I don’t really get carrot cake. I don’t hate it. But what’s the appeal? Vegetables in cake – it just ain’t right. Wouldn’t you rather have a more logical flavoring for cake – chocolate or vanilla or strawberries or butter? If it’s the spices you love, pair them with apples. If it’s the cream cheese frosting, spread it on chocolate cake. But don’t put vegetables in my dessert. It just ain’t right.
So I can’t say I was ecstatic to see Amanda’s choice for this week’s TWD recipe. Plus, while I usually enjoy the creativity that comes from having someone else choose a recipe for me, it’s a problem when I already have a similar recipe picked out to try. I’ve had my eye on Cooks Illustrated’s carrot cake recipe for years, I guess with the idea that if anyone could make me love carrot cake, it would be CI.
I thought I could kill two birds with one stone – I’d make Dorie’s recipe and CI’s, and that way I could compare them. My mom has a recipe she loves, so I threw that into the mix as well. They each call for four eggs, so it would be easy to quarter each recipe. Then I decided that that would still be too much carrot cake, so I got all OCD and decided to use one egg total, but still make all three recipes, so I made one twelfth of each recipe. It was a pain in the ass even with good math skills and a digital scale. I skipped all of the chunky ingredients (coconut, raisins, nuts) in Dorie’s recipe so that the recipes would be more equivalent and comparable.
The three recipes weren’t drastically different in their ingredient lists, although the mixing method varied. After baking, Dorie’s and CI’s carrot cakes look very similar, but my mom’s recipe, which was the only one that didn’t call for baking powder, didn’t rise nearly as much. (CI’s is the bottom layer, then my mom’s recipe, then Dorie’s.)
Unfortunately, I can’t give a good comparison of the three cakes. I’ve only had one slice, and the cream cheese frosting pleasantly dominated the taste of the cake. I’ll try harder next time, scraping off the frosting and eating the cake plain. And then finishing dessert off with a spoonful of pure, unadulterated sugary cream cheese frosting.
Update/Comparison: I really didn’t eat much of this cake, so I can’t give a very good comparison. That being said, I think Dorie’s recipe was my favorite. My mom’s needs baking powder so it will rise higher. Cooks Illustrated uses both brown and granulated sugar, and I think using all granulated sugar gave the cake more flavor. I do like CI’s mixing method though. Because most of the ingredients are similar, in the future, I’ll probably use CI’s recipe with all granulated sugar.
Bill’s Big Carrot Cake (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)
For the cake:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon salt
3 cups grated carrots (about 9 carrots, you can grate them in food processor fitted w/ a shredding a blade or use a box grater)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
½ cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden) or dried cranberries
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs
For the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound (16 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or ½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
½ cup shredded coconut (optional)
Finely chopped toasted nuts and/or toasted shredded coconut (optional)
Getting ready: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter three 9- by 2-inch round cake pans, flour the insides, and tap out the excess. Put the two pans on one baking sheet and one on another.
To make the cake:
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, coconut, and raisins.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the sugar and oil together on a medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one by one and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear. Gently mix the chunky ingredients. Divide the batter among the baking pans.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until a thin knife inserted into the centers comes out clean. The cakes will have just started to come away from the sides of the pans. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes and unmold them. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.
The cakes can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.
To make the frosting:
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth. Beat in the lemon juice or extract.
If you’d like coconut in the filling, scoop about half of the frosting and stir the coconut into this position.
To assemble the cake:
Put one layer top side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. If you added the coconut to the frosting, use half of the coconut frosting to generously cover the first layer (or generously cover with plain frosting). Use an offset spatula or a spoon to smooth the frosting all the way to the edges of the layer. Top with the second layer, this time placing the cake stop side down, and frost with the remainder of the coconut frosting or plain frosting. Top with the last layer, right side up, and frost the top- and the sides- of the cake. Finish the top with swirls of frosting. If you want to top the cake with toasted nuts or coconut, sprinkle them on now while the frosting is soft.
Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes, just to set the frosting before serving.
Serving: This cake can be served as soon as the frosting is set. It can also wait, at room temperature and covered with a cake keeper overnight. The cake is best served in thick slices at room temperature and while it’s good plain, it’s even better with vanilla ice cream or some lemon curd.
Storing: The cake will keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. It can also be frozen. Freeze it uncovered, then when it’s firm, wrap airtight and freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.
Simple Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (from Cooks Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe)
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon gound cloves
½ teaspoon salt
1 pound (6-7 medium) carrots, peeled
1½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1½ cups safflower, canola or vegetable oil
Cream cheese frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, softened but still cool
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 tablespoon sour cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ cups confectioners’ sugar
For the cake:
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13 by 9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment and spray the parchment.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt in a large bowl; set aside.
3. In a food processor fitted with a large shredding disk, shred the carrots (you should have about 3 cups); transfer the carrots to a bowl and set aside. Wipe out the food processor workbowl and fit with the metal blade. Process the granulated and brown sugars and eggs until frothy and thoroughly combined, about 20 seconds. With the machine running, add the oil through the feed tube in a steady stream. Process until the mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 20 seconds longer. Scrape the mixture into a medium bowl. Stir in the carrots and the dry ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain. If you like nuts in your cake, stir 1½ cups toasted chopped pecans or walnuts into the batter along with the carrots. Raisins are also a good addition; 1 cup can be added along with the carrots. If you add both nuts and raisins, the cake will need and additional 10 to 12 minutes in the oven. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. cool the cake to room temperature in the pan on a wire rack, about 2 hours.
For the frosting
1. When the cake is cool, process the cream cheese, butter, sour cream, and vanilla in a clean food processor workbowl until combined, about 5 seconds, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the confectioners’ sugar and process until smooth, about 10 seconds.
2. Run a paring knife around the edge of the cake to loosen from the pan. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, peel off the parchment, then invert again onto a serving platter. Using an icing spatula, spread the frosting evenly over the surface of the cake. Cut into squares and serve.
Carrot Cake (from my mom, and I don’t know where she got the recipe)
1½ (10.5 ounces) cup sugar
2 cups (10 ounces) flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (scant)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup cooking oil
3 cups (16 ounces) finely grated carrots (raw)
4 whole eggs
Sift dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl making sure they are thoroughly mixed. Add cooking oil and blend. Add eggs ONE at a time and mix (by hand). Stir in carrots. Bake in two deep cake pans sprayed with Pam. Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes until cakes spring back in center or toothpick comes clean. Cool 10-15 minutes. Remove from pans and frost while warm.
Cream cheese frosting:
1 8 ounce package cream cheese (regular, not low or non-fat)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
4½ cups (16 ounces) powdered sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Let cheese and butter sit at room temperature for half an hour, then mix thoroughly. Add powdered sugar slowly, alternating with vanilla. Stir in nuts last. Frost and enjoy.