Back in November of last year, I shared with you that P's cousin K had offered me the honor of baking cupcakes for her wedding in October. I decided to start testing recipes almost a year early 'cause I'm sometimes *cough* be a bit *cough* of a procrastinator O=). While I enjoyed the simplicity of the first batch and had a LOT of fun fashioning realistic carrot toppers out of marzipan, the flavor of the cake itself didn't have quite as much OOMPH as I wanted. It was inevitable that there would be a Round 2...I did declare after all that "I [wouldn't] rest until [I'd] found the perfect carrot cupcake for K's wedding day!"
Round 1 had covered the plain and simple end of the Carrot Cake Spectrum, so the goal for Round 2 was to really explore the options when it came to add-ins and alternative prep methods. Early on I was intrigued by a unique recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook that called for steamed and pureed carrots rather than raw, shredded ones! But what I wasn't taken with were the copious amounts of sugar, oil, and sweetened coconut in the original. Being the irrepressible tweaker you should know me as, I went directly to the cutting board and I think it's accurate to say I went BIG. By the end of this surgical session, I'd cut 1/3 of the sugar, 1/2 the fat, and 1/2 the coconut along with pinches of salt and baking soda.
It's pretty obvious I'm really taken with this recipe, right? But the funny thing with The Best anything is that there might always be an even better version out there -- and you'll never discover it unless you keep an open mind! So if anyone's convinced their mom/granddad/friend/neighbor's carrot cake is the best thing since the invention of cake, please DO shoot me a message and I may test it out! I certainly have time for Round 3 as K's wedding's not for 6 months 8).
6 Bittersweets' Best Carrot Cake/Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing [Printable Recipe]
Loosely adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook
Makes about 30 to 34 cupcakes OR one 2-layer 9-inch cake
XIAOLU’S NOTES: If in a rush, you can substitute carrot puree baby food for the mashed carrots. Also feel free to make only a half-batch of this recipe if making cupcakes. For those who like raisins in their carrot cake, you can add 1/2 cup of raisins and reduce the sugar to 1 2/3 cups (if raisins are dry, soak them in warm water or pineapple juice for 1 hour and drain before using). If you want to make a 3-layer cake, simply divide batter among three 9-inch pans and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. For cupcakes, fill wrappers about 3/4 full and bake 18 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick or thin knife inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean (moist crumbs are OK, wet batter is not). Remove cupcakes from pans after 5 minutes and let cool completely on wire racks before frosting. I also used one of my favorite swaps, a little melted butter in place of oil, to up the flavor.
2 cups (9 oz.) all purpose flour
3/4 cup PLUS 2 Tbsp (3.5 oz.) cake flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Large pinch of ground cloves
1/2 cup vegetable OR canola oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature [can microwave 20 seconds to warm]
4 large eggs, room temperature and lightly beaten
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp unsulphured molasses
1 cup walnuts OR pecans, lightly toasted and chopped
3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut (optional)
1 1/3 cups pureed cooked carrots (from about 1 lb. 2 oz. raw)
8 oz. can of crushed pineapple, drained (about 3/4 cup after draining)
***If adding raisins, save the drained off pineapple juice for soaking raisins
2 tsp freshly grated ginger (optional but recommended)
Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)
Peel 1 pound of carrots and chop into large pieces. Steam 15 minutes, or until very tender. While the carrots are still warm, process in a food processor or blender or break down with a handheld potato masher until mostly smooth; set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9-inch pans, then line with parchment paper. Grease parchment paper, and dust entire inside of pans lightly with flour. Sift all dry ingredients together into a large mixing bowl. Add oil, melted butter, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and molasses. Whisk until well combined and no lumps remain. Fold in walnuts, coconut, pureed carrots, pineapple, and ginger. Divide batter evenly between 2 prepared pans. Bake 40 to 50 minutes or just until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes, then remove to wire rack and let cool completely before frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting
XIAOLU'S NOTES: If you're using this recipe for cupcakes, I'd recommend using a double batch of THIS cream cheese frosting recipe instead since it's firmer and thus better for piping. Just add 1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice to that frosting recipe at the very end.
12 oz. full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
9 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
3 to 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Cream together cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl. Slowly add in powdered sugar and continue beating until fully incorporated. Mixture should be free of lumps. Stir in vanilla and lemon juice.