Carrot cake is one of the best cakes out there. It’s not because of the healthy vegetable hiding in it, either. It’s because of the cream cheese frosting. Everyone knows cream cheese frosting is the best. So even though we’ve made carrot cake before, I saw this recipe in Cook’s Illustrated and thought it would be a perfect Shavuot treat! Thin layers of cake, nuts only on the outside, and something I could bake ahead of time and freeze, how could you go wrong?
Now, Cooks Illustrated has recipes that you really can’t go wrong with. Really. But the frosting recipe for this cake called for buttermilk powder, and I just wasn’t in the mood to go hunting for ingredients that I don’t have on hand. Alton is the best, and his cream cheese frosting recipe worked perfectly for this cake.
Usually when I bake cakes, I make them round. I actually have never baked a cake on a half sheet pan before. I was very happy with the result (and quick baking!), so maybe will use this method more often. It means you get thin layers without having to carefully split the layers in half. Now don’t get me wrong, I still love round cakes, but now once in a while I’ll give these square/rectangular ones a shot.
Sorry it took me so long to actually share this recipe with you. Maybe you can save the idea for next Shavuot. Or maybe just bake it for a special someone’s birthday? Or just make it for no reason. It really was that good.
Everyone loved the texture of the cake because all the nuts were on the outside. People who didn’t like nuts were able to easily evade them! The thinness of the cake layers was awesome…means more frosting!. Next time, I’m doubling the recipe and making two sheet pans of this cake, since it freezes so well.
Another plus? You don’t have to worry about the frosting being neat at all, since you cover it up with the pecans, anyway.
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated and Alton Brown.
For the Cake:
- 1 ¾ cups (8 ¾ ounces) all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 ¼ cups packed (8 ¾ ounces) light brown sugar
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 2/3 cups shredded carrots (about 4) (shred in food processor or large side of box grater)
For the Frosting:
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- 2 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 9 ounces powdered sugar, sifted, (approximately 2 cups)
- Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Grease 18×13 inch rimmed baking sheet, line with parchment paper, and grease parchment.
- Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves together in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla together until mixture is smooth.
- Stir in carrots.
- Add flour mixture and fold with rubber spatula until mixture is just combined.
- Transfer batter to prepared baking sheet and smooth surface with an offset spatula
- Bake until the center of the cake is firm to the touch, 15-18 minutes.
- Cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes.
- Invert cake onto wire rack (do not remove parchment) and then reinvert onto second wire rack. Cool cake completely, about 30 minutes.
- Make the frosting: Using stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, and cream cheese on low speed until smooth, for about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed.
- Add the vanilla
- Slowly (on low!) add the powdered sugar.
- Transfer cooled cake to cutting board, parchment side down. Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut cake and parchment in half crosswise and then lengthwise to make 4 equal rectangles, about 6×8 inches each.
- Place 6×8 inch cardboard rectangle on cake turntable or plate. Place 1 cake rectangle (parchment side up) on cardboard and remove parchment.
- Using offset spatula, spread 2/3 cup frosting evenly over cake layer.
- Repeat with 2 more layers of cake
- Place last rectangle on top and frost cake with 1 cup frosting.
- Use remaining frosting to coat sides of the cake
- Hold cake with 1 hand and gently press chopped pecans onto the sides with your other hand
- Chill for at least 1 hour before serving