Carrot Cake

January 9, 2012

I have a question to ask you.  Before I get to that, I know you probably have a question for me.  “Where did you get the stars on that cake?”  And because I appreciate you (did I mention that in my 2011 recap? I do so appreciate you), I will answer your question first.  I slipped those stars into a King Arthur Flour order that also included chocolate sprinkles and chocolate bars perfect for making petits pains au chocolat.  It looks like the stars were a seasonal thing but you can buy the chocolate here.  (And while you are on that site, I can’t recommend the silicon rolling mat highly enough.  Whenever I teach a class and use it, people always ask about it.  (I have no affiliation with King Arthur Flour, I just love them.)

On to my question.  Cake or frosting?  Yes, some people are both but in my experience, people identify with being one or the other.  I am cake all the way.  I remember being at birthday parties as a child and asking for a piece of the store-bought cake with the rose on it because that is what all the other kids did, tasting the rose, and then scraping all the frosting off so I could get to the (hopefully) chocolate cake underneath.  Cake girl, right here.  Frosting is too sweet, too buttery, just too much for me.

There are two exceptions.  One is this cake where the frosting is so delicious, so ridiculously decadent, that I love it even more than the cake.  (And I really love that moist chocolatey cake.)  The other exception is carrot cake.  I am, um, not a fan of carrot cake.  Just not for me.  I do like cream cheese frosting and so, in the case of carrot cake, I would scrape off the frosting and leave the cake.

Randy and I are different in many ways.  I do believe it’s one of the reasons our marriage works.  We have different strengths and weaknesses and we balance each other.  One of his weaknesses is that his favorite cake is, you guessed it, carrot cake.  (Kidding.  Of course.  Kind of.)  I’ve made him carrot cupcakes and inside out carrot cake cookies, but never in all the years we have been together have I made him carrot cake.  His birthday was on January 2nd and his parents, who gave me a cookbook with a lovely sounding carrot cake were in town, so it was time.

Most people who don’t like carrot cake don’t like the idea of a vegetable in a cake.  I don’t like it because, while I like nuts, raisins, pineapple, and coconut – I don’t like them in cake and I certainly don’t like them all together in one cake as some recipes would have you make.  The carrots are the least of my problems.  So when I found a cake that featured none of those extras, just a lot of spices and even a bit of whole wheat flour along with the carrots, I knew I had my recipe.  Of course, the frosting is great too.  I’m sorry I don’t have a photo of a slice of cake.  I was serving this to a large group and had to cut very thin slices and I happen to think a thin slice of cake, while delicious, is a little sad looking.  One more note, the children in the group were all clamoring for a second piece before they were half way done with their first – until they learned that it was, in fact, carrot cake – and then the table got very quiet.

One Year Ago:  Herbed and Spiced Goat Cheese Balls
Two Years Ago:  Petites Pissaladières
Three Years Ago:  Poblano and Cheddar Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms

Carrot Cake
Adapted from Cake Ladies
Makes 1 9-inch 3-layer cake

My one quibble with this cake is that the actual cakes were on the flat side.  I might one and a half the recipe for the batter next time so the cake it a little taller. 

For the cake:
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted better, at room temperature
1¾ cups sugar
¼ cup molasses
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole wheat flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. nutmeg
1½ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
2 cups grated carrots
Zest of 1 lemon

For the icing:
2 packages (1 pound) cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
5 cups powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Spray the bottom and sides of 3 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray.  Place the pans on a sheet of parchment paper and trace three circles the same size as the bottoms of the pans.  Cut out the circles and place in the bottom of the greased pans.

Make the Batter:
Cream the butter, sugar, and molasses together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy.  While beating the mixture on low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat again until the mixture is smooth, light and creamy.

Stir the flours, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and spices together into a separate bowl.

With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl sveral times.  Mix lightly but thoroughly between each addition, until ingredients are just combined.  Add the carrots and lemon zest, and stir by hand until combined.

