Now that I am an official carrot cake junkie, my quest is to find the very best carrot cake recipe. I fell in love with carrot cake after making my first (Sam's Famous Carrot Cake) in November.
Cook’s Illustrated published a carrot cake recipe in 1998 to mixed reviews. The recipe used an abundance of carrots (about 7 cups), that were sugared to drain excess liquid out. Instead of using oil for the fat in their 1998 cake, CI browned butter for a deeper flavor. In March, 2003, Bridget Lancaster (America’s Test Kitchen) developed an easier recipe using fewer carrots, but, surprisingly, went back to oil. After making Sam’s Famous Carrot Cake, I realized that it is possible to substitute buttermilk for half the oil. It reduces the fat content of the cake, and also tenderizes the crumb while adding a nice flavor. So I’ve decided I’ll be doing that for all my carrot cakes – I mean, why not? With today’s recipe, you have the option of adding nuts and raisins, if desired. I decided to add nuts and chopped fresh pineapple instead of raisins. Also, since I was experimenting, I cut the recipe in half and made it in an 8x8 pan.
I still had two pieces of Sam’s cake in my freezer and so I taste-tested the two cakes side by side. The comparison is apples to oranges. Sam’s cake is fully loaded with nuts, raisins, pineapple and coconut, producing a cake that is almost like a Christmas fruitcake. The CI 2003 cake only has nuts and pineapple. Both cakes are phenomenal in taste and texture, but I have to give a slight edge to today’s recipe. I love its flavor of mixed spices (compared to just cinnamon alone in Sam’s), and it has a lighter texture that is very appealing.
|Cook's Illustrated 2003 "Simple Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting" |
Adapted half recipe
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
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|INGREDIENTS: 1-1/4 cups (6-1/4 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour |
1/2 + 1/8 tsp. each, baking powder and cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. each, freshly ground nutmeg and fine sea salt
1/16 tsp. ground cloves
3/4 cup toasted chopped walnuts or pecans
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
1-1/2 cups shredded carrots (about 3 medium)
1/2 cup chopped, drained pineapple, fresh or canned
Adjust oven rack to center position; heat oven to 350F. Grease an 8x8 pan; line pan with parchment. Grease the parchment; set aside.
In medium bowl, whisk together sugars and eggs till frothy. Add oil and buttermilk and whisk till smooth and well combined. Stir in carrots and pineapple, then add, all at once, to dry ingredients, stirring with a spoon or spatula until just mixed. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 40-45 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted in center returns with just a few crumbs. Rotate pan halfway through baking time. Cool cake in pan about 20 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack, remove parchment, and cool completely.
In the meantime, prepare cream cheese frosting:
With electric mixer, beat 4 oz. cream cheese, 3 Tbsp. soft butter, 1 tsp. sour cream and 1/4 tsp. vanilla till smooth. Gradually add 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar and beat till fluffy. Spread frosting on top of cooled cake. Cut into squares to serve. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers. (This cake freezes well but cannot be microwaved to thaw because it will melt the frosting.)