This past Easter I was in a baking mood (when am I not in a baking mood?) so decided to make– what else?– carrot cake.
I love a good carrot cake, though everyone seems to have a different idea of what to add to the basic flavor profile. Some people use raisins, some nuts, or crushed pineapple. Some people use carrot puree, others go traditional with grated carrots, and some cakes use shockingly low amounts of carrot to begin with. Last year I even made one that incorporated graham cracker crumbs in the batter. I decided this time to try a recipe from Alton Brown, who rarely lets me down when it comes to good basic recipes.
I followed the recipe pretty exactly, though I doubled it because I had a ton of carrots to use up and figured that I could always bring the extras in to work later on. I also grated my carrots in my food processor, making for a coarser grate than probably contemplated by Alton, but cutting my prep time by probably a factor of ten. The doubled recipe made 24 cupcakes and two 6″ layers for me to decorate to my own taste– plenty to go around! The cake itself was wonderful– not too sweet and not too oily, which are two of my pet peeves when it comes to carrot cake. A little extra cinnamon would not have been out of place, but I don’t think it’s strictly necessary.
The cream cheese frosting is perfect– nicely tangy due to the higher-than-usual proportion of cream cheese to butter. After I’d frosted 12 of the cupcakes, I decided to use the rest of the frosting (I doubled this recipe too) to ice my small layer cake. However, when I’d finished it looked pretty plain, so I used the last of my sugar (seriously, the last granulated sugar in the house!) to make brittle. I had run out of nuts, so I used pumpkin seeds (pepitas), which I happened to have on hand. I’d intended to make a straight caramel for the see-through look, but decided at the last minute to make a peanut brittle-style brittle instead, adding corn syrup and baking soda to make it fizz up a bit and be crunchier rather than too hard. It was still pretty sticky, making me glad I don’t have any cavity fillings, or they might have gotten pulled out!
In any case, this is my new go-to carrot cake recipe– classic, no-frills, and delicious. Enjoy!
Carrot Cake (slightly adapted from Alton Brown)
Makes two 9″ layers, or 18 cupcakes
- 12 ounces, approximately 2 1/2 cups, all-purpose flour, plus extra for pan
- 12 ounces grated carrots, medium grate, approximately 6 medium
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 10 ounces sugar, approximately 1 1/3 cups
- 2 ounces dark brown sugar, approximately 1/4 cup firmly packed
- 3 large eggs
- 6 ounces plain yogurt
- 6 ounces vegetable oil
- 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
* I will note that all “ounces” are weight, not volume (online reviewers for the original recipe seemed to have a problem understanding this).
1. Place grated carrots into a large bowl and set aside.
2. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt in the food processor and buzz to combine thoroughly. Dump into your bowl of carrots and mix to coat.
3. In the food processor, combine sugars, eggs, and yogurt and buzz to mix.
4. Drizzle in oil with processor running until fully combined.
5. Pour the wet ingredients over the carrot/flour mixture and stir thoroughly.
6. Bake as cupcakes or cake layers in parchment-lined (or greased) pans. For cupcakes this will take about 24 minutes at 350 degrees F. For cake layers, depending on size, it will take closer to 45 minutes (and I would probably reduce the heat to 325 after the first 30 minutes to prevent over-browning). Start checking with a toothpick every 10 minutes after 30 minutes of bake time.
7. When cakes test done, remove from oven and let cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.
Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 oz. unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
1. Beat together cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until fully combined. Do not try this if your butter is cold– otherwise it’ll just form lumps in the soft cream cheese!
2. Add vanilla and beat until smooth.
3. Scrape down sides of bowl and add powdered sugar. Stir a few times to prevent the sugar from flying up when you turn your mixer on.
4. Beat until smooth again. Ready to use!
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup (I used golden syrup, which worked fine)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tbs. butter
1. Combine sugar, syrup, and water in a medium saucepan and cook over high heat, swirling frequently, until it hits 300 degrees F (hard crack stage).
2. Remove from heat and add pepitas, salt, and baking soda. The mixture will foam up a lot from the baking soda and turn much lighter in color. Stir in butter until smooth.
3. Pour onto a parchment or silicone-lined sheet (or pour into silicone molds) and smooth out with a spatula or oiled butter knife. Let cool completely before breaking into shards.
I found this brittle to be pretty sticky when eaten– the kind of sticky where your teeth get stuck together with gooey stuff that nevertheless seems hard as a rock. If you just want the flavor rather than the look, consider crushing the brittle and sprinkling it generously over your frosting– it adds some great texture and isn’t as tooth-cracking when crushed up small.