My birthday is today and I baked this cake. I shared some of it. Begrudgingly. But I kept most of it all for me. No guilt here, just in case you were wondering.
I've had a love affair with carrot cake for a long time. When I had a milestone birthday a couple of years ago – it doesn't matter which milestone – I ordered a big carrot cake from the folks who catered my party. And I'm crazy about my 6″ cake pans, so I made a triple decker. Just to make sure I would get enough cake on my plate, you know?
But carrot cake isn't carrot cake without the cream cheese icing, right? I can't even imagine another kind of icing on it. Can you? And this is my favorite one. Not too sweet, and a perfect foil for a carrot cake that has hints of apple from apple sauce.
I know you've just finished Thanksgiving with all the trimmings, and might not looking for a dessert to make right now. I get it. But keep this one in your back pocket for when you need a great cake. So pin it for later, when you have something special to celebrate — you won't be sorry.
I've included directions for baking this at both sea level and at 7000′. High altitude baking requires adjustments in the flour and oil amounts to keep the cake from being too dry, and in the chemical leaveners to keep it from rising too much and then either collapsing under its weight or flowing over the pans.
This cake is designed to be moist without being too heavy.
The final spray of coconut is optional, but can really dress up a cake if you're not an expert (like me) at frosting.
My Favorite Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter for greasing the cake pans
- 2 cups 9 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour (remove 2 tablespoons for baking at 7000')
- 1 teaspoon baking powder use 3/4 teaspoon for baking at 7000'
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda use 1/2 teaspoon for baking at 7000'
- 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or 3/4 teaspoon table salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 2 cups packed light brown sugar
- 4 large eggs at room temperature
- Zest of 1 navel orange using orange parts only
- 1/2 cup safflower or other neutral vegetable oil (add 1 1/2 teaspoons when baking at 7000')
- 1/2 cup apple sauce
- 2/3 cup golden raisins optional
- 1 pound carrots trimmed, peeled, and finely grated on the smallest holes of a box grater or the fine grating blade of food processor (about 3 lightly packed cups total)
CREAM CHEESE ICING
- 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, chilled
- 11 tablespoons unsalted butter softened at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar sifted after measuring
- 2 tablespoons sweetened coconut
- Use a little more than half of the butter to grease three 6" cake pans. Trace one of the pans on a sheet of parchment paper, and fold the paper to make it triple layer. Cut out the circle using the triple layers. This is just a time saver so you don't have to cut out three individual circles. Place the parchment circles on the bottoms of each pan, and butter them as well. NOTE: alternatively you can use two 9" cake pans and make a double layer cake.
- Preheat the oven to 375˚F at sea level, or 380˚ at 7000'.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice in a medium bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients thorough to ensure an even dispersing of the ingredients.
- Remove any lumps in the brown sugar and pour it all into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add one egg at a time, completely mixing it into the brown sugar before adding the next. Mix in the orange zest, and gradually add the oil in a steady stream. Finish off by adding the apple sauce and raisins (if using).
- Fold in the dry ingredients in three stages using a rubber spatula, followed by the shredded carrots.
- Divide the batter between the three cake pans and smooth to make the tops as smooth and even as possible. You may have a little left over for a couple of cupcakes. Bake until the layers are firm to the touch, and the sides slightly lift away from the pan, about 25 minutes (30 minutes at 7000'). A thin knife inserted in the center of the cake should emerge clean.
- Transfer to a wire rack to let cool for 5 minutes in the pans, run a sharp knife around the sides of the pans, and invert the cake layers onto the rack. Do not peel off the parchment paper until the cakes are completely cooled, and you're ready to assemble and frost the cake. I usually make any cake 1 day ahead of a party, cool, and double wrap in saran. I leave the cake on the counter. If I make the cake more than 1 day ahead, I refrigerate it. Alternatively it can be frozen for at least a month.
CREAM CHEESE ICING
- Combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Once it's smooth, add the vanilla extract and the sugar in three stages. Mix until smooth and creamy - about 2 minutes.
ASSEMBLING THE CAKE
- Cut 4 strips of parchment or wax paper, about 3 inches wide X 4" long. Place them on the serving plate you plan to use for the cake, forming a square that the cake will sit on. Remove the parchment paper from the bottom of one of the cake layers, and place it on the strips. This is to keep the serving plate clean while you ice the cake. At the end, these strips will be removed.
- Spread one-fifth of the icing on the top of the cake layer, being sure to keep it even. I just eye-ball the amount - I don't actually measure or weight it.
- Remove the parchment paper from the bottom of a second cake layer, and gently place it on top of the first. Spread one-fifth of the icing on the top of this second layer.
- Remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the third cake layer, and gently place on top of the second layer. Be sure the cake is straight. Using an offset spatula (a type of spatula designed for icing cakes) spread one-fifth of the icing on the sides of the cake, or maybe a little more. I don't put a lot on the sides, so that it's a semi-naked cake, but if you prefer more, just use a little less icing on the interlayers.
- Spread the final two-fifths of the icing on the top, and lightly sprinkle with sweetened coconut.
- Gently remove the parchment paper strips when you're done.