I recently realized that I never made a carrot cake. I've made tropical carrot cupcakes, but not a full carrot cake. So, it was time to change that.
When it comes to making something for the first time, I look to America's Test Kitchen. America's Test Kitchen is the home of Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country magazines, and they have the public television shows America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country from America's Test Kitchen. America's Test Kitchen has test cooks and editors who exhaustively examine every ingredient, technique, and equipment that is critical to baking and cooking success; as part of this, they don't stop testing and examining until they formulate the perfect recipe. I find their recipes consistently reliable--and delicious. They don't just give you a recipe; rather, they give you an explanation behind how they reached that recipe.
The cake was very simple to make, especially since it involved using the food processor (looking back, I can't believe how long I went without a food processor!). I made this cake for a dinner party with friends, and it got rave reviews! It was moist and full of flavor; the amount of spices was perfect. Many carrot cakes often taste dense, and this cake was must lighter. If you like cake without frosting, all the power to you; to me, a frosting makes a cake, so I made cream cheese frosting to go with it. It was the perfect complement! Next time, I would probably scrape a vanilla bean instead of using a vanilla extract. The vanilla bean speckles always add a nice touch!
For this recipe, they recommended using a 13 by 9-inch pan. Since I did not have a 13 by 9-inch pan, I opted to use to 9 inch cake pans. Normally, I have no problem removing cakes from my pans. However, it was difficult to remove these cakes. So, if you opt to go the circular cake pan route, make sure to use the greased parchment paper rounds.
Before I took a cake decorating course, I always used a cake slicer to even out the top of the cake (or, in other words, to get rid of the dome). In my cake decorating course, I learned a trick of the trade: cake strips. Cake strips are made from the same material as astronaut suits, and by wrapping them around your cake pans, you end up with perfectly level cakes. In fact, since using them, I've never had a cake with domes, crusty edges, or a cracked center.
Remember, this cake has vegetables (carrots), fruits (raisins), and protein (nuts), so it is really health food.
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1 lb. carrots, peeled
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed (3 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil (canola or safflower would also worked)
1 cup raisins, optional
1 1/2 cups walnuts and pecans, optional
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position; heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 9-inch circular cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper and spray the parchment.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flower, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt. Set aside.
In a food processor, shred the carrots (you should end up with 3 cups). After the carrots are shredded, add the carrots to the bowl with the dry ingredients and set aside. Clean out the food processor and add the metal blade. Combine the sugar with the eggs until frothy and combined, about 20 seconds. As the machine runs, add the oil through the feed tube in a steady stream. Process until the mixture is light and well emulsified, about 30 seconds longer. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl, and stir in the carrots and dry ingredients until well incorporated with no traces of flour remaining.
Pour into the prepared pans, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 50 minutes (40 minutes if you do not add raisins and nuts). Rotate the pans from front to back halfway through the baking time. Cool the cakes to room temperature in the pans on a wire rack, about two hours.
Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
10 tbsp. softened unsalted butter
2 tbsp. yogurt (or sour cream; Greek yogurt would also work)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
11 ounces confectioners' sugar (also known as powdered sugar)
After the cake has cooled, process the cream cheese, butter, and yogurt in a food process or stand mixer until well combined (this takes about 10 seconds in a food processor and about two minutes in a stand mixer). After well confined, add the confectioners' sugar and process until smooth. In a food processor, this takes about 10 seconds. Layer and frost cakes as desired. (Note: if you are making the 13 x 9 version of this cake, I would half the frosting recipe, as this frosting yields enough to layer the cakes.)
Source: Adapted from Baking Illustrated