My memories of Carrot Cake are a dense mass of gooey brown cake with long shreds of partially cooked carrots that stuck to the roof of my mouth – and normally with pineapple thrown in for some extra-gooeyness. Definitely not good memories.
But we ran across this cake a few months ago and have been experimenting with the recipe. We’ve found fresh grated ginger, freshly ground cinnamon & nutmeg are the keys to making this carrot cake stand out. If you use nutmeg and cinnamon out of jars, regardless of when you bought them, trust us: take the time to grind your own. The difference is incredible. And while dehydrated pulverized ginger is fine for — er, well, I’m not sure what I would really use it for — freshly grated ginger is so much more flavorful and far less biting than dessicated ginger powder.
- (3) 9″ cake pans – preferably 3″ deep
- parchment paper
- microplane for grating nutmeg & fresh ginger
- mortar and pestle (to break cinnamon sticks into manageable bits)
- spice grinder (we use an old coffee grinder)
- kitchen scale
- stand mixer
- off-set spatula
- 9.6 ounces all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 7½ ounces brown sugar
- 3½ ounces granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 pound shredded carrots
- 1 cup finely chopped pecans
- 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans for decoration
- 1½ pounds (3 packages) cream cheese at room temperature
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¾ pound (3 sticks) butter at room temperature
- 3 pounds confectioners sugar sifted to remove lumps
- 2 Tablespoons vanilla flavor
Prepare the cakes
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Butter the bottoms of cake pans, line with parchment & butter entire pan. Dust lightly with flour.
- Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in small bowl and whisk to combine.
- Combine water, vanilla and grated ginger in small measuring cup. Set aside.
In a mortar break about 3 inches of a cinnamon stick, crush into relatively small pieces (about 1” long) with the pestle. Transfer cinnamon pieces to spice grinder and grind until cinnamon is relatively fine. You will still have some ‘bits’ of cinnamon – as long as they are relatively small they should be fine since they will soften as the cakes cook and the nuts will mask the texture.
- Beat butter and sugars on medium speed until fluffy and pale – about 2 minutes.
- With mixer on low speed, add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg. When last egg is added turn mixer to medium and beat for 3 minutes.
- Turn mixer off and add water/vanilla/ginger mixture and carrots. Starting on lowest speed, mix to combine, then beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.
- With mixer on lowest speed slowly add flour mixture and chopped pecans. Mix just until combined. Don’t overmix.
- Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans.
- Bake approximately 30 minutes, rotating pans about halfway through. Cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Cool pans on wire rack for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen, and cool cakes on wire racks (right side up) completely.
Prepare the frosting
Prepare Cream Cheese Frosting when cakes are almost cool. If necessary this can be refrigerated but should be brought to room temperature before use.
- Add salt to cream cheese and mix at medium speed until creamy (about 30 seconds).
- At medium speed add butter in 2 Tablespoon chunks mixing well between additions.
- With mixer at lowest speed slowly add powdered sugar to cream cheese mixture mixing to incorporate between additions. As more sugar is incorporated you may need to increase mixer speed.
- Add vanilla extract and mix at medium speed about 2 minutes. Frosting should be glossy and very smooth. Do not overmix.
If not using immediately cover by pressing plastic wrap against surface of frosting to prevent a crust from forming. You may also refrigerate by wrapping tightly. Be sure to bring to room temperature before use.
Assembling the Cake
Cakes should feel cool to the touch before you start: a warm cake will turn the frosting into a puddle of butter & cream cheese.
- Spread about ½ cup of frosting on cake circle or cake plate, place bottom layer top-side-down in center of cake plate. Slide sheets of parchment under the edges to protect the cake plate while frosting.
- Scoop about 1 cup of frosting onto bottom layer, spread almost to edges and then top with middle layer top-side-up.
- Scoop about 1 cup of frosting on middle layer and spread almost to edges. Top spread frosting with last layer top-side-down (the bottom is the flattest side of a cake).
- Coat top and sides of cake with a thin layer of frosting using an off-set spatula. Discard and excess frosting scraped off the cake during this process: there are probably bits of cake hidden inside.
- Refrigerate cake for about ½ hour to stabilize filling and set crumb coat.
- Finish frosting cake.
A crumb coat is a thin layer of frosting that will prevent the random bits of cake from flaking off.
- Arrange 1 cup of pecan pieces around sides of cake and press gently to set each piece.
- Remove parchment paper by pulling out and down slightly. Use the edge of a knife to clean up any wisps of frosting that followed the parchment, pressing gently against the pecans to seat them securely – but don’t mash them in too deep.
For decoration I shave a slice out of the center of a large carrot, trim it into a carrot shape and create carrot greens with a tiny sprig of mint from the garden.