On a fateful night back in November, Anthony and I were at a party. And, as one often does at parties, I had a few adult beverages. Maybe it was the wine talking or maybe it was just me, but somewhere between having a lovely conversation with our friends about their upcoming wedding and hugging everyone goodbye, I offered to bake their wedding cake.
That was all well and good, except for one tiny problem: I have never made a wedding cake before. (Oops!)
The morning after the party I woke up and thought, “What have I gotten myself into?!?” But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try. The real incentive was that the couple had requested carrot cake, and I didn’t have a great recipe for it. I knew this would force me to find the perfect one, so I wrote them a (perfectly sober) email reiterating my offer. And for some unknown reason, they agreed.
Soon I set to work testing cakes. I narrowed it down to a handful recipes that looked good and came from trustworthy sources, and I baked each one – about six in all – to figure out which one I liked best. I forced carrot cake on all our friends and coworkers for months, hounding them for opinions and feedback. Raisins or dried cranberries? Carrots too stringy? More spices or less? Walnuts or pecans? Too sweet? Too wet? Too dry? Too dense? Each cake had good points, but not one had it all. So, I took a page from mom’s book, and figured out what I liked about each one and combined them into one recipe. Then I tested my version a few more times, tweaking it as I went.
I believe this cake is perfect, at least to my taste buds. But I think the real triumph is the frosting. I tried 5 different recipes and didn’t like any of them. Fed up, I just threw 2 packages of cream cheese and 2 sticks of butter in my stand mixer and beat the hell out of them. I added a pinch of salt, some vanilla, and then just started adding confectioner’s sugar until I got the sweetness I wanted. The result was the creamiest, smoothest, and most ethereal cream cheese frosting I’ve ever had. It truly is perfection!
Having nailed the recipe, I am now working on stacking and icing and piping techniques. (Any and all advice would be much appreciated!) Next weekend is our friends’ wedding, and this five-month quest for the perfect cake will come to an end. I hope it all turns out well, but I think the sheer amount of effort I put into this whole process should count for something, right?
Wish me luck!
- For the Cake
- 1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 10 oz. (2 ¼ cups) all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. table salt
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp. ground ginger
- ¼ tsp. ground allspice
- ¼ tsp. ground cloves
- ¾ cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
- ½ cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
- 4 large eggs
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- ½ cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1 lb. cream cheese
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1 Tbs. vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp. table salt, more to taste
- 2 - 3 cups confectioner’s sugar (depending on your preference)
- Make the Cake: Move the oven rack to middle position, and heat the oven to 350°F. Line two 9” round cake pans with parchment, spray them with nonstick cooking spray and dust with flour.
- In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, chop the carrots very finely to about the consistency of large couscous. Transfer carrots to a medium bowl and rinse the food processor bowl – you will need it again!
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Whisk to blend thoroughly. Transfer ¼ cup of this mixture to a small bowl, add the cranberries and pecans, and toss to combine.
- In the food processor fitted again with the steel blade, mix the eggs and sugars until thoroughly combined. With the machine running, slowly add the oil in a steady stream until well blended. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and stir gently to combine. Add the carrots and the cranberry/nut mixture; stir to combine.
- Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, 40 - 45 minutes. Let the pans cool on a rack to room temperature before inverting them to remove the cakes. Allow cakes to cool completely before frosting.
- Make the Frosting: In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a hand mixer), whip together the cream cheese and butter. Add the vanilla and salt. One cup at a time, add the confectioner’s sugar until you reach your desire sweetness, and continue whipping until the frosting is light and airy.
- Assemble the Cake: Put a small dollop of icing in the center of a large, flat serving plate (this helps glue the cake to the plate.) Place one cake upside down on the plate. Using a butter knife or offset metal spatula, evenly spread about 1 cup of the frosting over the top of the first cake. Top with the remaining cake layer, right side up. Spread the entire cake with the remaining frosting. For tips on how to frost the perfect layer cake, check out this great video.
Well this carrot cake sure looks perfect to me! Pinned 🙂
Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar says
Carrot cake is my favorite!! Funny, I tweeted yesterday asking people to send me their fav recipe and this popped up today. Lucky me!!
