I rarely make birthday cakes anymore, but when duty calls I am happy to break out my offset spatulas and get the job done. I might even enjoy it a little bit :) So, a few weeks ago, when a friend asked me to make a cake for his special lady's birthday we did a little secret scheming to make this carrot cake happen. Like a lot of "old-fashioned" foods (I'm looking at you prunes), carrot cake gets a very unfair bad rap - because it is totally delicious. If we are being honest though, what isn't totally delicious slathered in cream cheese frosting? A perfect carrot cake has lightly spiced, fluffy layers that are super moist and not too sweet, and a generous amount of tangy cream cheese frosting over the top. This cake even feels a little virtuous, considering it has an entire pound of carrots folded into the batter. I like the crunch of a handful of walnuts too, but I avoid raisins as they are a pretty polarizing ingredient (in carrot cake or otherwise).
and yes, the cake does say "Hannah Slays" on top...a little more fun than "Happy Birthday" don't you think?
Classic Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
cake adapted from Cook's Illustrated
For the cake pictured, I doubled the recipe below and made a 4 layer 10-inch cake which is enough cake to well, feed an army. A single recipe will make a 2 layer 9-inch cake with nice, thick layers or fill a 9 x 13-inch pan if layer cakes aren't your thing. You could also double the cake recipe and make a very tall 4 layer 9 or 10-inch cake. You'll want to double the frosting recipe too. When you are making the frosting, make sure that the cream cheese and butter are at room temperature which will ensure that the frosting beats up nice and smooth. This cake is also great because the layers can be made a day or two in advance and stored in the fridge before you decorate them. Any longer than that and I'd wrap them in two layers of plastic wrap and a layer of foil and store them in the freezer.
Classic Carrot Cake
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 lb. peeled carrots, about 6
1 1/2 cups canola or grape seed oil
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
3/4 cup chopped, toasted walnuts (optional)
Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 lb confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
To make the Cake
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF. Butter 2, 9-inch cake pans and line them with parchment paper. Butter the paper, then flour the pans and paper.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt together in large bowl; set aside. Use a food processor or box grater to shred the carrots.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment beat the sugars and oil together until well combined. Add the eggs and mix on medium-high until thoroughly combined and emulsified. Fold in the flour mixture, shredded carrots, and walnuts (if using) until well combined and no streaks of flour remain.
Pour the batter into prepared pans and bake until toothpick or skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes for 9-inch round pans and 40 minutes for a 9 x 13-inch pan. Let the cakes cool in their pans for about 10 minutes then invert them onto a rack to cool completely.
When the cakes are cooled completely, make the frosting.
To make the Frosting
Beat the butter and cream cheese together on high speed until fluffy and smooth add the creme fraiche. Turn the mixer to low and gradually add the confectioner's sugar until just combined, then turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat until fluffy and smooth, making sure to stop the mixer and scrape down to the bottom of the bowl so everything is evenly mixed. Add the lemon zest, vanilla extract, and salt.
To Assemble the Cake
Trim the tops of the cake layers so they are flat, if necessary. Place one layer on a serving plate or pedestal and spread about 3/4 cup of frosting on top. Top with the second cake layer, then smooth a thin coat of frosting on the outside of the cake. Chill for at least 30 minutes, then cover the cake with a second, heavier coat of frosting to finish.
This cake will keep in the fridge for about 4 days.