The original recipe for Carrot Cake that I used can be found at Food Network's page at http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/grandma-hiers-carrot-cake-recipe/index.html Courtesy of one of my food heroes Paula Deen.
I'm absolutely sure I will lose some Foodie points for saying this, I am not a big cake fan. I said it, Mark is not a fan of cake. Generally it's from a box (which is understandable, Mark is not hatin'), the frosting is too sweet with almost no flavor, and it has a texture like your chewing on nothing. It wasn't until about a decade ago when I started experimenting with home made frostings and batters that I started to appreciate what cake can be. BUT even before that, Mark did have a cake weakness that persists to this day, one of my absolute favorite desserts ever, and vice, Carrot Cake.
"Mark why carrot cake?" Well for starters, carrot cake is actually not a cake. It's a muffin (which admittedly is another food weakness of mine). That's right you read it correctly, the batter is actually a muffin batter. Thus not only does this cake have flavor it has body and texture as well. The icing most people associate with carrot cake, cream cheese icing, is also extremely flavorful and extremely quick to whip up fresh any time you want it.
I'd like to talk equipment before we get in to the down and dirty. The official recipe calls for 3, 9" cake pans. I used two. You'll find my cake turned out well in the end, if not a little uneven. Either way you go will be fine. I personally use Aluminum cake pans, not the dark coated. I've met people on both sides of the argument "dark v. aluminum". I will say this, I've been baking my own cakes since I was 14. I have never burned a cake in aluminum, and have burned almost every one in dark pans. Use what you prefer. Also we will be using a "hand mixer", and a "mixer safe" glass bowl. Also as you will see I used an icing spatula, and cake turn table (optional). Also I used a 4 sided grater.
For this recipe you will need:
2 level cups AP flour
2 level cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 veg oil
3 cups grated carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans (yum!)
(Mark Addition to this recipe)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese
1 stick SALTED butter
16 ounces powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans
OK so first things first. Get the 2 packages of cream cheese and stick of salted butter out of the fridge and set them on the counter or table to get up to room temp while your working. Also set your oven to 350 degrees (universal baking temp).
One of the cool things about this recipe is that you can really just throw everything in to the bowl, mix, dump in to the pans, and bake. There isn't much of an order you have to follow, which is rare in the dessert world. BUT I always like to get everything prepped before I start combining things in to the bowl. So we will start with the prep.
Start with the pecans, because they're a pain if you have to chop them. I bought whole so I could show you how to chop them of course. Get out your cut bored and set the prescribed amount of pecans on the cut board. Your going to simply pile them up as well as you can, put your (if your right handed) left hand over the tip of the knife, and use your right hand to go up and down through the pile. DO NOT ACTUALLY "CHOP", you don't want pecans flying all over your counter top. Simply run the knife through the pile cutting as nicely as you can, when the pile gets messy scoop it up in to a nice pile again, and repeat until it's to the consistency you require.
Set those aside, and while your in the pecan mood do it again for the pecans you'll need for your icing later. Once that's finished, wipe off your cut board, and prepare to GRATE!
The process of grating is actually quite simple. Wash your carrots in cold water, then use a peeler to peel them prior to grating. Set up your grater on your cut board, and use the medium grate side. Keep doing this until you have the required amount of grated carrots. Yes this will take some time, yes your arm will be tired.
Once the carrots have been grated and your pecans chopped you can go ahead and throw all the ingredients in to the bowl for the batter. Flour, sugar, carrots, pecans, oil, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, eggs, raisins, etc. all go in the bowl.
Just an aside on the next step. The recipe calls for a hand mixer at this stage, which I used. I regret it. I own a KitchenAid stand mixer, as well as my hand mixer. Certainly there are times I actually prefer my hand mixer over the KitchenAid and vice versa. This batter is well defined as sludge. It is thick, it is hearty, and may actually kill your hand mixer if you aren't careful. If you have a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment, and follow the below directions. Otherwise, be careful as I had to be.
When all the items are combined start to mix the concoction on the lowest setting possible at first. I say this because you have a lot of flour and sugar in there, and if you put the spurs to it too quickly you'll be wearing your batter not eating it. If your mixer starts to sound like its struggling, don't be afraid to give it rest, grab a spoon, and hand mix for a second to give it a head start. Eventually the batter will loosen up and start to come together. Increase speed as it does. The last picture in the series below is how you want it to look when you're done.
The original recipe calls for butter to lube up your pans with before you bake, so it will come out easily when it's done. Call me lazy, but use Bake Easy. It's a canned baking lube that actually has flour in it, and it turns out perfectly every time.
Simply spray your pans, and put the batter in. Done. Too easy? Maybe, but I'll take it. After you've distributed the batter between your pans you'll want to lift one about a foot off the counter, and drop it. Yes drop it. Make sure it doesn't flip or anything, make sure it lands flat. This will remove most air bubbles and make your cake have the proper texture. Repeat for each other pan you filled. Once this is done, put your cakes in your oven on the middle rack side by side.
You'll bake these for 40 minutes total. Do me a favor though, set your timer for 20 minutes. When it goes off, switch your pans around. That will help reduce the effects on any hot spots you may have in your oven.
While your cakes are baking take this time to make your icing.
BEST. ICING. EVAR.
Use again a mixer safe bowl. Put the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract in to the bowl. Again set your mixer to the lowest level possible and slowly combine. Once everything is mixed up a little and not "powdery" give it some juice and start to stir while the mixer beats. Pretty soon you'll have a smooth creamy icing fit for any cake you could possibly want to whip up. There is also a movie tip below for those of you with little or no experience in this matter.
Once you've mixed your initial icing, dump the remaining pecans you chopped earlier in to the bowl. Use a regular spatula to mix them in well. This really will put your carrot cake over the top once you've completed it.
Once your cakes are done baking you need to take them out of the oven and put them on cooling racks immediately until they are completely cooled.
Finally we are on the last step. Icing the cake. I have a turn table for this, but it is not necessary. Then again, it does make things nice and they are only about $20.
Put on cake down on your cake board or whatever you intend to keep this on. Put a relatively thin layer of icing on the top only. Then put the second layer on top.
After that put a large dollop of icing on the top of the cake. Smooth the icing around the top of the cake until it looks to be about the right thickness. Put another dollop on top of the cake, and work it down the sides. Continue until the cake is completely covered.
After you've covered the cake evenly take a wet paper towel and wipe out any excess icing that may be on your board. This will help it look a little more professional and less like a hack job.
Below is the finished product both uncut, and cut.
Simply put, this carrot cake is awesome. I hate to say it that way especially since I made it. But it's true. Thick, flavorful, this carrot cake is everything you could ask for in a dessert. It simply tastes far more complicated than what it really is.
"But Mark it's not piped and all beautiful!" True it's not. It's rustic, and home made. Piped and beautiful only goes so far, it has to taste great too. I tend to prefer ugly cake (no offense to those with wicked piping skills, you're awesome) over most "pretty" cakes you'll find. But that's me. Try this, you'll love it. Eat well everyone!