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Carrot Cake with Everything
don't overthink, just go for it
things you’ll need: carrots, flour, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon, ground cloves, vanilla extract, eggs, sugar, oil, and any add-ins: pineapple, coconut, walnuts and/or pecans, golden raisins.
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Although I “don’t bake,” I do occasionally take requests. This carrot cake with all the add-ins was for a birthday and people should get exactly what they want on their birthday. I took a look at Ina Garten’s recipe on Food Network and compared it to the recipe by Dorie Greenspan on New York Times Cooking (same recipe, no paywall here). By adding fresh pineapple, I had to up the flour, but it all baked well in the end. Cream Cheese frosting being close to my heart, I doubled the batch for snacking. Although I make a layer cake for the birthday girl, I decided to make an extra sheet cake and keep servings in the freezer for when the craving struck me.
incidentally vegetarian, you can sub GF 1:1 flour for gluten-free, there are many vegan variations on the web. I don’t know enough about baking to recommend any of them with any sort of confidence.
When trying something new, sometimes it’s best to just go for it. You can spend months deciding if it’s a good or bad idea. You can spend your whole life trying to figure out the “best” way. You can get caught in the spiral of ramifications and the litany of things that could go horribly wrong. You can also embrace the “fuck it” of it all, jump in, and trust that you are competent and resilient enough to reach the other side.
Carrot Cake is probably the least of the challenges you are contemplating. Not any less uncomfortable, but sometimes it helps to exercise your bravery with tasks whose stakes don’t feel world-altering.
So here you are, surrounded by jars, bags, and gumption. For the sake of your own predisposition to over-stimulation and the toll the week has already taken on your executive functions, it helps to break this task down into individual bowls:
Dry bowl: sift together 2 cups of all-purpose flour (250g if you find weights comforting), 2 teaspoons each of baking powder and baking soda, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, ½ a teaspoon of ground cloves (for a little more bite in the spice), and ¾ teaspoon of salt. Although many recipes only called for Baking Soda, you don’t know enough about chemistry or the alchemy of baking to argue, so just use both. If you are using pineapple, add another ½ cup of flour.
Add-Ins bowl: Because you are already going to fill your sink with dishes, you might as well break out the food processor if you have one. Otherwise, grab your box grater and shred 3 cups of carrots. Because you have no idea how many carrots that will take, plan to make carrot soup late this week (with or without beans) and buy too many. In your bowl of now shredded carrots, add 1 cup of chopped nuts, ½ cup of plump golden raisins (if you don’t find them to be a highly intrusive/offensive baking add-in), 1 cup of shredded coconut, and ¾ cup of chopped pineapple (which you can chop by hand or give it a few pulses in the food processor) from fresh pre-cut chunks that happened to be on sale at the store or canned crushed pineapple, lightly drained.
THE mixing bowl: using the big bowl that attaches to your stand mixer or a big bowl that will eventually contain all these pre-measured ingredients, combine 2 cups of sugar with 1 cup of vegetable oil. Using the stand mixer or hand blender, mix until smooth and well combined. Add 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract and 4 eggs, one at a time, and mix until just combined.
This is when everything starts really happening and the sink starts to fill with empty bowls. But before you start combining things, remember to preheat the oven to 350 and grease up your cake pans/sheet pan. Although most recipes suggest lining with parchment paper, coating with butter, and then dusting with flour, you happen to have some Pam Baking spray and it has worked on every bundt cake you have baked. So, spray-coat your chosen baking dish.
Maybe take a break to clean up the fine coating of flour and baking spray from your counter while you wait for the oven, somehow feeling more confident now that you have forgotten to do something as you’ve already gotten a mistake out of the way.
With the oven declaring itself hot, slowly add the dry ingredients to the oil/sugar/egg stuff and mix until just combined (something about not overworking because of gluten or some other bad magic). Next, gently fold in the add-ins until well combined. Pour the soon-to-be-cake batter into your greased baking vessel(s). Bake on the middle rack for 30 minutes before you begin anxiously checking to make sure that it doesn’t overcook. After 45ish minutes it should be done enough that an inserted toothpick/butter knife comes out clean and the cake appears to have pulled back from the side of the pan(s).
Remove from the oven to cool while you tackle the pile of dishes and set up your mixer to make more mess.
In the mixer/your big mixing bowl, combine 8oz of room-temperature cream cheese with one stick of room-temperature butter and whip until smooth and delightful. Add 1 cup (give or take depending on your desired level of sweetness) of powdered/confectioner’s sugar and mix well. Add a Tablespoon or so of milk, cream, or sour cream to loosen it up a little. Lick all the spoons, paddles, whisks, and edges of the bowl.
Once the cake is cool, frost it generously with cream cheese frosting. If there is any leftover, serve it on the side because there is NEVER enough cream cheese frosting.
Look at you, carrot cake baker! Look at you, mistake maker! Look at you, accomplisher of things that you have never done and did anyway because you are capable and amazing! Now, go do the other things you are afraid of.
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