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.
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Serves 12 to 15
- For the cake:
large eggs, at room temperature
grated carrots (a little less than 2 pounds)
- For the frosting:
cream cheese, at room temperature
unsalted butter, at room temperature
Make the cake: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.
Place the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Place the eggs and vanilla in a medium bowl and whisk to combine; set both bowls aside.
Place the sugar and oil in a the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer or whisk and large bowl.) With the mixer on low (or by hand), beat 1/3 of the flour into the sugar mixture. Beat in 1/3 of the egg mixture. Continue adding the flour and eggs in alternating additions. Stop mixing when the last of the flour is just barely incorporated. Add the carrots and fold them in by hand with a rubber spatula, working slowly and gently until the carrots are distributed and no more dry flour remains.
Pour the batter into the baking dish and gently tap the dish a few times against the counter to work out the air bubbles. Bake for 25 minutes. Rotate the baking dish 180 degrees, then bake until the cake is slightly puffed in the middle and browned on the edges, and a toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean, 20 to 25 minutes more.
Place the cake on a wire rack and let cool completely before frosting, about 1 hour. You can also cover the cooled cake with plastic wrap and store at room temeperature to frost the next day.
Make the frosting: Place the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl.) Beat on medium speed until combined. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt until the frosting starts to come together into lumps. Increase the speed to to high and continue to beat until fluffy and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Dollop the frosting over the cake and spread into an even layer.
Storage: The unfrosted cake can be wrapped in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and kept at room temperature for several days or frozen for up to 3 months. The frosted cake can be wrapped with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Let come to room temperature before serving.