Saturday, July 14, 2012

Painted Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake?

"You don't put carrots in cake . . . What do you mean the icing's so good I should try it anyway? Alright, cut me a piece." Ralphie May (offensive language)

First, if you don't love carrots, you should go right now and try Mark Bittman's Glazed Carrots (leave out the orange juice). I can wait.

Now that we all love carrots, let's make a cake!

Developing a Recipe

I read just about every recipe for carrot cake I could find. Again, a surprising degree of consensus. As standard, I checked ATK and KAF, as well as the sources at Epicurious: Joan Nathan's Jewish Holiday Cookbook and Bon App├ętit. I even made a dorky table of the ingredient variations.

You know, for a cake born out of shortages and thought of as a health food, carrot cake has quite a bit of sugar and oil.

The most significant variations I found were in the spices. I decided, based on my own tastes, to go with cinnamon, ground ginger, and ground cloves.

Making the Cake

I started by peeling one pound of carrots. My husband kindly grated them for me. Instead of a box grater, I have coarse Microplane grater I bought at Wiiliams Sonoma almost 15 years ago. It makes thin shreds of carrot; I consider these thin shreds to be important to the final texture of the cake.

In a large bowl I whisked the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, and ground cloves.

In my mixer, I combined the eggs and brown sugars, then slowly added the vegetable oil. It took a minute or so to fully incorporate the oil into the batter.

Next I stirred in the flour on very low speed.

Finally I stirred in the carrots as gently as I could. I gave the batter a quick scrape and fold with a silicone spatula. I could a good bit of unincorporated batter on the bottom of the bowl, which was not a surprise given the minimal stirring.

You may have noticed that this doesn't seem much like a cake batter. Surprise! It's a quick bread, at least by mixing method. But that's OK.

I tasted the batter for seasoning--yuk, yuk yuk! The raw shredded carrots are WAY to similar to the texture of shredded coconut. The flavor was fine though.

I sprayed my pans with flour and oil spray, lined them with parchment circles, then sprayed the paper. I portioned the batter into the two pans, weighing them to be sure they were even. I then applied the cake strips and put them in the oven.

I baked the cakes for 33 minutes, which is a while for layer cakes. I am very glad that I used the cake strips and weighed the pans, as the cakes have risen right up to the rim and are almost completely level.

Icing the Cake

After the cakes were cool and the ingredients procured, I made a double recipe of the icing. I used the KAF recipe I have used before and find very yummy. As I was not planning dimensional decorations, I used 4 tablespoons of milk for a very soft icing.

I frosted the cake and pressed chopped pecans into the sides, then put the cake in the refrigerator to chill and crust. Did you know that cream cheese icing can crust? I didn't. Later I smoothed the top of the frosting with some parchment paper and my hands.

I decided to paint on this cake. I had read about painting on cookies with food color and vodka in the SprinkleBakes Book. I actually keep vodka around for my pie crusts, even though I don't drink.

I used Wilton gel food colors like watercolors, and diluted them with vodka. You have to be very gentle when painting on frosting. My 7-year-old was very interested and wanted to try it himself. As I let him poke at my cake and got him some paper, I reflected on how odd it seems to be painting with vodka with a kid :-)


12 1/2 ounces, or 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/8 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

1 lb carrots, peeled and shredded

2 batches cream cheese icing

6 ounces chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375. Spray 2 9-inch pans with oil and flour spray, line wih parchment rounds, and spray the parchment.

In large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, and ground cloves.

In another large bowl or in a mixer, combine eggs and sugars. Then mix in vegetable oil until combined. Gently stir in flour mixture, then grated carrots.

Evenly divide batter between pans. Wrap with cake strips, if using, and bake.

Start testing cakes for doneness at 25 minutes. Cakes are done when you can touch the top of the cakes and the cake doesn't crush, but resists slightly.

Cool cakes in pans on a rack. When cakes are completely cool, turn out and frost. Press pecans onto the sides, striving for even coverage.


  1. This looks and sounds so good. Carrot cake is one of my absolute favorites!

  2. Thank you. I tried a piece, and I'm very happy with how it turned out.