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 big, easily shared cake baked in a 9x13-inch pan. My aunt adds nuts and raisins; I'll make mine with the carrots alone, please and thank you. My aunt uses a cooked frosting of cream, sugar, and cream cheese; I keep it simple with a very 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.
For the cake:
2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 large 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 carrots)
For the frosting: 1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x13-inch 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 stand 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 to 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.
When ready to frost, beat together the butter and cream cheese. Slowly beat in the vanilla, powdered sugar, and salt. Increase to high once the frosting starts to come together into lumps. Beat until creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
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.