No cake makes me think of Easter or spring more than carrot cake. I LOVE it. It's the best flavor outside of vanilla and chocolate cake, and that's saying a lot, because I love nothing more than a perfect slice of moist, rich chocolate cake. This is something else though! Carrot cake has been a treat that I've looked forward to ever since I was little. It's not that I remember ever having a particularly good carrot cake when I was younger, but I do remember that whenever my dad brought a slice home, it was a cause for celebration (in my mind, at least; no one else seemed to love carrot cake as much as I did). I love all types of carrot cakes, from a the most basic to the one with all the mix-ins. This carrot cake took a middle of the road approach. It's got a fair amount of extras stirred in (shredded coconut and crushed pineapple), but lacks the raisins and nuts that would make this a hefty, fully-loaded cake. Nevertheless, it's an incredible cake.
Aside from being an incredible forkful, this cake is incredibly easy to make. For starters, you don't need a mixer of any kind to make the cake itself. Some bowls and a wooden spoon and whisk are all you need. Dry ingredients are whisked together, and in a separate bowl, sugar, oil, sour cream, milk, eggs, vanilla extract and some orange zest are mixed together. The oil makes the cake easy to mix by hand, the sour cream gives the cake so much moisture, and the orange zest adds a lovely hint of freshness. Once the cake base has been mixed, crushed pineapple, shredded coconut, and lots of carrots are stirred in. The carrots can be shredded in a food processor or by hand on a box grater. I chose to grate them by hand because I think they come out a little bit coarser than in a food processor, and it's a such a nice texture. And that's all the cake is. 25 minutes in the oven, and three beautifully golden brown cakes will emerge. A quick cream cheese frosting (easily made with a hand mixer) is all the cake needs now.
I kept the decoration really simple for this cake. I filled a large piping bag fitted with a large open star tip with the cream cheese frosting and piped a ring of frosting around the edge of the cake. The center then got filled with more frosting and a cake layer was placed on top. And that was it. I wanted to keep this cake beautifully simple, and leaving the sides exposed was the perfect way to do it. Getting to see all the mix-in's and texture in the cakes is such a refreshing change from a perfectly iced cake, and it's just as much of a showstopper. The frosting recipe below yields just enough to frost the layers and top, so if you want to frost the sides of the cake, you should double the quantities below. However you decide to frost the cake, it's going to be one that's worthy of any springtime dessert table or the finish to a lovely Easter brunch. After all, what's Easter without a perfect slice of carrot cake?
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Saveur
For the Cake
3/4 cup canola oil
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 scant cups sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
zest of half an orange
3 cups freshly grated carrots
1 cup canned crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
For the Frosting
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and position a rack in the middle of the oven. Grease, flour, and line 3 8-inch round baking pans with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; set aside. In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the oil, sugar, milk, sour cream, vanilla extract, eggs, and orange zest. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, followed by the carrots, pineapple, and coconut. Divide the batter among the three prepared cake pans. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25-28 minutes. Set the cakes on a wire racks and allow them to cool in the pans completely.
While the cakes are cooling, prepare the cream cheese frosting. In the bowl of a standard electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium speed until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla, beating until light and fluffy.
Once cooled, it's time to assemble the cake. Using a long serrated knife, level off the tops of the cakes, if necessary (save them to decorate the cake!). Place one of the cakes on a serving platter, cut side down. Spread 1/3 of the frosting in an even layer over the cake. Place the second cake on top, and add a layer of frosting. Place the last cake on top, and spread the remaining frosting decoratively on top. Crumble some of the cake tops onto the center of the cake. Leave the cake in the fridge until ready to serve, taking it out about an hour before serving so it loses its chill. Enjoy!
Makes 1 3-layer, 8-inch cake