, dry and slice. Wipe off the knife between slices to keep the moist crumbs at bay.