This incredible cake features tender carrot flecks in an orange-scented, ultra-moist batter. It’s not just the combination of oranges and carrots that make this cake shine, warm cinnamon scents the batter and vanilla perfumes the tangy cream cheese frosting. It’s a sweet, lemony cake with a rich, silky glaze. Carrot Cake Nirvana.
Carrot cakes are traditionally made with oil instead of butter. Why? Oil keeps carrot cake moist and lasts for days (if not devoured on day one). It also helps with tidying up. No electric mixer is required as we don’t aerate butter by whipping it with sugar – a technique used to create a lighter, more tender cake. And trust me, this carrot cake is going to be perfectly light and tender anyway.
So what makes this recipe different? For one, most carrot cake recipes call for mashed pineapple, and there’s a good reason for that. A scientific reason. Pineapple contains enzymes that break down protein and tenderize food. In the case of carrot cake, they break down the proteins in the flour and soften the carrots, resulting in a tender, moist cake. Also, pineapple juice is sweet, and while carrots are “sweet” compared to other vegetables, they’re not “cake sweet.”
However, pineapple isn’t the only fruit with tenderizing abilities. Citrus performs the same function. The combination of tangy oranges and sweet carrots gives the classic carrot cake a refreshing makeover. The juice keeps the cake moist, sweetens the dough and gives it an incomparable taste explosion.
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Tips for the perfect carrot cake
Grate your carrots properly. I recommend using a food processor with a grater blade for consistency, efficiency, and easy cleanup. You can also use the large holes on your box grater. This carrot cake only bakes for about 30 minutes, so the carrot shreds don’t get soft for long. Larger chunks of carrot won’t soften during this time, and nobody wants a crunchy cake.
Measure your ingredients accurately. As with all cakes, measuring correctly is key to a successful result. Add a little more sugar and the cake may sink in the middle. Too much flour and the cake will be dry. Don’t mind – use measuring cups and spoons and line them up with the flat side of a knife.
Don’t over-stir the batter. Although we’re beating and stirring by hand in this recipe (not using an electric mixer), over-mixing the batter is still a hazard. Overworking the gluten in the flour can result in a chewy, chewy cake. Blend just until the dry ingredients are incorporated into the “wet” carrot mixture.
Cool the cake completely before frosting, at least 1 hour. The icing is made with cream cheese and butter, both of which will melt if you try to frosting the cake while it’s warm.
Chill cake before serving, if possible, at least two hours. As hard as it may be to wait, the cake and frosting are better when they’ve had a chance to mix for a few hours. That said, it’s not the end of the world if you want to enjoy the cake sooner.
Refrigerate your carrot cake. Because the cake contains fresh carrots and the frosting is butter and cream cheese, this carrot cake needs to be kept cold. You can leave it in the plastic or foil covered cake pan or transfer it to a sealable container. The cake will keep refrigerated for up to 7 days.
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Recipe: The ultimate carrot cake
serves: 8 to 10
- Cooking spray, oil, or butter for coating the pan
- 2 cups of granulated sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup orange juice
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups finely grated carrots, about 5 medium carrots
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest, about 1 orange
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with cooking spray, oil, or butter. Note: Some nonstick pans, especially those that come with a ceramic nonstick coating, should be coated with a light coating of oil or butter, not cooking spray.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, orange juice, eggs, and vanilla. Fold in the carrots and orange zest.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined and incorporated. Don’t overmix.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a wooden skewer comes out with moist crumbs. Place on a wire rack to cool. Cool completely before frosting, at least 1 hour.
- For the frosting, in a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the powdered sugar one cup at a time. Mix until combined and creamy.
- Once the cake has cooled completely, spread the cream cheese frosting over it. Chill for at least two hours before serving. Store leftover cake in the fridge.
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