Where do I even begin to talk about my grandmother, Bessie, when it comes to the topic of my love affair with cooking? I suspect Bessie is where the whole thing got sparked; through many afternoons of cutting cookies, icing cakes, and filling pies, with the oldies radio station blaring its (at times casually offensive) songs in which any unmarried woman was surely young enough to be referred to as a ‘gal’. The funny thing about it all starting here, is that Bessie didn’t even like to cook that much, but she nonetheless managed to imbue the whole affair with such tenderness that it all got wrapped up in the notion of love for me. When you love people, you cook for them, because that’s just what a person does and everyone needs to eat.
Although this recipe has been modified since Bessie originally typed it up on an old typewriter and bound it in a small red leather book, the cake recipe itself is essentially unchanged. Bessie’s icing has been swapped out for something a tad lighter and cleaner than the margarine-laden original, and the presentation has changed from sheet cake to bundt (hence the frosting replacement). The tender crumb of this moist cake is the same as I remember it being when this used to be the go-to birthday cake for my mother every May. And don’t worry, this cake will still taste divine for you, even if it isn’t steeped in a heavy coating of nostalgia and adoration.
Bessie’s Carrot Cake w/ Lemon Cream Cheese Drizzle + Pecans
2 cups all-purpose flour, measured correctly
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ ground cloves
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp salt
1 ¼ cups canola oil
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
2 cups grated, peeled carrots
¾ cup icing sugar
3 oz cream cheese (~1/3 of a standard “brick”), softened
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup whipping cream + more as needed to thin
½ cup coarsely ground pecans (toasted would be a bonus!)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and prepare a greased-and-floured bundt pan. You can also bake this in the classic manner of a 9x13 sheet cake-type affair, but I prefer the elegance of a bundt. Either way, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with electric beaters) beat together the canola oil and white sugar on high speed for 2 full minutes. With the motor still running, beat in the eggs individually, waiting until each one is fully incorporated before adding the next. Briefly beat in the grated carrots. With the mixer on low, gradually add in the flour mixture until just combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared bundt/cake pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, rotating the pan from front-to-back halfway through baking. Use a toothpick stuck through the middle of the cake to ensure that the batter has cooked through (crumbs sticking to it are fine though). Set the cake to cool on a wire rack. If using a bundt pan, gently run a butter knife along the edge of the dish after ~15 minutes of cooling then invert carefully onto a plate or cake stand. I like to let it sit upside down in the pan for a few seconds and then give a few sharp bangs on the metal with the butter knife. If you correctly greased and floured the pan, you should not have an issue with the cake removing itself quite cleanly from the sides of the dish. Let the cake cool completely.
While the cake cools, make the drizzle. I will say, if you’ve made this sheet cake style, I think a thicker cream cheese frosting would be more suitable (though you could cut out fat cubes of cake and drizzle this over too…your call really). In the bowl of a food processor, combine the icing sugar, cream cheese, lemon juice/zest, and vanilla. Pulse the mixture until blended. Blend in enough whipping cream to make the drizzle as pourable as you’d like. Drizzle over the cooled cake and garnish with ground pecans. Bessie would be pleased with your handiwork.