- 6 tablespoons (84g) unsalted butter (🥕 carrot puree)
- 4 1/2 cups (672g) carrots, peeled & sliced 1/4 in. (🥕 carrot puree)
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda (🥕 carrot puree)
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (🥕 carrot puree)
- 2 cups (222g) carrots, finely grated
- 3 1/2 cups (405g) all-purpose flour, unbleached
- 3 3/4 teaspoons (15g) baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (4g) kosher salt (I use Diamond)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (4g) cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon (1g) allspice
- 1 1/2 cups (360g) caramelized carrot puree*
- 1/2 cup (84g) sour cream, full fat
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (7g) vanilla extract
- 7 1/2 tablespoons (105g) unsalted butter
- 2 1/4 cups (480g) brown sugar (light or dark)
- 4 1/2 tablespoons (54g) oil (canola or vegetable)
- 6 large (102g) egg yolks
- 3 large (150g) eggs
- 1 1/2 cups add-ins, see footnote**
Buttercream Cheese Frosting
- 3 3/4 cups (852g) unsalted butter, cold from the fridge
- 5 3/4 tablespoons (30g) dried milk powder
- 2 1/2 tablespoon (35g) water
- 30 tablespoons (425g) cream cheese, full fat***
- 2 cups (375g) white granulated sugar
- 3 3/4 tablespoons (22g) dried egg white powder or Wiltons meringue powder
- 1 1/4 teaspoons (2g) lemon juice (optional but recommended)****
Bake the Carrot puree/cake
- First we have to make the caramelized carrot puree. (The ingredients for this are labeled: "🥕 carrot puree")
Preheat your oven to 400F/205C. In small baking pan or pie dish, add your butter and place in the oven until melted for a few minutes. Carefully remove the pan and stir in the baking soda and salt. Toss the carrots in the melted butter. Cover with foil and bake for 35-45 minutes. During the last 10 minutes or so, remove the foil to get some extra carmelization. You'll know they're done when the carrots are a little caramelized (brown) on their surfaces and can be easily mashed with a fork. Puree your carrots using a blender or food processor.
Set your carrot puree aside to cool a little, for at least 15 minutes before using. You can also do this step ahead of time the store your carrot puree in the fridge in a tight container.
- Preheat your oven to 350F/180C.
- Butter the insides of three cake pans and line the bottoms with a circle of parchment paper. Dust a very light coating of flour inside the pans.
- Using the small holes on a box grater, finely grate your carrots. Place them into a bowl for now and cover so they don't dry out. (Don't blot them dry or anything, we want all that carrot goodness, moisture and all, to flavor our cake.)
- In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and allspice for a full 30 seconds. (It takes longer than you think to ensure the baking powder is evenly disbursed!) Set bowl aside.
- In a measuring cup, stir together your cooled carrot puree, sour cream, and vanilla until there are no lumps of sour cream. Set that aside as well.
- In a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the soft butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until it is smooth. Scrape down the bowl at least once. Pour in the oil and beat for another 2 minutes, or until the butter-sugar-oil mixture has turned a little more pale.
- On the lowest speed add the yolks, mixing just to combine. Add in the egg(s), mixing until the mixture no longer looks curdled and is smooth and light brown in color.
- We are now going to alternate dry(flour) / wet(sour cream-carrot) ingredients. Add the dry in 3 additions, and the wet in 2 additions as follows:
Add half of your flour mixture to the stand mixer. On low speed mix until all the flour has just been incorporated. Scrape down with a spatula.
Add in half of your sour cream-carrot mixture, mix on low speed and scrape.
Next, add half of your remaining flour mixture, mix on low speed and scrape.
Add the rest of your sour cream-carrot mixture, mix on low, scrape.
Last, add the rest of the flour, your finely shredded carrots, and your add-ins (if using), which I like to fold in by hand with a spatula to avoid overmixing. Make sure to break up all the shredded carrots - they like to clump together in the batter. (If you've added lots of add-ins like raisins be sure to use a spatula to smooth out your batter when you pour it into your baking pans. Actually, you should do this even if you're just using shredded carrots - it's a thick batter :) )
- Evenly distribute the batter into the buttered and lined pans.
- Bake for about 30-35 minutes. (Start checking at 25 minutes.) If you do not have three pans, you can bake them one after another. Just let the batter sit out at room temp until you're ready to bake it.
The reason I give such a large range for timing is that everyone's oven and pans are different. So it's best to know you oven, and know how to check a cake for doneness. Use a skewer or toothpick and make sure little to no crumbs are attached and feel the cake lightly with your fingertips. Does it bounce back very gently when you press on it in the very middle of the cake? This is an indication that you don't have uncooked batter in the middle, but rather is a cake that has texture and structure to it.
- Move the pans to a cooling rack and allow the cake to cool in the pans completely.
- Loosen the edges if necessary using an offset spatula or butter knife, and invert the cakes onto a cooling rack so you can peel off the parchment bottom. Make sure they are completely cool before assembling/ frosting.
Make the Cream Cheese Frosting
- Remove your cold butter from the fridge and cut into large 1 inch chunks. (I like to pile mine on top of a plate.) Place the butter back into the fridge. We'll need it to stay cool for later on when we add it in.
