Carrot Layer Cake

May 31, 2012

I’ve never loved carrot cake, which is why this is my last recipe from the May / June issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Carrot Cake always seemed dense and unbalanced,  that the heavy carrot always meant a heavy and squat cake. Fortunately, today’s recipe is perfectly balanced with the just right amount of carrot. The cake uses a layering technique to support the weight of the moist carrot, it’s as if it defies gravity. Finally, a carrot cake truly worth of being loved. Plus it looks like a work of art. 4-stars.

Not quite level, but otherwise the best carrot cake I’ve ever eaten.

But the cake is not without its problems. The thin cake ripped as I took it out of the pan, and the parchment paper made thinner rounded corners that prevented me from orienting the pieces to even as I pleased.

Comments / Issues:

  1. I’m glad that all 4 layers cook together as a single large piece. It’s so much easier than trying to make 4 separate layers.
  2. There was a problem flipping the carrot cake. The cake ripped because it was thin (and therefore fragile) and I don’t have a cooling rack that is as large as my sheet pan. I was able to reassemble the broken parts and use them as the middle layers. It came out fine.
  3. The thick batter will not spread evenly, so you are guaranteed to have an uneven cake. Chris Kimball’s suggestion to just arrange the layers to even out the final cake would only work if you have a perfect rectangle. But the parchment paper means you’ll have thin, rounded corners. My cake only fit together one specific way; unevenly.
  4. I’d suggest chopping the pecans smaller than my pieces. It will make for a slightly more refined appearance.
  5. Chris Kimball warns against substitute liquid buttermilk for the buttermilk powder in the frosting. Obviously one is liquid and the other is powder.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $11. ($5 of which was the pecans)
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 3:00 PM. Ready at 5:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  My descriptions of how I prepare it today are given below:

Cake ingredients:
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (8-3/4 ounces)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1-1/4 cups light brown sugar (8-3/4 ounces)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-2/3 cups shredded carrots (4 carrots; about 10 ounces)
2/3 cups dried currants (about 3 ounces)

  1. Set a rack to the middle of your oven and preheat to 350-degrees. Grease an 18”x 13” rimmed baking sheet, line it with parchment paper, and then grease the parchment paper too.  Remove two sticks of unsalted butter from refrigerator so that it will have softened when you are ready to make the frosting.
  2. Shred four carrots on the large holes of a box grater or using the shedding disk and your food processor. Be sure to use the small round feeding tube (the small hole within your full-sized oval tube).
  3. In a medium bowl, add together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves. Whisk together until combined.
  4. In another large bowl add sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Use a whisk to combine until smooth. Gently stir in carrots and currants with a rubber spatula until evenly distributed. Finally, add in flour mixture and fold in with your rubber spatula, but only until it is just combined.
  5. Empty batter onto baking sheet. Use an offset spatula to smooth surface and ensure the batter is an even depth. Bake for about 15 minutes, rotating half-way through baking, until the center is firm when touched.
  6. Allow cake to cool for 5 minutes in pan set on a wire rack. Flip the cake onto a wire rack then immediately re-flip back onto a second wire rack. The cake should be resting with the parchment side down. Allow the cake to cool for another 30 minutes.

Frosting ingredients:
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar (12 ounces)
1/3 cup buttermilk powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 ounces cream cheese (1-1/2 packages)
2 cups pecans (8 ounces)

  1. While the cake is cooking, toast your pecans and chop them coarsely. Cut your cream cheese into 12 equal-size pieces, but keep it refrigerated until you are ready to use in step 3.
  2. Add the butter, sugar, buttermilk powder, vanilla extract and salt to the bowl of a standing mixer. Mix using the paddle attachment on low-speed for 2 minutes; scrape down the bowl as necessary.
  3. Increase mixer speed to medium-low, then add cream cheese one piece at a time. Mix for 2 minutes until the frosting is smooth.

To Finish:

  1. Put cooled cake on a cutting board and cut into equal halves cross-wise. Cut length-wise so that you have 4 equal pieces, measuring about 6″x8″ each.
  2. Cut out a 6″x8″ rectangle out of stiff cardboard. Put the first of the cake piece on the cardboard. Use a spatula to spread 2/3-cup of frosting over layer. Repeat with two more layers.
  3. Place the final cake layer on top. Remove any crumbs from your spatula and frost the top with a 1-cup of frosting.
  4. Frost the sides of the cake with your remaining frosting. You just need enough frosting to hold the chopped pecans, not completely hide all the crumbs.
  5. Holding the cake with one hand, use your other hand to gently press the chopped pecans onto the side of your cake. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

    The interior layers were not perfectly uniform; but they’re hidden.

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