My aunt is famous in my family for her carrot cake. This is partly due to the fact that she doesn't make it for just any old dinner or family gathering. It just magically shows up exactly when you need it. And with its tender cinnamon-scented crumb and thick layer of cream cheese frosting, yes, you definitely need it.
Far from being a secret, my aunt happily shared the recipe with me when I finally asked for it a while back. She admitted that she originally copied the recipe from a cookbook, though which exact one has long been forgotten. But she then went on to describe so many tweaks, adjustments, and variations that I'm convinced this is now solely her own.
In turn, I have made my own tweaks and adjustments. My aunt prefers a layered round cake; I like a sheet cake. My aunt adds nuts and raisins; I'll make mine with the carrots alone. My aunt uses a cooked frosting of cream, sugar, and cream cheese; I keep it simple with a basic cream cheese frosting.
But the base recipe remains my aunt's, and it surpasses all other carrot cakes I've ever had the pleasure of sampling.
Serves 12-15, depending on the size of your slices
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup (6 ounces) canola oil
1 cup (8 ounces) granulated sugar
4 cups grated carrots (a little less than 2 pounds of whole carrots)
1 batch Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x13 baking dish.
Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, powder, soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the vanilla. Set both aside.
In a large bowl, beat together the oil and sugar in a mixer or by hand until they reach a uniform consistency. With the mixer on low, beat 1/3 of the flour. Next, add 1/3 of the eggs. Continue adding the flour and eggs in alternating additions. Stop mixing when the last of the flour is just barely incorporated. Fold the carrots into the batter with a spatula, working slowly and gently until the carrots are distributed and no more dry flour remains.
Pour the batter into the baking dish and tap the dish a few times against the counter to work out the air bubbles. Bake for 45-50 minutes, rotating once during baking. The finished cake should be slightly puffed in the middle and browned on the edges. A toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean.
Let the cake cool completely before frosting, about one hour, or wait to frost until the next day. Leftover cake can be kept, covered, at room temperature for several days. You can also wrap the unfrosted cake in aluminum foil and freeze it for up to 3 months.
Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Faith Durand's recipe
Makes enough to thickly cover a 9x13" cake
1/4 cup (2 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups confectioner's sugar
pinch of salt
Beat together the butter and cream cheese. Slowly beat in the vanilla, confectioner's sugar, and salt. Increase to high speed once the frosting starts to come together into lumps. Beat until creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Related: Tip: How to Frost Cakes without Making a Mess
(Images: Emma Christensen)