Like many other food bloggers, homebakers and homecooks, I shy away from calling a recipe the “best” ever recipe for whatever it is I have concocted – tastes, preferences and favourite ingredients are liable to change over time. Besides, what do people even mean when they say that something is the “best” ever cake/muffin/cookie recipe? Surely such judgment is highly subjective. Take brownies for example, some people have to have nuts in them, ideally walnuts, others abhor any kind of nuts in their brownie, most people want their brownies to be perfectly fudgy, while others find fudgy brownies cloying. What constitutes the perfect brownie for one person can be miles away from the perfect brownie for someone else.
With that said, below is what I would call “my” best carrot cake recipe – “my” in the very loose sense of the word since the recipe is not my recipe at all – I think it was my sister Helena who originally discovered the recipe on the Pioneer Woman’s blog a few years ago. But, suffice it to say, that out of all the carrot cake recipes I have tried over the years (and the many pieces of carrot cake I have eaten over the years, from the slice I ate for my 16th birthday cake while on a student exchange in Brisbane to slices eaten in my long-time favourite coffee shop Tinderbox in Islington, London, to trips to the US and home to Germany), the recipe below produces what I would consider the best carrot cake – this incredibly moist, nutty and orange-speckled cake, so full of spice that you wonder what combination of cinnamon, ginger, allspice and nutmeg is mixed into the batter. And yet the recipe is simple, both in its list of ingredients and its preparation. I think the secret is in the amount of cinnamon that goes into the batter – a full teaspoon!
With a few tweaks here and there (less sugar in the cake batter, a different technique for mixing the ingredients together, doubling the amount of frosting and using different ratios of cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar for the frosting), this recipe is a total crowd-pleaser and is me and my sister’s go-to carrot cake recipe. At the birthday child’s request, I baked this cake for my mum’s birthday this weekend – you know you are on to a winner when the birthday child takes the first bite of birthday cake and closes their eyes while a smile slowly spreads across their lips.
Oh and if you haven’t come across the Pioneer Woman’s blog before, go and have a look now – there is plenty to entertain you, from photo tutorials to the story of how the Pioneer Woman met her Cowboy to mouthwatering recipes, her blog has it all.
Recipe adapted from “Sigrid’s Carrot Cake”
For the cake
4 eggs, separated
225g vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
5 medium carrots, grated
50g walnuts, coarsely chopped (plus any additional walnuts in case you want to use some to decorate the top of the cake)
For the frosting (enough to sandwich two layers together and cover the entire cake in a thin layer of frosting)
250g butter, at room temperature
250g icing sugar, sifted
500g cream cheese
1. Pre-heat the oven to 175 degrees.
2. Sift the flour together with the pinch of salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Mix in the chopped walnuts. Set aside.
3. Place the egg yolks and the sugar in a bowl. While beating the egg yolks with the sugar using an electric whisk, slowly drizzle in the oil. Once all the oil has been absorbed add the egg whites in one go and beat for 1-2 minutes until combined with the egg yolk mixture. (Creating an emulsion with the eggs and the oil first ensures the a light and fluffy cake that is not oily in the slightest).
4. Add the grated carrot and the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and quickly stir everything together until there are no more pockets of flour left in the bowl.
5. Pour the batter into a greased springform and bake for ca. 45 minutes to 1 hour or until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
6. Take the cake out of the oven and leave to cool for 5-10 minutes before carefully removing the spring form and leaving the cake to cool completely on a wire rack (if the cake isn’t fully cooled the frosting will melt when you spread it on).
7. To make the frosting, start by beating the butter and icing sugar together with an electric whisk until all the sugar has been absorbed by the butter.
8. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat to combine the cream cheese with the sweetened butter.
9. Once all the cream cheese has been mixed with the sweetened butter, beat the frosting on high for ca. 5 minutes or until the mixture is pale and fluffy.
10. To assemble the cake, cut the cake in half using a serrated knife. Spread a thin layer of the frosting on the first layer of the cake and top with the other half of the cake. Starting with the sides of the cake, spread a thin layer of frosting all around the cake using a spatula or the blunt side of a big kitchen knife. This is called a ‘crumb coat’ – named as such as it makes sure that the final layer of frosting will be clean of cake crumbs. Cover the cake and place in the fridge for 10-20 minutes, just enough to let the frosting set slightly. Spread the remaining frosting all around the cake. (If you want you can scatter chopped walnuts on the top of the cake)
P.S. I did actually bake a second birthday cake for my mum this weekend – a four-layered coffee genoise sponge, drizzled with coffee simple syrup, filled with a chestnut creme patissiere and covered in a dark chocolate ganache. While the chestnut creme patissiere was divine, the dark chocolate ganache was a bit overpowering. I had wanted to avoid using buttercream but I think the chestnut creme patissiere needs something a little less “in your face” than the dark ganache. I am thinking that coffee-fondant glazed eclairs filled with the chestnut creme patissiere might be the way to go. So I will have to experiment a bit more but I am already looking forward to sharing with you the recipe for the chestnut creme patissiere, it was that good.