I’ve been blogging for about 10 months now. And I think it’s time to let you know a dirty little secret. I used to hate carrot cake. There, I said it. Actually, it wasn’t the carrot cake I hated as much as it was the cream cheese frosting (even worse, I know). For some reason I just didn’t like cheese used in any sweet context.
For as long as I can remember (easily dating back to my Easy Bake oven days), I made (or helped my mom make) a carrot cake for her birthday. My mom was never one of those people who liked to switch up cakes on their birthday. Her favorite cake is carrot and every March that’s what she gets. My quest for the perfect carrot cake began when I was finally old enough to bake alone. Every year I would diligently make her cake, usually with a different recipe I had found, in hopes of one day seeing what everyone else saw in this renowned dessert. For about 22 years nothing worked.
I remember the day I was finally converted. I was living in Florida at the time, and I was eating lunch out with friends at J. Alexander’s in Tampa. One of my friends ordered carrot cake for dessert and asked me if I wanted to try it. I politely declined, giving some silly excuse like I was too full or something (like I would ever decline a dessert I liked because I was too full). Anyway, she was really insistent and I finally obliged her and took a bite, more to get her to stop forcing her cake on me. My fork sunk into that cake like a hot knife in butter (yes, that’s the best analogy I could come up with ;) )…it was moist yet fluffy and light at the same time, with a little crunch from walnuts and a hint of warm cinnamon. And the frosting. Oh my God. It took the cake.
Since that fateful day I’ve experimented a lot to try to replicate J. Alexander’s Carrot Cake recipe. The recipe I’ve come up with is a combination of more recipes and tweaks than I can remember. And it’s the closest I’ve come to Carrot Cake perfection.
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
(Yield: 1 (9X13-inch) rectangular cake, or 2 (9X9-inch) cake rounds…although I haven’t tried it, this recipe would probably work well for cupcakes too)
1 1/4 c canola oil
1 c white sugar
1 c brown sugar
1 TB vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little extra to flour the pan
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-3 teaspoons ground cinnamon, depending on your preference (I like about 1 1/2 tsp, but my mom likes more)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 c grated carrots, lightly packed
1 c chopped walnuts (or your favorite nuts)
Butter, to grease the pan
1/2 c butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 1b powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (9X13-inch) rectangular cake pan, or
2 (9X9-inch) round cake pans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour the baking pan you’re using.
For the cake: In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, sugars, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Gradually stir the dry ingredients into the wet, then stir in carrots and nuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s). Bake for 40-50 minutes in a 9X13-inch pan or 25-35 minutes in two 9X9-inch pans; the cake is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Put the cake on a wire rack and allow to cool completely before removing it from the baking pan. Frost the cake once it’s completely cool.
For the Frosting: In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and cream cheese. Beat in the sugar and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Frost the cooled cake.