Monday, March 8, 2010

Everyone's Favorite Carrot Cake

 I am of the belief that every home cook should have a signature dish.  Like Allison's apple spice cake, your signature is the dish you can turn to when you're feeling less than spectacular, a dish that comes out perfect every time.  This carrot cake is my mom's signature.  And everyone loses their shit over it.  It's a perfect mix of cinnamon, carrot, sweetness, nuttiness, and a tart cream cheese frosting sends it right over the edge.  I've eaten it a bajillion times, and I truly believe I could pick it out of a blindfolded lineup.  And in my humble home baker's opinion, it's the only carrot cake recipe you'll ever need. 

Start by prepping your cake pans.  I have broken many a cake trying to flip it out of the pan.  The  method I use now is tried and true, so use it.  First butter your cake pan.  Don't forget the sides!
 This is a parchment round.  I bought mine at the local restaurant supply store, but you can also get them on Amazon.  These parchment rounds are a fantastic investment, and will dramatically reduce the number of cakes that break in half when you try and flip them.  Put the parchment round in the bottom of the cake pan, and, this is important, butter the parchment round as well.  You'll thank me later for this tip.
Carrots!  The main event!  Please please please do not use pre-shredded carrots from a bag.  Whole carrots have much more moisture, and they soften and release a ton of sweet flavor.  My food processor has a grater attachment, but you can also get a tricep workout and use a box grater.

 The carrots may be a bit soggy, but that's good!  You'll want that moisture.

 Now whisk together the dry ingredients:  flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt.

 Beat the sugar, eggs, and oil...

 And gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.  You'll be able to see (and smell) the cinnamonny goodness.

 Now stir in your shredded carrots!

 While we're stirring good things in, stir in some chopped walnuts, and the secret ingredient, a can of crushed pineapple.

Bake the cake layers at 325 for about an hour (I check them at 45 minutes just to make sure they're not burning).  When they come out, they look golden and gorgeous like this!  The parchment rounds really did their job, look at the smooth surface.  Mmmm.  Cool the cakes in the pan for 15 minutes, and then flip them out onto a baking rack.
My cake was supposed to be three layers.  But unfortunately, I left one layer on the kitchen table.  Low enough for a puggle to reach with his hound dog snout.  He tasted it.  He liked it.  And my three layers became two.

Here's a decorating tip:  if you have the lead time, once your layers are cooled, wrap them in plastic and pop them in the freezer.  This cake is really moist, and it will be much easier to handle if it's firmed up a bit.

This carrot cake is scrumptious on its own, but we all know that cream cheese frosting makes everything better.  Start with a lotta butter and cream cheese, softened to room temperature.  Whip them together.

Now sift some powdered sugar, and slowly add it to your butter and cream cheese.  Add a splash of vanilla and taste the frosting, adding more sugar if you want it a bit sweeter.
 Mmmmm nom nom nom nom!

 Did you know that you can make cream cheese frosting ahead of time?  While your cake is in the freezer, your frosting can chill out in the fridge in a ziplock bag.  Just make sure you let it come to room temperature before you frost your cake.

 Now it's time to put it all together!  This cake was going to a party (Happy Anniversary George and Jeannie!), so I put it on a 12" round cake board.  I tucked strips of parchment under the cake to keep the board clean.

Add your frosting...
And smoooooth it out.  My frosting had a few clumps of sugar, but no one seemed to mind.
 Now top with the second layer...

 And spread a thin layer of frosting around the whole cake.  This is called the crumb layer, and it will pick up any stray crumbs and keep them from showing on the outside of your finished cake.   At this point, I find that it really helps at this point to pop the cake in the fridge for 10 minutes.
 Then take the cake out of the fridge, and apply another layer of frosting all over the cake.  Look!  No crumbs!  These little vertical lines were created by using a butter knife, and pulling up all around the side of the cake.

 For safe travels, put your cake in a box whose measurements match the diameter of the cake board.  That way your cake won't slide!  

Enjoy this one!  It's easy and delicious, and who knows, maybe it'll become your signature too!

Everyone's Favorite Carrot Cake
Adapted from Sunset (my mom doesn't have the issue month/year, sorry Sunset!)

Note:  I doubled the recipe for 3 10" layers, but I'm presenting the original quantity, which fills 2 9" round cake pans (or a 9 x 13" baking dish).  I also baked my cake at a lower temperature, which makes flatter layer cakes.

2 cups shredded carrots (4-5 carrots).  do not use pre-shredded carrots in a bag!
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
8 oz crushed pineapple, drained

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Butter 2 9" round baking dishes, and line with buttered parchment rounds.

Chop walnuts and set aside.

Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Mix sugar and eggs.  Add oil, and mix well.  Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix well.  Stir in carrots, nuts, and drained pineapple with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.

Divide the batter between the two pans, and bake for about 50 minutes (check the pans after 40 minutes to make sure they don't burn).  Cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then flip the cakes out of the pans and cool completely on the baking rack.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from

16 oz cream cheese, softened
4 sticks of butter, softened (whoa Nelly)
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar

Sift sugar and set aside.

Beat cream cheese and butter on high until creamy.  Add vanilla.

Add the sugar in batches.  Scrape the sides of the bowl in between each addition.

Frost your cake, refrigerating for 10 minutes after the first thin layer, and finishing with a second layer.


  1. That cake was such a success at the party - and it disappeared. Several people said it was the best carrot cake they've ever had - and I'll say it too. One person commented that it wasn't overly sweet - it was just right. It was wonderful! Thank you for making it - Mom and Dad really appreciated it. (Jen)

  2. I like that there are girl scout cookies in the background of the cake. Looks like a tasty day!

  3. It's a perfect cake & I will be making it myself very soon!

  4. Thanks guys! And Katie: the girl scout cookies were an impulse buy, they were outside the grocery store and one of them was dancing like Lady Gaga, so I had to support them. Unfortunately the lemon cream cookies are not very good. Thin mints perfect as always.


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