Carrot cake is comfort cake, and this version is no exception, though its appearance is not as homespun as most. The cake itself is moist and flavorful, fragrant with warm spices and notes of bright orange, sweet carrots and raisins. Instead of embellishing the cake with a traditional cream cheese frosting, I chose to frost the cake with a Swiss meringue buttercream flavored with vanilla and tangy buttermilk, and I think it complements the sweet cake perfectly. The candied carrot strip garnish is optional, but is a stylish touch.
Makes one 8-inch layer cake, serving 10
- Candied Carrot Strip Garnish:
- 2 large carrots, peeled
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 ½ cups (331 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 large (200 grams) eggs
- 1 cup firmly packed (216 grams) light brown sugar
- ¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (214 grams) neutral-tasting vegetable oil, such as safflower oil or canola
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
- 3 1/2 cups (330 grams) shredded carrots (about 6 large or 10 medium carrots)
- 3/4 cup (105 grams) black or golden raisins
- 1 cup (100 grams) coarsely chopped pecans (optional)
Buttermilk Buttercream Frosting:
- 5 large (150 grams) egg whites
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 30 tablespoons (423 grams) unsalted butter, softened but cool
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon (75 grams) buttermilk
- Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting carrot strip garnish
Make the candied carrot garnish:
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 225˚F. Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper; coat the paper lightly with non-stick cooking spray.
- Peel the carrots into thin strips. In a saucepan, bring the sugar and 1 cup water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Add the carrot strips and submerge them in the syrup. Reduce the heat to medium-low so that the syrup is just simmering, and cook until the carrot strips are softened, about 15 minutes. Drain the carrot strips in a strainer and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
- Blot the strips with paper towels to remove the excess syrup, then arrange them on the prepared baking sheet in a single layer and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until they are translucent. Remove the pan from the oven and while the strips are still warm, wrap each one around the handle of a wooden spoon or dowel to form a tight curl. Slip the carrot curl off the spoon and allow it to settle into a loose curl. (If the strips cool down too much before you have a chance to curl them, return them to the warm oven for a few minutes, just until they are warm.) Set aside to dry completely (this can take anywhere from a few hours to overnight, depending on humidity).
Make the cake:
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350° Grease the bottom and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans. Dust the pans with flour and tap out the excess.
- In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and salt. Stir together the dry ingredients with a whisk. Set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat together the eggs, granulated sugar, and light brown sugar at medium speed until well combined, about 2 minutes. At low speed, add the oil, vanilla extract, and orange zest and mix until blended. Add the flour mixture in three additions at low speed, mixing just until blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Add the carrots, raisins and nuts and mix until blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly. Bake the cakes for 25 to 35 minutes, rotating the cake pans halfway through baking, until the centers are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans set on a wire racks for 10 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the racks, then reinvert them so that they are right side up, and cool completely.
Make the buttercream:
- Pour enough water into a skillet so that it comes 1/2-inch up its sides. Bring the water to a simmer; reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, using a hand-held whisk, whisk together the egg whites and sugar. Place the bowl in the skillet of water and whisk gently until the mixture registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer.
- Transfer the bowl to the mixer stand and, using the whisk attachment, beat at medium-high speed until the meringue is cool and forms stiff, shiny peaks, about 5 minutes.
- Reduce the speed to medium and beat in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Beat at high speed until the buttercream is smooth, about 1 minute. Beat in the vanilla extract and the buttermilk.
Frost and garnish the cake:
- Place one of the cake layers on a cardboard cake round or cake plate and top it with a generous ½ cup buttercream. Spread it evenly over the top of the layer, covering it completely. Top with another cake layer and repeat with more buttercream and the third cake layer. Spread the remaining buttercream over the top and sides of the cake, making it as smooth as possible. Garnish the top of the cake with the carrot curls, and lightly dust them with confectioners’ sugar before serving.