- In a small bowl, add your water to the milk powder to hydrate. Stir to get rid of all the big lumps. The smaller lumps should dissolve by the time we need this. It should look like a thick paste. Set the bowl aside.
- Set up a double boiler that allows the bowl of your stand mixer to sit on top of the steam. Bring that to a boil.
- Meanwhile, add your cream cheese (cold from the fridge is fine) and white granulated sugar the bowl of your stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whisk on medium speed until the sugar is completely incorporated, at least 2 minutes. The cream cheese will turn more yellow, start to loosen up, and be grainy from the sugar.
Set aside until your water heats up, at least 5 minutes.
- Once you see a good amount of fog rising from the pot, place your stand mixer bowl on top. Using a spatula, stir this mixture periodically, scraping the sides.
- The goal is to dissolve all the sugar and loosen the stabilizers in the cream cheese and there's two ways you can go about this:
1. Thermometer method (most reliable): Use a thermometer and steam your cream cheese mixture until it reaches 180F or 82C. All the sugar will be dissolved and it will be borderline too hot to touch.
2. Timing method (less reliable): You can feel the cream cheese mixture until all the sugar has dissolved. Once that occurs, you want to just keep cooking the mixture for an additional 7 minutes (for frosting amounts if you selected: cupcakes, 6 inch 2 or 3 layers, mini cakes, or 8 inch 1 or 2 layers or half sheet pan), otherwise for all other cakes you will need to cook for an additional 10 minutes. The mixture won't boil if it's not sitting directly in the water but it will get hot enough at that point.
Now no matter what method you chose, to know you can move onto the next step you'll want to feel the mixture with your fingers. It will be hot so please be careful and take a small amount off of the spatula. When you slide the mixture between your fingers, you should feel no lumps or grains of sugar. (If so, you need to continue cooking.) When it's done, to me it kinda feels like vasoline moisturizer - very slick. It will look like a yellow mixture thickened with cornstarch.
- Carefully remove the *hot* bowl from the double boiler and stir your powdered egg whites and the milk powder paste.
- Run the mixer with the whisk attachment for 5 minutes on high speed. At the end of this step, the cream cheese will still be yellow but have the thick texture of an Elmer's glue.
- With the mixer on medium speed, drop in your chunks of cold butter. You'll still see large bits of butter in the mixture and that's fine, but once you've added all the butter, turn the mixer up to high and mix until it just comes together. The timing will depend on the quantity and power of your mixer but it should be anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes.
This is the emulsification step - so you're going to see a yellow mess of chunks in your bowl gradually turn to a creamy off white color as the butter takes in the cream cheese.
At the end of this step, your frosting will have come together, be lighter in color, but will be full of big air pockets because we were using the whisk.
- Now let's flavor and smooth out our buttercream. Switch over to the paddle attachment. Add your lemon juice if using (it's so good, I highly suggest it if you love a tangy cream cheese.) Let the mixer run on low speed to smooth out all the air pockets - about a minute.
If at this point your frosting is too soft (or at any point during the decoration process for that matter) place your bowl with the frosting in it, in the fridge for about 5 minutes to put a chill on the bowl. Then, mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until its smooth. Remember, this is an emulsion, so it may look liquid when too hot or look like it has tiny curds when it's too cold. Just keep mixing until the butter brings in the cream cheese, it will come together.
I've done some preliminary testing on storing the frosting in the fridge overnight, letting it come to room temp, re-smoothing with the paddle attachment and it worked very well. I haven't done any longer term storage/freezer experiments. I will post here when I do.
*You may get a little more carrot puree that you need from the initial roasting step. Roast using the amounts indicated for the carrot puree and then after that, measure out how much you need.
**Dried fruit and nuts are "add-ins" for carrot cake and seem to be pretty divisive (you either love or hate them in your cake). This recipe with or without add-ins to suit any palate. You can add up to the total volume indicated in your recipe. Things that work well are: raisins, currants, toasted walnuts or pecans, chopped candied ginger, a pinch of finely grated orange zest, or shredded coconut. My fav: raisins, toasted pecans, and just a touch of orange zest. Note that if you do add extra ingredients, make sure to smooth out you batter if you're baking cakes or mini cakes so they bake evenly. (This is not necessary for cupcakes) Also, it may take a couple minutes more to bake, so be sure to use a skewer test to ensure there's no uncooked batter in the centers.
***The cream cheese brands that work best are: Lucerne, Walmart's Great Value (my favorite), or Target's Good and Gather. Trader Joe's was a runner up, but gave a more yellow frosting and was a tad bit more runny. I have now tested and confirmed that Philadelphia full fat cream cheese works great. Also tested Philadelphia in the tub - the result was every so slightly runnier in the end. Still workable for piping and smoothing, but if you have issues, add a little bit more butter to offset the decrease in fat content they use for this kind of cream cheese.
**** The citric acid contained in lemon juice increases the acidity or "tanginess" of cream cheese without adding a lemon flavor. It's delicious if you love a cream cheese flavor - you can sub vanilla extract, but it does add an extra flavor element on top of the cream cheese instead of enhancing it like lemon juice.