Carrot cake is my mister’s favorite. I like carrot cake all right, it’s pretty good. But favorite cake? Really? Live and let live, I guess. But as a result, I’ve had the opportunity to try a few carrot cake recipes, not to mention a few fun offshoots like carrot cake whoopie pies. This cake recipe is definitely a keeper.
I first made this into cupcakes for my mister’s birthday in June this year and brought them to a park near our house for a laid back cookout. Luckily, I snapped a quick photo before a dog trotted by and snagged one, turning the birthday message into “Happy Birthday Ndrew.”
Then my mom asked for carrot cake in her birthday in July, so I got a chance to make it into a layer cake as well. Which I of course forgot to photograph. There are a few differences between making the cupcakes and the layer cake, which I’ve outlined below.
I use buttermilk powder in this recipe for one reason — it lasts a lot longer in the fridge. I can never get through a whole quart of buttermilk and it always ends up sitting in my fridge until it turns into a solid block of curd. The powdered stuff (I use Saco) lasts for years in the fridge. So if you have it on hand or it’s easier for you to get, you can certainly use regular buttermilk.
I’ve never made this cake vegan, but my suggestions are as follows: soymilk/apple cider vinegar for the buttermilk, flax “eggs”, a caramel sauce made with brown rice syrup (there’s a good recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World), and Tofutti and Earth Balance for the frosting.
Carrot Cake for Someone Special
Adapted from Best Carrot Cake of All Time by kpurwin
Candied Carrot Garnish:
2-5 carrots, the biggest you can find
1/2-1 cup sugar
1/2-1 cup water
sugar, to coat
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons buttermilk powder (or 3/4 cup buttermilk)
3 large eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated carrot (4-5 medium carrots, or 2 monster mutant carrots)
1 8 ounce can crushed pineapple, drained
3 1/2 ounces grated coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon buttermilk powder (or 1/4 cup buttermilk)
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cream Cheese Frosting:
3/4 cups butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
11 ounces cream cheese (almost 1 1/2 packages), softened
3 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
So, first you’ve got to make the candied carrot garnish. This has to dry overnight, so plan ahead. I’ve made this cake for birthdays, so I use this letter fondant cutting set to cut out a happy birthday message. You can use any shaped cutters you want, but fondant cutters are recommended because they are smaller than cookie cutters.
Slice your carrots into 1/8″ to 3/16″ wide rounds. You’ll probably only use about half of each carrot, depending on how wide they are and how big your cutters are, so the rest can be saved for another purpose (like grating into your cake). Cut as many garnishes as you want out of the slices. If they get stuck, use the blunt end of a bamboo skewer to gently push them out. If you’re using letters or other fairly detailed cutters, I recommend making doubles of every shape you’re going to need. Some of them don’t turn out quite right, so this gives you the option to choose the best looking ones. Plus, the leftovers make a good snack. Ask my sugar-hyped two year old niece.
So you’ve got your shapes. If you’re into waste not, want not, you can save those scraps from the rounds and chop them up to make mirepoix.
Stir your sugar and water into a small or medium saucepan, depending on how many shapes you’ve got. This should also dictate how much sugar and water you use — just make sure they are equal amounts. Stir over low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is lightly simmering, then toss in your carrots. Cook for 5-15 minutes, depending on the size of your letters. They should be slightly softened with a bit of give, but if you cook them for too long they will become shrunken and wrinkled.
Remove the carrots from the syrup and spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet. If you’re into weird cocktails, you could save this carrot simple syrup and experiment — carrot caketini? I don’t know. You can also mix it with powdered borax to use as roach bait! (What? I live in a city rowhome.)
Anyway. Let carrots cool slightly, then toss them in granulated sugar to coat. Spread back out on the baking sheet and keep an eye on them. If you don’t let them cool enough the first time, the sugar coating may melt a bit. It’s not a huge deal if this happens, just coat them again.
Let your beautiful candied carrot garnishes dry out on the baking sheet, uncovered, overnight.
Okay, onto the cake!
Preheat your oven to 350. Spray or butter two 8- or 9-inch pans, then line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper as well, then set the pans aside. For cupcakes, prepare two muffin pans with liners. You’ll probably have enough batter for 4-6 more besides those, so if you have another muffin pan you can have that at the ready, or you can wait for the first batch to be done and then bake the remainder. You can spray the liners if desired but it’s not really necessary.
Mix the flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, salt, buttermilk powder (if using) and chopped walnuts. Sift mixture into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve, reserving the flour and coated walnuts in separate bowls.
At this point it’s a good idea to grate your carrots, weigh your coconut, and start draining your pineapple. I peel my carrots, then grate them with the grating disc on my food processor so it takes about 30 seconds. You could use the pre-grated stuff in a bag I guess, but I find it to be really dry and not as sweet. For the coconut, I generally use the dehydrated super-finely grated stuff, because I have some friends that don’t like coconut. I figure it’s a texture thing and use this, which all but disappears in the cake, and I just don’t tell them it’s in there. If you use this, it will look like a lot of coconut! It’s fine. Then I dump the pineapple in a fine mesh sieve and let it sit for a little bit to get all the excess juice out.
