I think I made the first version of this carrot cake back when I was pastry sous chef at Gilt, the long-closed restaurant in New York’s Palace Hotel. My pastry boss at the time, David Carmichael, said it was a killer recipe and that I should keep it. He also gave me the idea of running the carrots through a juicer and then adding the pulp and juice back together before adding them to the batter. This will give you a firmer crumb than the usual box grater trick.
I took David’s advice and followed the recipe; it has stayed with me through the years. Aureole, my first gig as a pastry chef, had a fried version of the recipe on the dessert menu with red grape sorbet – and as you know me back then, probably some quark and cheese squiggles and, uh, micro carrot toppings? (Hey, it was 2009!) When I was working at Lafayette, I first substituted whole wheat flour for some of the white flour, and the result sat proudly on the bakery counter as a savory oatmeal muffin. That whole grain ratio took me to Atlanta, where the cake debuted as my own take on the classic hummingbird, all chunky and delicious with toasted pineapple and Georgia pecans folded through the batter. Now, at Buttery, it lives the way I think it always should be: pure and carrot-y with no spices, layered and topped with its eternal partner of cream cheese frosting.
If you don’t have a juicer, you can also put the carrots through a food processor or grate as usual and then chop the shreds on a board with a chef’s knife – you’re looking for a fine mince.
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe
Makes 1 gorgeous 8 inch cake with 4 layers to serve 12 generously
For the dehydrated carrot garnish:
1 medium carrot
For the cake:
2 2/3 cups (525 grams) organic cane sugar
1½ cups (330 grams) neutral vegetable oil
6 (300 grams each) large eggs
2/3 cup (90 grams) whole wheat flour (Anson Mills Graham Flour preferred)
1 ¾ cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached
2 teaspoons (9 grams) baking soda
½ teaspoon (3 grams) fine sea salt
3 ½ cups (380 grams) carrots, finely grated and chopped from about 6 medium carrots
For the cream cheese glaze:
1 pound (454 grams) cream cheese, softened
¾ cup (91 grams) powdered sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
¾ cup (170 grams) butter, super soft
1 tablespoon (20 grams) sorghum syrup (or golden syrup or honey)
2 teaspoons (9 grams) vanilla paste (you can substitute extract if you have it)
Step 1: When preparing the dehydrated carrot garnish, peel the carrot and use a mandoline or vegetable peeler to finely chop the carrot. You have a few ways to dehydrate them. If you have a microwave, place the carrot slices on a plate lined with parchment or kitchen paper. Cook on half power for 2 minutes, then continue in 30-second bursts until shriveled into small ruffled pieces. Remove from the microwave and let cool completely until crispy.
If you don’t have a microwave, place the slices on a dehydrator tray and dry at 150 degrees for about 4 hours or until the edges curl up and are completely dry. Alternatively, place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in an oven, set to the lowest heat possible, with the door slightly ajar, until completely dry, about 6 hours or overnight. These carrot ruffles can be stored in an airtight container for up to a month and refreshed again in a low oven when needed.
Step 2: Make the cake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare two 8-inch cake pans by rubbing or spraying them with oil and lining the bottom with a circle of parchment paper (the paper is optional, but you’ll definitely want to pre-grease the pan) .
Step 3: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the Combine the whisk attachment, sugar, oil and eggs. Beat the ingredients on medium-high speed, about 5 to 7 minutes, until the mixture starts to lighten in color and increase in volume, with a mayonnaise-like consistency.
Step 4: Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl.
Step 5: Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in 3 additions, mixing to incorporate, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula between additions.
Step 6: Add the carrots and mix again until mixture is completely homogeneous, 30 to 40 seconds.
Step 7: Remove the bowl from the mixer and use the rubber spatula to scrape and fold the dough from the bottom of the bowl to really make sure the dough is cohesive.
Step 8: Divide the batter evenly between the two pans.
Step 9: Bake the cakes for 50 to 55 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly.
Step 10: Let the cakes cool in the molds for about 15 minutes and then turn them out onto a baking sheet. Chill the cakes in the fridge or freezer for about 30 minutes before frosting. This will help when splicing (or pieing) the cakes into layers for building. You can even keep the cakes in the fridge overnight if you’re not able to do the full baking/assembly in one shot.
Step 11: To make the glaze, first make sure both the cream cheese and butter are fully softened to room temperature. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the softened cream cheese, powdered sugar, and salt. Cream them first on low speed, then on medium speed until completely smooth and a little fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the softened butter to the cream cheese mixture and continue beating on medium speed until very fluffy and smooth, about 4 minutes. (The icing will thicken as you do this, so just keep beating.) Finally, add the sorghum and vanilla, mixing just to incorporate.
Step 12: To assemble the cake, flatten the curved tops of the two cakes with a serrated knife. Divide each cake in two layers horizontally. (This can be done very easily if you have a cake plate, but it’s definitely not a necessary gadget. Just do your best to end up with 4 similarly thick cake layers.)
Step 13: Place the bottom layer of one of the cakes, cut-side up, on a 10-inch round board or platter. Spread about 1 cup of cream cheese icing on the cake and cover with the top layer of the same cake. Apply another cup 1 icing and then cover with the top layer of the second cake. Spread another 1 cup of frosting on top and finally place the bottom layer of the second cake on top, cut side down. If some of the glaze has oozed out on the sides, use an offset spatula or butter knife to smooth it down. For the best, cleanest results, freeze the assembled cake for about 30 minutes to set the icing layers in place.
Step 14: Once the cake is chilled and feels a little firmer, top with the rest of the icing and toss and toss until the cake is completely coated. Garnish the top with the dehydrated carrot crumbles. The cake tastes best at room temperature, but can be kept covered in the fridge for up to 5 days before serving.
jen yee is senior pastry chef for the Hopkins and Company restaurant group, including The Buttery ATL. She lives in Atlanta.
Dina Avila is a photographer based in Portland, Oregon.
Recipe tested by Deena Prichep