Aunt Jessie's Festive Carrot Cake, visually stunning with its beautifully designed sugar crystals and equally delicious with its spiced flavor and diverse texture.
As you might have rightly guessed, Aunt Jess is not my aunt. All my aunts have Italian names, and most of them do not make these kind of carrot cakes. Although they make a Torta di Carote with carrots and almonds, that is slightly aromatic from the orange juice and zest, and a bit lighter not having the filling and the cream cheese frosting. However, I've always wanted to make the classic north american Carrot Cake and was waiting to find the right recipe. It came to me through our friend Laurette, the Justice of the peace that married us in Edmonton three years ago. Jess is her aunt and this is a tried and true recipe her family has been replicating for years. One night, few months ago, we were having dinner in Calgary at Laurette's house and talking about our go-to recipes she mentioned this carrot cake, and I asked her kindly for the recipe, and she greatly obliged, and we so thank you Laurette for your sharing!
Like most things we cook, and sweets we bake, it all starts with a main ingredient we have in our fridge or pantry that we want to utilize before it gets spoiled, or because we have it in abundance. This was the case of a bag full of organic carrots, that our friend Margaret from Kitchen Frau gifted us before leaving for a well deserved Italian vacation. The bag contained carrots and beets, while another huge bag contained apples; everything from their acreage just outside Edmonton. It makes us so happy when we can utilize organic seasonal produce. Thank you!
As for the recipe for the carrot cake, I had been waiting for it for a long time and thought that maybe Laurette had forgotten about it, but then, all of a sudden, with a "Hello, So sorry but better late then never!", it had come in the email box just few days prior and that for me was the decisive sign that this cake was meant to be. The email ended with "Good Luck and good baking". So..................
Carrot Cake here we go!
Scrolling the ingredients on the list, I was all the more loving this recipe, we had everything we needed and most of all I liked those ingredients. I just had to make some little adjustments here and there, choosing sunflower oil, demerara sugar, organic eggs, walnuts and almonds, unbleached organic all-purpose flour and many good spices, together with those beautiful organic carrots. While the frosting is the most appealing part of a cake for the majority of people, for me it is the least, being too rich and buttery for my taste. But I have to say, in this Carrot Cake it was the right compliment: cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and maple syrup created a delicious creamy and a bit tangy counterpart to the texture of the cake. Another dimension was added by Loreto and I, when we decided to chop almonds and pistachios to decorate the sides and part of the top. That was just the perfect touch.
This Carrot Cake is another recipe Loreto and I worked together on a Saturday afternoon, sharing our little kitchen, each contributing to something and making the result much more enjoyable. It is quite lengthy, so having someone to count on when you need to chop the nuts, or get you some ingredients, is helpful. To me it was more than that. Aunt Jessie's carrot cake was my first "layered and frosted" cake (I'm sure you all know by now that from background and personal taste, these are not my kind of cakes). The recipe I got in the email only listed the ingredients, there was nothing about the preparation, the pan or pans to use or the time it needed to be in the oven, so I was happy to have Loreto by my side. We baked it in a 9-inch spring-form pan because I don't have two exact same pans because I don't do layered cakes, so of course the cake rose to a considerable height and it took about an hour or more to cook. Loreto, bless him 😉 , helped me cutting the cake in half and it was just slightly tilted on one side. The dome top, by the time the cake was cooled off and the frosting made, had gone down and hollowed a bit in the center, but nothing that a good cream cheese icing cannot hide 🙂 .
The flavor and texture of the cake was beautiful and we had fun with the frosting, especially because we did not have any basic cake decorating tools: a butter knife and a cake spatula did the job. When we finished with the frosting, Loreto hand chopped the pistachios and almonds to texture the sides and a little above the top rim. Be prepared to a little bit of a mess on the counter, next time we're going to put a baking sheet underneath the cake to catch the falling and loose nuts. At this point the cake could have been ready, however I felt the top was missing something. It reminded me of a snow covered landscape and so "ice sculptures" came to my mind, only made of caramelized sugar. Into the pan went sugar until it melted and then on a piece of parchment we became sculptors creating intricate patterns on the paper; they looked like trees and branches when placed on the snowy landscape of the cake.
This Carrot Cake was the featured dessert at our Canadian Thanksgiving celebration, receiving lots of praise and compliments. The texture prominent in this cake from the shredded carrots and coconut, to the roughly chopped almonds and walnuts, all encased in a delectably moist and spiced cake. The frosting offering a smooth, rich, creaminess to the mix, not overpowering but balancing the textures and flavors of this Carrot Cake. If you're a sweet tooth, crunching in those sugar crystals is a calling.
Song of the day: "Semi-Charmed Life", by Third Eye Blind.Print
- 2 cups demerara sugar (or light brown sugar)
- 1 ½ cups sunflower oil (or any vegetable oil)
- 3 cups freshly grated carrots
- 1 cup chopped nuts (we used almonds and walnuts)
- 4 organic, free-range eggs
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp Allspice
- ¼ tsp cardamom
- ¼ tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- 1 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
- 2 ½ cups organic, unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1-8 oz package cream cheese
- ½ cup butter
- 2 tsp Maple syrup
- ½ cup icing sugar
- ½ cup granulated sugar, melted slowly
- Turn the oven up to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch cake pans with butter or nonstick spray. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk the demerara sugar, oil, eggs, together until combined. Set aside.
- In another large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, allspice, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cardamom together until combined.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and, using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, fold the ingredients together until just combined. Then, fold in the carrots, the nuts and the shredded coconut.
- Pour the batter evenly into the two cake pans.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean.
- Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack.
- In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the icing sugar and maple syrup. Beat for 2-3 more minutes until well incorporated.
- Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand or serving plate.
- Evenly cover the top with the cream cheese frosting.
- Top with 2nd cake layer and spread remaining frosting all over the top and sides.
- Decorate the sides and part of the top of the cake with the chopped almonds and pistachios.
- In a non stick pan slowly melt ½ cup granulated sugar.
- With the help of a fork or a spoon drizzle the sugar onto a piece of parchment creating whatever design you like. Wait for it to cool and harden, then place it gently on the top of the cake.
Store frosted cake in the refrigerator for up to 7 days and allow to come to room temperature before serving.
- Serving Size: about 12 servings
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