Dump the eggs, sugar, oil, 3/4 cup water (if using buttermilk powder — otherwise add buttermilk), and vanilla into your mixer bowl. With the paddle attachment, slowly stir until it starts to incorporate, then gradually raise the speed to medium. Mix until smooth and fully blended.
Add the dry ingredients, then stir at low speed until blended, scraping down the sides as needed. Fold in grated carrot, crushed pineapple, coconut, and coated walnuts with a spatula until, once again, fully blended. Pour batter into prepared cake pans (split evenly) or muffin pans (2/3 full).
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes (cakes) or 20 to 25 minutes (cupcakes). It’s a good practice to swap your pan positions halfway through the cooking time, especially if they are on different racks. Give each pan a quick 180 degree spin, as well, just in case your oven is cooking unevenly. Test in the center of the cake with a toothpick — when it comes out clean, they’re done.
When you have about 10-15 minutes left on your timer for the cake, begin making the buttermilk glaze. For the full cake, the full recipe applies — for the cupcakes, you’ll only use about half of it. Feel free to eat the rest with a spoon, I won’t tell. (I’d be implicating myself, too.)
So, the glaze: In a large pot, mix sugar, baking soda, butter, corn syrup, buttermilk powder, and 1/4 cup water (if using buttermilk powder — otherwise add buttermilk). Stir to combine and bring to a boil over medium heat. It will bubble up a bit from the baking soda, so I really must stress that you should use a pan that is bigger than you think you might need. Boil, stirring often, for 4 minutes — it’ll get a bit of a caramel color to it. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
Right about now, your cakes should be done. Remove them from the oven and set, in the pans, on a wire rack. Use a bamboo skewer to poke holes throughout the (cup)cakes. I usually just start from the tester hole I made in the middle, and work my way out in a spiral. For cupcakes, I’ll stab it around 5-8 times… for layer cakes, a lot of times. I didn’t count. Sorry.
Drizzle half of the glaze over each cake layer, or for cupcakes, drizzle a heaping spoonful over each one. Spread with an offset spatula to make sure it covers the cakes evenly, then let it soak in for 15 minutes.
Remove cakes from pans and allow to cool completely, right side up, on wire racks.
I usually make the cakes the day before I need them, and then frost them the next day. For layer cakes, put a piece of parchment paper on top of each layer. You should still have the parchment paper on the bottom from baking. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Use too many pieces because it keeps sticking to itself. Curse gently to yourself. Can be refrigerated overnight, and probably frozen but I haven’t tried it.
For cupcakes, I just slip them into ziplock bags — not willy nilly, but about nine cupcakes per bag, stored flat in layers in the fridge.
Onto the frosting: With the whisk attachment on your mixer, beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until fully combined. You’ll likely have to scrape the sides and the whisk a few times before this happens. Add 1/2 of the sifted powdered sugar, then turn the mixer to stir — too fast and you will end up covered with powdered sugar. Once it is combined, scrape down the sides and add the rest of the powdered sugar, repeating to get it integrated. Once it is fully combined, add the vanilla extract and turn the mixer up to medium. Let it whip until it becomes light and fluffy — a couple of minutes, at least.
Note: If you want to pipe the frosting onto cupcakes, especially if you are piping this onto cupcakes that you are ill-advisedly bringing to an outdoor birthday party in June, I’d recommend adding a bit more powdered sugar — maybe about 1/2 cup. This is a very creamy, dreamy frosting without a whole lot of structure.
Unwrap your cake layers (remember to remove the parchment paper from the bottoms). Put the first layer of your cake on a platter, tucking strips of parchment paper underneath the edges to protect the plate. Put a big old glob of frosting on the middle and spread with an offset spatula so it is almost to the edges. Place the next layer on top, and then frost the top and sides. Generally, using a crumb coat is recommended when frosting layer cakes, but this cake is so dense and moist that it doesn’t really need it. Once your cake is fully frosted, remove the strips of parchment to reveal your squeaky clean plate or cake stand!
For cupcakes, spread frosting on with an offset spatula, or pipe on (keeping the above note in mind).
Back to the garnish. Remember the garnish? You may notice that letters or other detailed shapes look very strange, because of weird clumps of sugar or general disfigurement. Pick through to find the best looking ones, then get to work re-shaping as needed. Use a bamboo skewer to poke out sugar clumps that have formed in the holes of your P’s and D’s. Use (clean!) hands to gently massage off sugar clumps on other areas, and to gently stretch and squeeze any malformed letters back into shape. Once you’ve got everything accounted for, gently lay them on top your (cup)cake(s)!
This concludes the longest recipe ever. Make it for someone you really love.