After months and months and months of the kind studying, stressing and panicked all-nighters I only vaguely remember from college in part because I am very, very old and in part because, no, I did not graduate with a 4.0, my friend Alice finally took her very big exam this past weekend. In an effort to compensate for the dozens of parties and outings and merriment she’s missed since the summer, her fiance had a surprise party (and a clean loft, swoon) waiting for her when she got home.
Me? I made cupcakes, carrot cupcakes to be specific because carrot cake is Alice’s favorite. But do you know what I have come to realize about people who say their favorite cake is carrot cake? It’s really the cream cheese frosting (and perhaps the orange and green carrots eloquently piped on top) that they love. Or at least that’s the case with Alex.
Nevertheless, I actually have a killer recipe for carrot cake and hadn’t used it in years, which means that you haven’t been privy to it yet, and that’s not fair, is it? So without further ado, here’s the carrot cake I always fall back on. It’s incredibly moist and light and forgiving whether you make it with or without nuts and raisins or extra spices, and a great little recipe to tuck away in your files come January when the entire world is on a diet but somehow thinks that three cups of grated carrots makes these babies “health” food. I won’t tell them if you don’t.
One year ago: Pear Crisps with Vanilla Brown Butter, Chocolate Pretzel Cookies
Two years ago: Dukkah-Crusted Chicken Skewers, Pecan Squares
Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
I like to grate the carrots by hand — actually, that’s a lie, I don’t enjoy it one bit — because I want it very finely grated for a soft batter. The food processor works, too, but the pieces are a bit thicker.
Makes 24 cupcakes (or one two-layer cake, instructions at end)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups canola oil
4 large eggs
3 cups grated peeled carrots
1 cups coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Line 24 cupcake molds with papers, or butter and flour them.
Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in medium bowl to blend. Whisk sugar and oil in large bowl until well blended. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time. Add flour mixture and stir until blended. Stir in carrots, walnuts and raisins, if using them. Divide batter among cupcake molds, filling 3/4 of each.
Bake cupcakes 14 to 18 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean. Let cool in pans for five minutes or so, then transfer cakes to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before icing them.
To make a carrot layer cake: Butter two 9-inch-diameter cake pans instead of cupcake molds. Line bottom of pans with
waxed parchment paper. Butter and flour paper; tap out excess flour. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, and bake the layers for about 40 minutes each, or until a tester inserted into center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes. Turn out onto racks. Peel off paper; cool cakes completely.
Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Two (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
In a stand mixer beat all the ingredients on medium until fluffy. Chill the frosting for 10 to 20 minutes, until it has set up enough to spread smoothly.
The spazzy star decorations were created by putting the maple cream cheese frosting into a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and dolloping away. An extra layer of dollops were piped nearer to the center, to create a domed effect.
To assemble a carrot layer cake, frost the top of one cake, place the other cake on top. Frost the sides and top, swirling decoratively. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes to set up frosting.
For the layer cake scenario, you will probably have a bit of leftover frosting, which you can tint and use for decorating, or save to smear on gingersnaps. What, you don’t do that too?