Gently scrape the batter into the pans, dividing the batter  evenly between the three pans.  Place in the preheated oven, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the sides of the cake have pulled away from the sides of the pan.  Allow the cakes to cool for 20 minutes, then run a thin knife around the edges of the cakes (a palette knife works best) to make sure they are not stuck to the pans.  Carefully remove the layers from the pans and settle on a wire rack to finish cooling.

Make the icing:
Cream the cream cheese and butter together in the bowl of a stand mixer on low speed.  Beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy and no lumps of butter remain.  Add and combine the vanilla.  Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, blending on low speed until fully incorporated.  Using the rubber spatula, scrape down the paddle, sides , and bottom of the bowl.  Beat the mixture on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Assemble the cake:
When the layers are completely cool, invert the first layer onto a cake plate so that the parchment side is up.  Carefully peel off the parchment and throw it away.  Spread about 1 cup of the cream cheese icing on the top surface of the cake with an offset spatula, pushing the icing all the way to the edges.  Place the second layer on top of the first and repeat the process – removing the parchment paper and spreadting the icing.  Top with the third layer and apply a very thin coating of icing (a crumb coat) all over the cake.  Refrigerate for 1 hour.  Remove and finishing covering the cake with the icing.

Carrot Cake can be kept covered at room temperature for up to three days and can be refrigerated for up to one week.


  1. Cute stars on the top! I LOVE carrot cake, in fact, that’s what I made this year for my birthday, 5 layers of it. That’s nice of you to still make it for your husband :)

    Comment by Julia — January 9, 2012 @ 11:47 pm

  2. dana
    you know my love for you and your blog runs deep. (lol)
    but for the love, where is the photo of the inside of the cake?
    the money shot?

    Comment by vanillasugarblog — January 10, 2012 @ 12:24 am

  3. Beautiful! Carrot cake is one of my favorite all time desserts!

    Comment by Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar — January 10, 2012 @ 12:36 am

  4. I love carrot cake, but I too hate when it’s loaded with nuts, coconut, or any other add in. The last few times I’ve made it though, I’ve actually ground the nuts and folded them into the batter. I think it imparts a really nice flavor on the cake but keeps it from feeling like the dessert is overwhelmed with different textures. I’ll have to try this one, recipe looks spot on!

    Comment by Clara — January 10, 2012 @ 1:07 am

  5. I love those stars!

    I’ve never in my life eaten carrotte cake with anything in it like you described, yuck. But my mom was a boxed cakemix gal, so I’ve had plenty of plain carrotte cake. I have a from-scratch recipe that I’ve been using for years that did call for coconut in the frosting, but I just leave it out. That is, if I use frosting at all — I like cake enough to eat it alone, or with a sprinkling of cinnamon-sugar on the top [if added before going into the oven the sugar makes a slightly crunchy top, added after coming out of the oven the sugar can melt into the warm cake].

    Just like quick breads, vegetable/fruit-based cakes all tend to be denser, and therefore flatter, than those without. :-)

    Comment by Panya — January 10, 2012 @ 1:58 am

  6. I really love both cake AND frosting. LOVE. Serious love.

    Probably I veer maybe a bit more toward frosting. But my love for each is so great that it’s not really enough more to speak of it. That makes no sense. Ignore me.

    I’ll be making this. I love carrot cake, as I think I’ve told you. I always leave the nuts and pineapple and raisins out though. So it’s basically just a carrot spice cake with the best frosting ever on it. Okay by me!

    Comment by Joanne — January 10, 2012 @ 2:29 am

  7. Carrot cake slices are so hard to get a good picture of. I think the trick might be to freeze the cake. But uggg, that would be a PIA!

    Comment by leslie — January 10, 2012 @ 2:39 am

  8. I love carrot cake mostly because I love cream cheese frosting, but also the lovely spices in the cake. The only thing I add is maybe walnuts, but none of those other additions. This one looks beautiful.

    Comment by Anna — January 10, 2012 @ 3:27 am

  9. I am not a frosting gal…not much of a cake gal either, it is all about the cookies for me. I do like some cakes and this one looks like a winner!

    Comment by Maria — January 10, 2012 @ 4:42 am

  10. That’s a lovely cake. I love the cream cheese frosting.

    Comment by Nithu, SpicyTasty — January 10, 2012 @ 4:59 am

  11. I’m with you on carrot cake, although last year I made one for my sister-in-law’s birthday – full of ginger as well, and I made it in a bundt pan just to be different and it was divine. I love the stars on this and the frosting looks so pretty.

