Carrots were used in Europe as an inexpensive sweetener in cakes and puddings dating far back as the Middle Ages. It is no surprise baked goods sweetened and flavored with vegetables and fruits remain a favorite commodity. The Classic Carrot Cake arrived in America in the 20th century as a “healthy alternative” to traditional desserts. The beloved carrot cake can be found in tea houses throughout Britain and cafes across the American continent. The contents of the carrot cake vary with the region and the person making it. For some folks additions like coconut, raisins, nuts and pineapple are a must have. There are those who prefer a spongy moist cake, others a dense cake, a light cake, a plain cake, wheat-free cake, a sugar-free cake, less oil and the list goes on.
For the past three months I have put in countless hours researching this iconic dessert. My question? What makes the perfect carrot cake? Conclusion? There isn’t one. At least not a perfect carrot cake recipe to satisfy the majority of the masses. We all have our own taste. I could post a recipe from the internet with a following of rave reviews but where is the fun in that. I was curious if I could come up with a base recipe that would support the amount of substitutions people would want to make and still be pleasing.
One note I do want to expound on is substitutions. Often times we make the rationale when replacing part of the oil with applesauce that we are making the cake healthier. Fact is the opposite is true. While it is correct that applesauce reduces the fat content it inadvertently increases the sugar content. Ideally if you choose to replace the oil with applesauce or buttermilk, remember to reduce the sugar by 1/2 cup.
Be sure to scroll down to the Variations section for alternative suggestions.
1 1/2 cups Sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon powder
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1 cup walnuts or pecans, finely chopped
3 cups carrots, finely grated (about 6-7 medium sized)
Cream Cheese frosting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13 inch pan.
Spread walnuts on a baking sheet. Bake for 6-8 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Finely chop nuts; set aside.
Wash and peel carrots. Using a box grater or food processor finely shred carrots; set aside.
In a large bowl, beat together eggs and sugars until completely incorporated. Drizzle oil in a steady stream while mixing constantly to emulsify.
In a small bowl sift flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Add chopped nuts; mix to incorporate. Gently fold dry ingredients into egg mixture until just combined. (Ribbons of flour are still noticeable.) Fold in carrots until completely combined. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 40-50 minutes until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
— Replace 3/4 cup of oil with 3/4 cup buttermilk.*
— Reduce the oil to 3/4 cup to 1 cup.**
*The proteins in milk can produce a tougher crumb in cakes.
**Reducing the oil this much will result in a drier cake. We recommend reducing the oil no more that 1 cup.
— Substitute all-purpose flour for: 1 cup wheat, 1/4 flax seed meal and 3/4 white. OR substitute all wheat, spelt or a combination or whole grain flours.
— Reduce the sugar by 1/2 cup.
— Replace sugar with equal amount of Xylitol or 1 1/2 cups honey or 2 cups applesauce.
— Use equal parts white and brown sugar or all white or all brown.
— Add 2 teaspoons vanilla. (add with eggs)
— Add 1 cup toasted coconut. (add with carrots)
— Add 1 (8-oz) can pineapple, drained and squeezed. (add with carrots)
— Add 1 cup raisins or sultanas – soaked in orange juice or rum. (add with carrots)
— Add 1/4 cup chopped Crystallized ginger. (add with carrots)
— Substitute allspice or pumpkin pie spice for nutmeg and cloves.
— Our carrot cake was baked using a glass 9X13 baking dish. Dark metal or ceramic pans may vary baking time.
— If you live in a higher elevation you might need to make adjusts. Click here for helpful hints.
— To make cupcakes reduce baking time to 20-25 minutes.
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