For as long as I can remember, I’ve disliked carrot cake. I think my aversion comes from the variety of textures found in the cake. Worst of all, of course, is the possibility of undercooked carrots. Then you have plump raisins and crunchy nuts that will certainly have lost some of their crunch. A dry cake means the carrot shavings stand out too much, but a wet cake can quickly become too dense.
When I harvested many pounds of carrots from my garden recently, I started brainstorming the different dishes using carrots I could make. Clearly, I would have to face my carrot cake fears. Was there truly no carrot cake a hater like me couldn’t love?
I started reviewing recipes and quickly learned there are two distinct types: those that include crushed pineapple and those that don’t. Curious to taste a recipe with this secret ingredient, I narrowed my search. Ultimately I settled on Ina Garten’s version. I was heartened by the five-star rating and many comments (out of 456 total) that said some variation of “The best cake in the world!”
That didn’t stop me from making some changes to address two areas of concern: The texture and the frosting. One of the other recipes I considered was Cook’s Illustrated’s recipe from their May/June 2012 issue. I was particularly intrigued by their cream cheese frosting, which included buttermilk powder for extra tang and body. They also used currants instead of raisins and moved the pecans to the outside of cake. I incorporated these changes.
Of course, there’s one more divide in the carrot cake community: Whether to use shredded coconut in the batter and/or frosting. My distaste for undercooked carrot shavings is only outweighed by my absolute revulsion toward coconut shavings, especially when baked into something. It’s a texture thing, OK? There was no way I was going to include coconut in my carrot cake.
This is not “the best cake in the world,” but it might be the best carrot cake in the world. I have had no trouble eating multiple pieces each day (dessert for lunch and dinner) since I baked it on Sunday.
Here’s why it’s great: Even though this recipe uses a lot of carrots (4 cups, while most recipes use 2 to 3 cups) that horrible undercooked carrot texture is missing. The carrots totally fade into the background, while providing that familiar color. The cake is moist, without being too dense. The smaller currants aren’t as distracting as big bites of raisins. I love having the pecans on the outside of the cake – they remain super crunchy, while cutting some of the sweetness of the frosting. And yes, the frosting is extra-tangy.
If I have to make carrot cake again, this is the recipe I’ll use.
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
- 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup currants
- 1 pound carrots, peeled
- 1/2 cup diced fresh pineapple
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 3 cups (12 ounces) powdered sugar
- 1/3 cup buttermilk powder
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 12 ounces cream cheese, cubed into 12 pieces
- 2 cups (8 ounces) pecans, toasted (just buy the cheaper pecan pieces rather than buying whole pecan halves and chopping them up)
Step 4. Toss the currants with 1 teaspoon of flour – this helps the currants stay suspended in the batter and not sink to the bottom. Then add the currants, pineapple and carrots to the batter and mix well. Don’t worry about the seemingly massive amount of carrots at this point.
Step 9. Frost the cake. I didn’t go out to the very edge for my middle frosting layer, which was a mistake. This frosting is indeed firm, and didn’t squish out between the cake layers. To apply the chopped and toasted pecans, hold them in your hand and gently press against the side of the cake. Stick individual pecans in the blank spaces.
This cake is easiest to slice when it is chilled slightly, but it shouldn’t get too cold. Then you lose some of the more subtle flavors.