Oh so you want a project, huh? In that case, you’d better go shopping, like, NOW, since so many of the ingredients need to be brought to room temperature (but in their own sweet time, of course – no cheating). Oh, and start planning to become the type of person who makes candied carrots, which is to say, a dedicated lunatic. These are, of course, optional, but people will look at you in disbelief and awe if you make a cake adorned in them. Every time someone looks at you with that sentiment, you get to feel a half-day’s less anxiety – super worth it. Consider that as you behold the lengthy ingredient list below. And, no, I don’t like raisins any more than the next sane person; I’m not a boring masochist - but fat, rum-soaked golden raisins are a bit of a different story. They’re coated in carrot cake batter and frosting any way! So inoffensive!
BA’s Best: Carrot Cake w/ Cream Cheese Frosting + Candied Carrots
Taken from BA’s Best arsenal, with just a hair of tweaking in the directions
1/3 cup golden raisins (optional)
3 tbsp dark rum (only necessary if using raisins…let that be a motivator to you)
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, measured correctly
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
1 lb carrots, peeled and grated
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
¾ cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 tsp vanilla
¾ cup vegetable oil + more for greasing for pans
12 oz cream cheese (~1 + 1/3 standard “bricks”), room temperature
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
Pinch kosher salt
4 cups icing sugar
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and very thinly sliced into coins
2 tbsp white sugar + more to coat
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat 2 round, 9-inch cake pans with oil (spray or regular – don’t go overboard though) and line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper. If you’ve opted to use raisins, go ahead and place both the raisins and the rum in a small saucepan over low heat until just warm (~2 minutes). Remove from the heat and let sit until the liquid has been absorbed and the raisins have grown fat with rum (~15-20 minutes). While the raisins soak, toast the walnuts in the oven on a small rimmed baking sheet for ~10 minutes or until golden brown (toss once or twice for more even browning). Set aside while you prepare the cake batter.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the grated carrots and buttermilk. Set aside. Using a stand mixer (or a handheld electric mixer) beat the eggs, white sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla on high speed until pale and thick (~4 minutes). Reduce the speed to medium-low and gradually stream in the vegetable oil to blend. Add the prepared flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the prepared carrot-buttermilk mixture, each time blending until things have just become incorporated. You should be starting AND ending with the flour additions (so basically do 1/3 flour mix – ½ carrot mix – 1/3 flour mix – ½ carrot mix – 1/3 flour mix). After the final addition, fold the raisins (if using) and toasted walnuts into the batter with a rubber spatula. Evenly divide the batter among the 2 prepared cake pans.
Bake the cakes for 35-45 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of each pan comes out clean), rotating the pans from front-to-back and from left-to-right halfway through baking. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Run a butter knife along the sides of the pans and invert the cakes onto the rack, removing the parchment layer. Let cool completely.
While the cakes cool, prepare the frosting and carrot coins (which, again, are optional, but applauded). Using a stand mixer (or a handheld electric mixer) beat the cream cheese and butter on high until very smooth. Beat in the vanilla and salt, then reduce the speed to low and gradually mix in the icing sugar (this will INEVITABLY result in an initial *poof* of sugar, but move on). Once all the icing sugar has been added, increase the speed back up to high and beat the frosting until it is light and fluffy (~2 minutes). If the icing seems a bit loose or runny, fridge it up while you wait for the cakes to cool (you may need to then let it soften for 5-10 minutes prior to spreading, depending on how long you leave it in for).
For the candied carrots, place the thinly sliced carrot coins and 2 tbsp white sugar in a small pot along with ¼ cup water. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and stir gently to separate the carrots as best you can. Keep cooking for another 5 minutes or until the carrots are soft. Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup before adding several generous pinches of sugar. Keep cooking and swirl the pan until all of the carrots are coated. Spread the carrots out in a single layer on a large piece of parchment paper and let cool completely. Once cool, separate the carrots with your fingers and toss each coin in more sugar to coat. Set aside until ready to use.
To assemble your masterpiece, place 1 of the cakes (domed side down) on a platter or serving vessel. Spread ~1 ¼ cups frosting on the top of the cake until you have achieved an even layer (though you can have a bit of extra frosting along the rim, which will squish out pleasingly when you add the second cake layer). Carefully set the second cake on top (domed side down), setting this layer so that the edges are perfectly aligned with the bottom cake’s edges. Use you hands to gently brush as many loose crumbs off of the sides of the cakes as possible, then sweep them off the platter. Spread the top and sides with another ~1 ¼ cups frosting to cover the cake as best you can. Don’t worry about prettying it up yet – you are creating a “crumb layer”, which basically serves as ugly base that you can then spread your pretty layer on top of later. Just try to keep the crumb layer even (no overly patchy spots). Chill the cake for 30 minutes to allow the crumb layer to set.
Once chilled, spread the remaining frosting over the cake’s top and sides, swirling decoratively with your knife if you’re fancy like that. Top with the candied carrot coins (if using) and either serve immediately, or chill to allow everything to meld together just a little longer. I like the latter option because I actually believe that carrot cake tastes better with a bit of a chill to it, but suit your own tastes. Cut into fat wedges and regard the people around you, who all surely now simultaneously revere and fear you.