We all know Bugs Bunny can't resist the temptation of a carrot (as shown in the title of this post). And the ever-expanding healthy movement has embraced it's nutritional values as the perfect snacking commodity (especially with hummus, a personal favorite!). But who ever got the idea to put carrots into a dessert?
According to Wikipedia, using carrots as a sweetening agent has been in effect since medieval times, given it was more affordable and readily available than conventional sweeteners. The carrot was a good substitute because, like the sugar beet, it has a higher sugar content than other vegetables. Sweet and cheap? Bugs Bunny couldn't have put it better...
Now that I've ranted about carrots, I should confess that this cake by no means solely depends on the sugar content of the carrot. It packs a LOT of flavor, and is a bit more of an intense carrot cake than the one grandma used to make. Nonetheless, I can guarantee you won't be disappointed.
Now let's talk about this cake - the recipe comes from one of my favorite blogs, SimplyRecipes, and is apparently a family heirloom. I made this for a trumpet friend of mine, Tom Daniels - granted, his birthday had been several weeks prior, but I keep my word. Obviously we have carrots, but there are two power ingredients in this recipe that caught my attention. The secret to a great carrot cake is getting the perfect moist texture. Most recipes use oil (from safflower to olive, the latter being what I used), but some call for either crushed pineapple or applesauce as well. This one uses crushed pineapple, a flavor I feel pairs better with carrot in this instance. But it was the addition of shredded COCONUT that made me realize this was an offer I couldn't refuse.
I warned you this was an intense carrot cake. But I've always had the "sky's the limit" approach when trying new baking recipes, so this was right up my alley. That being said, there are plenty of other recipes out there worth trying. One recipe I can personally recommend is from the Joy of Baking. I just couldn't resist that coconut...
Okay, so I slipped up on this recipe - I completely forgot to add the walnuts to the batter. To my credit, it was 95 DEGREES outside, and thinking becomes a little cloudy when you are standing in a kitchen, while preheating an oven, and the weather feels as though it could bake a cake itself (also my excuse for not having as many photos during the process). My solution? Add the nuts (even more finely chopped than what the recipe calls for) to the cream cheese icing! So it sort of defeat the purpose, but that killer set of ingredients did their job without fail and it still turned out to be an AMAZING cake!
Notes: I used unsweetened coconut and added about 1 tsp of confectioner's sugar and a few drop of water. The recipe says it will take about 45 - 50 minutes, whereas mine took about 40 - 42. Make sure to check after 35 just to be safe. Also (as reflected in the directions) I mixed the ingredients a little differently than called for to a) allow better incorporation and b) prevent the works from flying all over my kitchen.
Carrot Cake Recipe
Adapted from SimplyRecipes
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 Tbsp baking soda
- 1 Tbsp cinnamon
- 1 1/2 cups olive oil or grapeseed oil
- 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups shelled walnuts, chopped (what I left out, oops! Reserve extra for garnish)
- 1 1/2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut (I used unsweetened + 1 tsp powdered sugar)
- 2 cups of finely grated carrots
- 1 cup of drained crushed pineapple
- 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
- 2 1/2 cups of confectioners' sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- (technically this is where the walnuts fell in my own creation)
For Cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Sift dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer). Combine oil, eggs, and vanilla in a separate bowl (I would suggest a wet measure cup or comparably sized pitcher to allow easy pouring). Slowly incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry, beating on a low speed after every addition. Once all the oil mixture has been incorporated, make sure to beat well. Fold in chopped walnuts, coconut, carrots and pineapple (or in my case, forget about the walnuts, haha!)
Pour batter into pans. Set on the middle rack of oven and bake for 45-50 minutes (shift positions of cakes front-to-back if necessary about halfway through), until edges have pulled away from sides and a toothpick or sharp knife tip inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a cake rack.
For Icing: Cream together the cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl. Slowly sift in the confectioners sugar and beat until mixture is free of lumps. Stir in vanilla and lemon juice.
For Assembly: Once cakes have cooled, place one layer, flat side down, on a cake plate/caddy/presentation platter of choosing and spread about 1/2-cup of frosting over top. Top with second layer and frost the remainder of the cake. Sprinkle top with chopped walnuts or arrange walnut halves in a crown around the top (Note: if you forgot the nuts, like me, then feel free to add them in between the layers as well as around the cake).