When I put a layer cake together, I use the Wilton method of filling a piping bag without a tip or coupler (so just the hole in the bag will be used), then rimming the layer with frosting, then filling in the middle with the frosting in the bowl. Technically, when you add the next layer, it should slightly smoosh that ring of frosting, making a flat side surface (or one that is easily frosted over.) Because your frosting appears to be softer and fluffier, you may need to experiment with chilling, either at the frosting level before use, or in between layers.
I also volunteered to make my friend’s wedding cake, even though I had no experience doing one. It was fine and got rave reviews. Yours will be fine too. Frosting is a great art medium! lol
Amy Miller says
We have made one similar out of the old Bay Leaves cookbook from PC for years, but interested to try the cranberries in it. The pecans make it! Good luck next weekend.
Karen Dewar says
Boy, that sounds yummy. I’d love to make it but in my old fashioned kitchen there is no food processor, piping bags, etc. I have the pans, parchment, and ingredients, but no modern marvels. I’ll dream……
But you WILL show us pictures of the actual cake, right? 🙂
Pam Anderson says
Hey Karen, I think you could hand grate the carrots and then use an electric mixer to make the cake. Sharon may use a piping bag to decorate the wedding cake, but that’s certainly not a requirement. If you like carrot cake, this one is a keeper.
Cindy Scam says
My very favorite cake…I also had it for my wedding! Can’t wait to try your recipe.
Pam Anderson says
As someone who has spent a couple of decades perfecting recipes, I’ve gotta say you nailed this carrot cake, Sharon. And I agree with the person on Facebook. Please post photos of the actual wedding cake.
If you are stacking this cake (tiers) it may not hold up with the nuts and cranberries. I have a very good recipe using butter instead of oil. More flavorful. If you’d like it just email me.
please e mail me the recipefor a firmer carrot cake.Thanks.Nikki
Please post pictures of the finished product! Good luck, but I’m sure it will be lovely.
Marillyn Fagan Damelio says
Looks marvelous!! Congratulations on developing such a great recipe.We will definitely try it. Have fun at the wedding!!
Meagan @ Scarletta Bakes says
This literally does look like a perfect carrot cake! Magnificent!
Linda Massengill says
I’m almost sorry you’ve perfected it…it has been fabulous being one the guinea pigs! I can attest…this cake IS perfect!
Sally White says
This carrot cake is fabulous, I have tried many times to make carrot cake, but each time it always turns out soggy and pudding like. This recipe is easy to follow and quick to make. It tastes as delicious as it looks. Well worth making and is in my favourites book. Thank you Sharon, for sharing your recipe.
Shelly Haase says
Was a huge success and everyone loved it and said it was perfect! Thank you!
Sounds terrific !! Has anyone used this recipe as a sheet cake or loaf cakes? I need to bake tomorrow for unexpected birthday gathering….originally only three people, now 8-10 people!
Charissa Hanson says
I can’t find where, if ever, you said how this went, which I hope doesn’t mean it went poorly because it sounds so good! I’m wondering if you scaled the recipe up for a wedding cake and if it stacked well because I’m trying to find a carrot cake recipe for a 10″ pan to stack. Thanks for any tips!!
Julie Corps says
Sharon, I can’t wait to try this recipe. I’m chuckling at your story. I’m going through the search right now for the perfect cake as I offered to make the cake for a friends milestone anniversary party to feed 60 people! Last night’s attempt served to friends got this feedback – “tastes great, very moist but too dense – they want light and fluffy”. Back to the search. Many don’t like nuts and raisins etc. In your testing, if you omit this items does it change the consistency of the cake? If so, are there any adjustments to be made to compensate? I look forward to benefiting from your experience.
Pam Anderson says
I think you could leave nuts and raisins out without changing the cake’s texture.
rebecca webster says
This cake looks & sounds like a winner! I’d like to cut back on the oil & use some applesauce. if do-able, what ratio would you recommend for this alteration? thank you for building this perfect cake & LOVE the story behind it.
Pam Anderson says
I think I’d start by replacing 1/2 cup applesauce for the oil in this recipe. Good luck!