    Comment by Charlotte — January 10, 2012 @ 5:39 am

  12. I’m TOTALLY a cake girl, I ditch the frosting, and go for cake. This cake looks beautiful, and sounds delicious. I have been wondering where folks buy those pretty pearls for decorating cookies. Now I have a bookmark for them (pinning this to my pinterest page…NOW!)

    Comment by Monique — January 10, 2012 @ 3:09 pm

  13. King Arthur Flour… my grandmother taught me how to bake bread from a small King Arthur Flour cookbook. She insisted on ordering King Arthur Flour. Always. Great memories today, just from reading your post. Thanks!

    Comment by Mary Miller / A Passionate Plate — January 10, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

  14. Happy Belated Bday to your hubby! Nothing like starting the year with a bang! ;-)

    I feel my relationship with my husband is similar, we are opposites in many ways, and it works so well… He believes that a cake without frosting is not a real cake. I find frosting to be overkill. But, interestingly enough, the carrot cake of my childhood had a chocolate icing. I’ve been meaning to get that recipe (very traditional Brazilian recipe, by the way) and blog about it sometime

    but your icing with the decorations are awesome, very classy, perfect for a celebration!

    Comment by SallyBR — January 10, 2012 @ 7:53 pm

  15. Your cake is so gorgeous- I love carrot cake over any other cake hands down!! Molasses is a wonderful addition! As always, I love your blog! Nettie

    Comment by Moore Or Less Cooking — January 10, 2012 @ 8:42 pm

  16. I’m definitely a cake girl, too (with maybe the exception of chocolate cream cheese frosting)! What I really like about this recipe for carrot cake is that it uses butter instead of oil! I am not a fan of baked goods made with oil — to me, it makes for an unpleasant texture… Your cake is lovely! I will make a note to get some of those KA stars next holiday season! Happy birthday to Randy, belatedly!

    Comment by Pam — January 10, 2012 @ 8:45 pm

  17. I LOVE cake, and I can do without frosting…it’s usually too sweet for me. I do like a mild cream cheese frosting though. I just bought a slice of carrot cake today from Whole Foods, perfect timing!

    Comment by melinda ke — January 10, 2012 @ 9:05 pm

  18. Thanks so much for sharing this cake. I love cake and can’t wait to try it. I would love to see a slice piece of cake.

    Comment by Stephanie — January 10, 2012 @ 9:15 pm

  19. Happy belated birthday to Randy! And a Happy Happy New Year to all of you. I am behind, or catching up on December, with all my reading and just had a moment to visit you over a cup of tea.

    I have to say I am more of a cake girl but when it is a good frosting, I can eat the whole bowl. It cannot be too sweet, needs to be really creamy! Lenny loves carrot cake as well, and I never got a chance to make one last year, will have to try your new recipe in July.


    Comment by Chez Us — January 11, 2012 @ 1:21 am

  20. I’m with you on the cake and with you on the cream cheese frosting/carrot cake. I made carrot cake twice in December – once for my husband’s birthday and once for my friend’s. Turns out it’s one of the easiest and best cakes to make gluten-free, hence making it the second time. I’ll have to try it without the raisins and nuts on the next atttempt. I think I’ve had enough of it for awhile though!

    Comment by Luann — January 11, 2012 @ 3:39 pm

  21. i LOVE carrot cake, it’s certainly a favorite. However, just like you, I don’t like all the junk inside. I am a just carrots and maybe a bit of coconut girl. No nuts, raisins or pinneapple, blech. I’m sure Randy appreciated it, what a beauty.

    Comment by sara — January 11, 2012 @ 5:13 pm

  22. Hi I often came here in your blog but I think I had never commented yet!
    I love carrot cakes and this one is really beautiful!

    Would you like to partecipate to my Blog contest about eggs free dessert?!
    I hope you will do!
    here is the post (also in english)

    Comment by Cle — January 28, 2012 @ 11:31 am

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