When it comes to cooking, I find joy in creating complexity out of the most simple and base ingredients. Take carrots, for example. A boring carrot stick is something you pass by on your weekly grocery run in the produce aisle. Orange, stiff, sometimes with carrot top still intact (in which case, a no-waste carrot top recipe, here). A long ways from extraordinary. But when I think of a well-made carrot cake, my eyes can’t help but twinkle, my mouth salivates. The marriage between sweet, earthy, and spicy undertones signifies a TRUE carrot cake, not disguised by extreme amounts of sugar, as they usually are. The colors of the cake itself remind me of the beauty of fall – orange from the carrots, brown from cinnamon and brown sugar, purple and mossy green from the rye.
Too often, carrot cake is done a disservice. Fatty and sugary sweet isn’t the cake I dream of. If it comes out of the pan shiny, covered in grease and oil, then you know it’s not done right. The texture should be moist, but grainy too. It should be fluffy and crumbly. My favorite way to make it is to keep the carrot shreds long, so that they break up the cake and are featured in their own right, rather than disappear into the flour, overshadowed by bread. With this recipe modified from East of Kitchen, I was able to create such a cake for a Friendsgiving gathering, with plenty of left-overs to boot.
It’s time to do carrot cake justice.
For the cake:
- 2 cups pecans, roughly chopped
- 5 cups carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
- 4 cups Bob’s Red Mill Stone Ground Rye flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 4 tsp cinnamon
- 8 large free-range eggs
- 2.5 cups granulated sugar
- 2 cups coconut oil
- 3 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Grease two 9-in cake pans and line the bottom with a circle of baking paper and grease that, too.
- In a large bowl, combine the rye flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and set aside.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the eggs until frothy, about 3-4 minutes on medium speed. Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time and beat until the batter has thickened.
- With the mixer running on medium speed, add the coconut oil in a slow and steady stream.
- With the mixer set on low speed, add the flour mixture, and mix just until combined.
- Dump the grated carrots and the pecans in the batter and incorporate with the aid of a spatula.
- Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Allow to cool on a wire rack completely before removing to a cooling rack. When it is completely cooled, cut lengthwise through the middle with the aid of a serrated knife.
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 16 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
- 3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 3 tsp lemon zest
- In the bowl of your stand mixer beat the butter and cream cheese on low speed until everything is blended.
- Add the powdered sugar one tablespoon at a time, with mixer running on low, until everything is incorporated and smooth. Beat in the vanilla and zest.
- Refrigerate at least one hour prior.
To assemble the cake:
- Place the first cake layer on a serving plate.
- Wrap wax paper around the circumference of the cake to create a tall wall to support the building of the cake.
- Spoon 2 tsp of milk over the cake. This will keep the cake moist.
- Spread a layer of the frosting evenly on top, then place the second layer over.
- Spoon 2 tsp of milk, and them spread another layer of frosting.
- Repeat with the third and fourth layers. Spread frosting evenly on top. There should be more than a fourth of the frosting reserved for the top layer. Reserve a small amount of frosting for the sides of the cake.
- Place the cake into the freezer without removing the wax paper. Let sit in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour.
- Remove the cake from the freezer and remove the wax paper. Ice the sides of the cake with a thin layer of frosting. Place in the fridge for at least one hour to allow the frosting to set.
- The cake should be ready to eat afterwards. If you wish, decorate with sprigs of rosemary stems.