Carrot Cake! Who doesn’t love it?
Well, I’m sure there are a few, but I’m not so sure I want to know them!
Carrot Cake was huge in the 1970s. It was in the top five fad foods of the decade. probably an early attempt by a bunch of hippies to come UP with a healthy dessert.
Yeah, like there’s any such thing!
But, 70s aside, Carrot Cake is actually hundreds of years old.
Carrots have been used in sweet cakes since the medieval times. Sweeteners were rare and scarce and costly. Carrots were everywhere! And it didn’t take folks long to realize that carrots contain more sugar than any other veggie other than the sugar beet!
There is no record of the first carrot cake, Betty Crocker’s great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother probably couldn’t write, and the tradition was passed on through lore.
The first big revival of carrot cake came during WW II in Great Britain; sugar along with just about everything else was rationed, but again, carrots were every where. As late as 2011, the carrot cake was voted the favorite cake of our cousins across the pond.
It became available in restaurants in the 1960s, mostly as a novelty, but by the 70s. it was a staple.
Just like disco, men with perms, and Nixon, carrot cake fell out of favor in the 80s.
But, just like disco, men with perms, and well…it’s back.
While watching America’s Test Kitchen this past week, I was challenged to make a carrot cake from their show.
No one held a gun to my head, I love to bake, and it’s a square cake, so viola! I got to use my Fostoria American square cake plate on a stand that I may have mentioned a time or two.
Here’s the recipe…and a few pictures of the process.
- 1 3/4cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 2teaspoons baking powder
- 1teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3/4teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 1/4cups (8 3/4 ounces) light brown sugar
- 3/4cup vegetable oil
- 3large eggs
- 1teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 2/3cups shredded carrots (4 carrots)
- 2/3cups dried currants
- 16tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 3cups (12 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
- 1/3cup buttermilk powder*
- 2teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4teaspoon salt
- 12ounces cream cheese, chilled and cut into 12 equal pieces
- 2cups (8 ounces) pecans, toasted
- and chopped coarse
1. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease 18 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet, line with parchment paper, and grease parchment.
Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves together in large bowl.
2. Whisk sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla together until mixture is smooth. Stir in carrots and currants. Add flour mixture and fold with rubber spatula until mixture is just combined.
It will look like this…
3. Transfer batter to prepared baking sheet and smooth surface with offset spatula.
Bake until center of cake is firm to touch, 15 to 18 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes.Invert cake onto wire rack (do not remove parchment) and then reinvert onto second wire rack. Cool cake completely, about 30 minutes.
4. FOR THE FROSTING:
Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter, sugar, buttermilk powder, vanilla, and salt on low speed until smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Increase speed to medium-low; add cream cheese, 1 piece at a time; and mix until smooth, about 2 minutes.
(I used a hand mixer, even though I have a giant Kitchen Aid I can barely lift, and I dumped it all in at once.)
5. Transfer cooled cake to cutting board, parchment side down. Using sharp chef’s knife, cut cake and parchment in half crosswise and then lengthwise to make 4 equal rectangles, about 6 by 8 inches each.
6. Place 6 by 8-inch cardboard rectangle on cake turntable or plate. Place 1 cake rectangle, parchment side up, on cardboard and carefully remove parchment. Using offset spatula, spread 2/3 cup frosting evenly over cake layer.
Repeat with two more layers of cake, frosting each layer with 2/3 cup frosting and pressing gently on each layer to level.
Place last rectangle of cake on top and frost top of cake with 1 cup frosting. Use remaining frosting to coat sides of cake. (It’s fine if some crumbs show through frosting on sides, but if you go back to smooth top of cake, be sure that spatula is free of crumbs.)
7. Hold cake with 1 hand and gently press chopped pecans onto sides with other hand. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving.
- To Make Ahead: The cake may be refrigerated for up to 24 hours before serving.
- Serves 10 to 12
Some special tips:
Shred the carrots on the large holes of a box grater or in a food processor fitted with the shredding disk. Do not substitute liquid buttermilk for the buttermilk powder. To ensure the proper spreading consistency for the frosting, use cold cream cheese. If your baked cake is of an uneven thickness, adjust the orientation of the layers as they are stacked to produce a level cake. Assembling this cake on a cardboard cake round trimmed to a 6 by 8-inch rectangle makes it easy to press the pecans onto the sides of the frosted cake.
The cake is aromatic, tasty, and rich. It’s also a little labor intensive. But fun to make. I didn’t want to mow the yard anyway!
*the buttermilk powder is crucial to the structure of the cake. Most cream cheese frostings are too thin to hold a cake like this together. The buttermilk powder gives the tangy taste of cream cheese frosting but has a firmer consistency allowing the cake to hold together and not slide all over your guests. Which would be bad!
**also, the store had no currants, so I used raisins, which is what most traditional carrot cakes call for.