Just in case you haven't yet decided exactly which crowd-pleasin' dessert you're going to whip up for the big day, here's a really good carrot layer-cake recipe that I can recommend without reservation. It has very nice flavor, a soft texture, and it's perfectly moist. On top of all that, it's a complete cinch to prepare and darn near impossible to wreck in the process. The cake batter itself doesn't even require a mixer (not kidding)! I'm bringing one of these cakes to my mother- and father in-laws' house (that would be Nancy and Joe's) for dinner on Thursday.
The recipe I used is one that I adapted several months ago from Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri. (This is one of my favorite cookbooks, as you may already know. I raved about it in a past post about banana layer cake, so I'll try to contain myself here and just keep my mind on the carrots.) Anyway, it turned out great the last time I made it, so I thought this might be a nice change from what I usually bring on Thanksgiving. An interesting cheesecake is what I normally show up with, and those have always gotten good reviews. This year, though, I just hope no one is feeling too resistant to change . . . after all, some diners are wedded to certain desserts on Thanksgiving, as you know. I've just, in fact, been informed by my youngest son, Nathan, that he most decidedly will not be partaking of said carrot cake (the poor misguided youngster).
Speaking of change . . .
How did I alter Malgieri's recipe? Well, I added in some coconut (not too much--don't worry), one extra egg, a little bit of vanilla extract, some freshly grated nutmeg, and a very modest amount of salt. The recipe doesn't call for any salt at all, which I think, frankly, is a mistake--though whether one of judgment or omission is anyone's guess. Malgieri also calls for chopped pecans in the batter but I've chosen to omit them since the frosted sides of the cake will ultimately be covered with those babies (yeah, toasted pecans . . . yum). Additionally, the recipe says to add in one 8 oz. can of crushed pineapple along with all of its juice. Now, that's a lot of juiciness--too much, I think--so I've reduced that amount to 3/4 of a cup of crushed pineapple, but I drain and lightly press quite a bit of the juice out first in order to get that 3/4 cup.
Fully frosted with Malgieri's cream cheese icing, and very simply decorated (if you're feeling in the pastry-bag mood, that is), this cake is not only pretty but potentially impressive. It's even pretty without special decorations on the top. The icing recipe is lusciously good; I haven't changed a hair on its head, figuratively speaking. I have no quarrel with it.
This is one cake, I think, that really illustrates the difference between home-baked and store-bought. I mean, really, there is just no comparison. So play your carrots right, bakers, and you'll be on the receiving end of some enthusiastic compliments on Turkey Day!
Carrot Layer Cake
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter the bottom of three 9" round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment, and butter the parchment.
2 cups All Purpose flour (I used bleached)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg (I used freshly grated; it's definitely better)
5 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 and 1/2 cups vegetable oil (I used canola)
2 cups peeled and finely grated carrots (I just shredded them in the food processor)
3/4 cup of crushed pineapple packed in its own juice, with most of the juice drained off
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 tsp. vanilla
Stir together well the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bow. Set aside.
By hand, whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add in the sugar, continuing to whisk until the mixture looks light--about 1 minute. Pouring in a steady slow stream with one hand, add in the oil while continuing to whisk with the other.
Stir in the carrots, coconut, vanilla extract, and pineapple until well combined.
Fold in the dry ingredients, being careful not to over-mix.
Pour the batter equally into the three pans. Bake the cakes for about 30 to 40 minutes, checking them so they don't over-brown. When the tops are firm and golden, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, they're done.
Cool them on a rack, in their pans, for ten minutes. Run a knife around the edges of each pan. Invert each cake layer onto a cooling rack and remove it from the pan. If the buttered parchment is already peeling off, gently remove it the rest of the way. If the cake's still quite hot and the paper is adhering to it, wait until the cake is cooler to try peeling it off.
Cream Cheese Icing
12 oz. full-fat cream cheese
12 Tbsp. butter, unsalted, softened
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 cup (or more, just to be on the safe side) coarsely chopped, lightly toasted pecans (To toast them, put them in a 350 oven on a rimmed baking sheet for 10 to 12 minutes; let them cool on the pan.)
6 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted after measuring (I confess I didn't sift! But if you don't feel like sifting, just be sure you use "10x"--aka Domino confectioners' sugar.)
In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment on medium speed, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until very soft and light--about 5 minutes. Decrease the speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioners' sugar. Once the sugar is mixed in, increase the speed to medium and beat 5 minutes longer.
It will be extremely helpful to put your bottom cake layer on a cardboard cake-round before you begin the frosting process. If you're going to hold the fully frosted cake in your hand to put the nuts around the sides, a firm flat surface under the bottom layer is imperative.
If you'd like to decorate the top of the cake, it's also extremely helpful to set it on a cake decorating turntable or even a large lazy susan. You can use a pastry bag and a couple of basic piping tips to add a simple border, if you like, and you could make a few easy rosettes, evenly spaced, using a star tip. Want to make those classic orange carrots with green carrot-tops? Use a round tip for the carrot, and a leaf tip for the carrot-tops. The choice is yours. Practice piping first on a flat surface for a few minutes before you actually do any piping on the cake though, if you're feeling less than confident. Don't worry about those details, though, everyone's going to love your cake and think it's wonderful.
Enjoy, and have a very happy Thanksgiving!
P.S. You might want to refrigerate this cake since the cream cheese icing can get pretty soft, and that can make the whole thing rather difficult to cut neatly since the cake layers are also softer than a typical carrot cake as well.
Recipe full disclosure! I adapted this recipe from the recipe called "Martha Turner's Carrot Cake," on pages 73 - 75 of Perfect Cakes (2002, Harper Collins) by Nick Malgieri.
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