Okay, so we’ve established that I didn’t grow up eating many of the dishes I love now. Of course I do love what I did grow up on.
In fact, I probably have more of an appreciation for many of the rustic, simple dishes of my parents’ homeland now more than ever. One of my goals this year is to document many of my mom’s recipes (since I only have them written down on scraps of paper) and give them the honour they deserve (in my humble opinion) So you may see some of these pop up every once in a while.
One of the desserts that I discovered as a teenager/adult was carrot cake. That classic diner dessert that is always offered behind the glass domes in all the current trendy coffee houses. There is nothing like a tender, moist, spicy carrot cake. I love all the incarnations of this baked good. But of course, the spicier versions are the best (at least in my humble opinion!)
There is a debate as to whether there should be walnuts in carrot cake, or not. Pineapple? Raisins? You know, I’m happy to settle the debate: The more the merrier! But I would rather it not be so sweet with sugar that the natural sweetness of the carrots and pineapple get lost. Through the years, I have used so many different recipes in search of that perfect storm of sweet, texture, moist, and spicy. Finally nailed it. Then came the ultimate icing to wrap said carrot cake in. Again, not too sweet, the tang of the cream cheese should still be there. And ever the spice lover, I finally decided that a touch of allspice and cinnamon in the icing (but not too much) was what I was craving.
This is an easy wooden spoon, whisk and a couple of bowls recipe. The hardest part is shredding the carrots. A food processor really helps out here. These days I’ve been using green raisins- they stay plump and don’t add as much visual contrast. I have used chopped walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, sometimes all at the same time! The cardamom bitters are optional but if you can get some (most good grocers or specialty shops carry them these days thanks to the cocktail craze going on) use them. The bitters and the ground cardamom really add a lovely depth to the final flavour.
And I am pretty chuffed with my icing. Allspice and cinnamon get added in, for flecks of colour, as well as a bit more spicy fun. And if you are preparing two or more rounds, why not add a layer of apricot or peach preserves in between? I lay down the preserves, and then spread some of the icing on top. Usually bits of the preserves end up getting caught in the icing, and even make their way to the outside of the cake. But to me, this just adds to the charm! It’s a rustic cake, not meant to win any award shows! And then I sprinkle toasted coconut flakes on top, for a final bit of decor. A cake does need some sort of accessorizing, wouldn’t you say?!
While the original recipe from a scrap of paper says to use an 8 x 12 inch cake pan, I often just use 7 or 8 inch springform pans. With the 7 or even 6 inch pans, you will have enough batter to fill at least 4 large muffin wells. Or you could use an entire mini muffin tin.
Every kitchen should have a go-to carrot cake recipe at hand. Perfect to entertain with, it can easily transform into breakfast! Why not use the same batter to make breakfast muffins? Sprinkle some of my homemade gluten-free Gingerbread Buckwheat Granola on top of each muffin before they enter the oven, and the perfect topping has been achieved. Then you can just grab one in the morning and head out the door. Or if the kids are having friends over, make cupcakes. Difference between muffins and cupcakes? The second ones are iced!!! Ice your cupcakes and sprinkle some toasted coconut over the icing and you are now the talk of the town.
So, here is a Carrot Cake recipe that is the jack of all trades. Easy to whip together. In fact, make a couple of cake rounds and keep them in the freezer if you know that company is headed your way later in the week. Retro, classic, Carrot Cake.
ps: I updated my photos recently, and boy oh boy, is there are contrast between the now (2019) and the then (2016) !! I’m just thrilled so many of you didn’t let those photos turn you away from baking this winner of a cake! Thanks!
CARDAMOM CARROT CAKE WITH ALLSPICE CREAM CHEESE ICING
A moist, spicy, carrot cake classic, with a warmly spiced cream cheese icing. The cardamom powder and bitters add true depth to the cake. And it is so full of wonderful ingredients like walnuts, pineapple, raisins, and of course carrots, that it's practically health food!
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 cup kefir (or buttermilk)
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil (canola, sunflower or grapeseed)
- 1 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 5 good dashes of cardamom bitters (optional)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 cups AP flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp ground cardamom
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 cups shredded carrots
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 cup walnuts , chopped small
- 3/4 cup crushed pineapple and juice
- 1 cup raisins
ALLSPICE CREAM CHEESE ICING
- 1/2 of a 8 oz (or 1/2 of 250 grams) pkg of cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup butter , softened
- 3/4 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3-4 cups of icing sugar
- 2 tbsp milk
- 3 tbsp or so of peach or apricot preservers to go in between the layers if you are making a layer cake.
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 8x12" pan. If you choose to use springform pans (6-8 inch will all work) then try lining the bottom with parchment paper. I do this by layering the parchment on top of the bases, and then secure the sides and clamp, trapping the paper inside and outside the pan. This makes for easy removal once the cakes have cooled.
In a medium bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cardamom and cinnamon.
In a large bowl combine the eggs, kefir, oil, sugar and vanilla. Add the bitters if using. Add flour mixture to the bowl. Mix until all incorporated.
In a medium bowl combine the carrots, coconut, walnuts, pineapple and raisins.
Using a large wooden spoon, stir the carrot mixture into the egg and flour mixture, Fold in well.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 1 hour. Start checking after 50 minutes. Remove when skewer comes out clean. Timing will be affected by the size of pans you are using. I find that the large muffins are done in 35-40 minutes.
Allow to cool completely on rack before icing.
In a stand mixer add the cream cheese, butter, spices and vanilla extract. Mix until completely smooth. Add the icing sugar 1/2 cup at a time. Stop when you have enough or it is sweet enough for your liking. If it is too thick use the milk to thin it out. Wait until cake is completely cool to ice. If preparing a layered cake, why not add a layer of peach or apricot preserves on the first round before adding the icing? Makes a lovely addition!
I use this recipe but don't always stick to the square or rectangular pan for baking. I have used 6" and up to 8" rounds or springform pans, and of course muffin tins. Fill the size you want to use appropriately, and if there is leftover batter, fill a mini muffin tin! I find that if I use two 7" rounds, there is still enough batter left to fill 8 mini muffin cups.
If you use 6" or 7" rounds, you can bake up two layers and put icing in between. I would put a thin layer of apricot preserves in between as well! I top my iced carrot cake with toasted flaked coconut. It adds a lovely texture and fragrance.
Adapted from Sam's Famous Carrot Cake