I am currently sitting in a coffee shop, sipping tea, freezing my behind off because mother nature blows and I didn’t dress appropriately for this 49 degree weather on May 17th. Spring is the pits!
Speaking of this lovely season we’re having, one highlight so far was making carrot cake for the first time! While cooking is my jam, baking is a whole different beast. I like to think I can cook well, but I’m always hesitant about baking because I find myself wondering if the finished product will be good. I know you could probably say the same thing about cooking but because baking is so precise, I constantly worry that, despite following a recipe, my cake or cookies or pie will literally explode in the oven. Would you believe me if I told you my mind wanders to weird places in the kitchen?
Thankfully, for this cake, I enlisted the help of my sous chef mother who is a class act baker. She understands that a cake won’t explode in the oven and reminds me that you have to let cakes cool completely before frosting them otherwise the frosting will turn into a goopy, disgusting mess. She’s taught me many things in the kitchen but I think I can safely say, after baking this carrot cake, we both learned a thing or two.
Let me set the stage for you: I decided to Instacart the ingredients for this recipe over to my parent’s house because I was being a lazy bum and wanted to squeeze in a workout instead of hurrying to the grocery store. Simultaneously reading the recipe and browsing online, I realized there was no way I could quantify how many bunches of carrots I needed that would equal one pound that the recipe called for. So, I threw caution to the wind and ordered five bunches of carrots. I’m not sure what my thought process was in that moment but I have to think it went something like this, “What if one bunch ends up being really small and it’s only four tiny carrots,…well, that won’t be enough, I may as well blindly order more and have leftover carrots because who cares? Carrots for DAYS!!”
I arrived to my parent’s house an hour or so later and my mom began washing and peeling all five bunches of normal sized carrots (she’s the best). Once the carrots were prepped, we re-read the recipe and realized we had to have them coarsely grated. Hint: if you’re making a cake where you need coarsely grated carrots, please invest in a sturdy box grater or stand-mixer attachment that will magically help grate the carrots into tiny shreds. A hand grater, while great for grating cheese, takes more muscle (thank god for that workout) and more energy to grate pounds and pounds of carrots. We took turns grating away (yes, you grated more than me, Mom) and easily an hour or so later, rejoiced when the carrot pile slowly dwindled and we had something that looked like this.
With our carrots in tow, we hurried along to the next step which was soaking the two pounds of carrots in buttermilk. Then, this happened.
“OH MY GOD. We only needed one pound of carrots….not TWO!”
Ummm, what? We just spent hours mindlessly grating two pounds of carrots when we only needed one? How did that happen? We’re smart cookies! Not knowing how to react, we laughed, though I’m pretty sure we both cried on the inside. Hint: if you are making a carrot cake that requires one pound of carrots and you own a kitchen scale, please use it before you start washing, peeling or grating any carrots.
At that point, it was almost 2 hours into the carrot cake process and I was exhausted, my biceps on fire. Clearly, my morning coffee had been pointless considering one of us misread the ingredient list. Give or take another hour and the cake was baked. Then, another hour or two passed until it was cool. As I whipped the ginger cream cheese frosting together, I couldn’t help but think, “What a breeze compared to those carrots!”
You know when they tell you “it’ll be worth it” or “just wait till you get to the end”? Those statements couldn’t ring more true when it comes to baking a carrot cake. Was this an extremely laborious process? You bet. Did it make me feel stronger in my skills as a home cook? Why not! Would I make it again? Sure, although next time I’d come equipped with a kitchen scale, better box grater and a stronger cup of coffee in the morning.If you’ve got a few hours, then make this cake. It really is incredible – it’s moist, fluffy, heavy on spice, creamy and decadent. If you don’t believe me, I’ve still got 1/4 cake left in my fridge that I’m happy to share.
Carrot Cake with Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting (Adapted from Bon Appetit)
For the Carrot Cake
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 lb carrots, peeled, coarsely grated
- 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3 teaspoons Gourmet Garden Ginger Stir-In Paste
- 1/2 teaspoon Lightly Dried Ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
For the Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting
- 12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons Gourmet Garden Ginger Stir-In Paste
- 1/2 teaspoon Gourmet Garden Lightly Dried Ginger
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- generous pinch of kosher salt
- 3 cups powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat two 9″diameter cake pans with nonstick spray. Line bottoms with parchment paper rounds. Lightly coat rounds with nonstick spray.
Meanwhile, toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until golden brown, 8-10 minutes. Let cool. Combine carrots and buttermilk in a medium bowl.
Whisk flour, cinnamon, ginger stir-in paste, ginger lightly dried, nutmeg, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract until pale and thick, about 4 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low and gradually stream in oil. Add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with carrot mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients, mix until smooth. Fold in walnuts with a rubber spatula. Scrape the batter into prepared pans.
Bake cakes, rotating pans halfway through, until a tester in the center comes out clean, 35-45 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack and let cakes cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of cakes and invert onto a wire rack, remove parchment. Let cakes cool completely.
Frosting and assembly
Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl until smooth, about 1 minute. Beat in vanilla, Ginger Stir-In Paste, Lightly Dried Ginger and salt. Reduce speed to low and gradually mix in powdered sugar. Increase speed to high and beat frosting until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Place 1 cake, domed side down on a platter. Spread 3/4 cup frosting evenly over top. Place remaining cake, domed side down, on top. Spread top and sides with 1 1/4 cups frosting and chill 30 minutes to let frosting set. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides, swirling decoratively.