For quite a while, I spent a lot of time on Amtrak commuting between Philly and DC. I spent those luxurious hours listening to podcasts and reading cooking magazines. When I came upon a recipe for the “best carrot cake,” I dogeared the page and resolved to bake the cake for father’s day. My dad loves this one particular carrot cake from a diner in Philadelphia, with shaved chocolate around the outside, cream cheese icing, and cute orange carrots made of frosting decorating the top. I think we’ve had this cake my whole life, brought by family members to every gathering. On the few occasions when the diner only had cakes with walnuts around the outside, sadness ensued. And so I, not the best baker but one who shows love with food, successfully made a carrot cake better than the one from the diner. We’ll never be tormented with walnuts on the outside of a cake again.
Walnuts inside of the cake, however, are completely acceptable, even desired. So to make this cake, begin by toasting 1 cup of chopped walnuts in the oven until they smell toasty, then set them aside. While the walnuts toast, add 1/2 cup of raisins and 3 tablespoons of rum to a small pot, heat it until warm, then turn off the heat and let the pot sit for about 20 minutes until the raisins plump and absorb the rum.
Peel 1 pound of carrots, and grate them using the large holes of a box grater. Add the carrots to a bowl, and stir in 1 cup of buttermilk.
In a large bowl, whisk together 2.5 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 2 teaspoons of ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg, 1.5 teaspoons of kosher salt, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, and 3/4 teaspoon of baking soda.
To the bowl of a stand mixer, add 4 eggs, 1 cup of sugar, 3/4 cup of brown sugar, and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.
Use a mixer to beat the wet ingredients for about 4 minutes, until the mixture is pale and thick. Reduce the mixer speed, and slowly pour in 3/4 cup of vegetable oil.
Stir in 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then stir in 1/2 of the carrots, and repeat until the dry ingredients and carrots are all mixed in. Then, stir in the raisins and walnuts.
Heat your oven to 350º F. Grease two 9-inch cake pans, and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Grease the tops of the parchment paper, and then divide the batter between the pans.
Bake the cakes for 35-45 minutes, until a toothpick can be inserted into the center of a cake and come out cleanly. Let the cakes rest, then remove them from the pans and let them cool on a rack.
While the cakes bake and cool, prepare the cake decorations. Bring 1 brick of cream cheese and 1.5 sticks of butter to room temperature. If you want to make candied carrots for the top of the cake (not very delicious, but very pretty), slice 2 carrots thinly into coins using a mandoline. Add the carrots to a small pot along with 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1/4 cup of water. Heat the pot, and stir to dissolve the sugar and separate the carrots. Then increase the heat to high and cook until the liquid thickens into a syrup. Stir in a bunch of pinches of sugar until the carrots are coated.
Dump the carrots onto a tray with even more sugar, and toss them to coat. Separate the carrot coins, and allow them to dry off and harden in the sugar. Add sugar liberally as needed.
Also make the cream cheese frosting! MY FAVORITE PART. Using a mixer, beat 1 brick of room temperature cream cheese with 1.5 sticks (3/4 cup) of room temperature butter. Once smooth, beat in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. Turn the mixer to low, and gradually add 4 cups of powdered sugar. Once incorporated, return the mixer to high, and beat the frosting for 2 minutes until it is fluffy.
When the cakes are completely cool, place one of the cakes upside down on a cake plate. Top with 3/4 cup of frosting, followed by the other upside down cake, and 1.25 cups of the frosting. Put some pieces of parchment paper around the bottom cake to keep your cake plate clean during decorating.
Use an offset spatula to spread the frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Put the cake in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Then, add the rest of the frosting to the top of the cake, and spread it over the top and around the sides of the cake.
Use a vegetable peeler to turn a bar of dark chocolate into a whole lot of chocolate shavings.
Gently press the chocolate shavings into the sides of the cake.
Arrange the candied carrot coins on the top of the cake. Remove the parchment paper, and behold the carrot cake beauty!
Slice into that carrot cake and admire the layers flecked with orange carrots, plump raisins, and toasted walnuts. It’s moist, not too sweet, and the cream cheese frosting binds it all together in a tangy-sweet hug. But the best part, of course, is the chocolate shavings! My dad loved his cake, and I loved making it for him. Everyone liked eating it a whole lot too! Between servings, store the cake covered in the refrigerator. No doubt, this cake will be a father’s day tradition. The diner version will have to suffice the rest of the year!
This recipe is from Bon Appetit magazine.
- Raisins- ½ cup
- Rum- 3 tablespoons
- Walnuts- 1 cup chopped
- Carrots- 1 pound + 2
- Buttermilk- 1 cup
- Flour- 2.5 cups
- Cinnamon- 2 teaspoons
- Ground ginger- 2 teaspoons
- Nutmeg- 1/2 teaspoon
- Baking powder- 2 teaspoons
- Kosher salt- 1.5 teaspoons +
- Baking soda- 3/4 teaspoon
- Eggs- 4
- Sugar- 1 cup +++ for carrot coins
- Brown sugar- 3/4 cup
- Vanilla extract- 3 teaspoons total
- Vegetable oil- 3/4 cup
- Cream cheese- 12 ounces (1 brick)
- Butter- 3/4 cup (1.5 sticks)
- Powdered sugar- 4 cups