Summer Carrot Cake

Carrot cake is my favorite. It always has been. I remember getting carrot cake at Red Lobster as a kid on special occasions – always with cream cheese frosting, bits of carrots and raisins, and an icing carrot on each slice. Honestly, the cartoon carrot may have been the reason I loved it so much!

Since then, Jake has made me several carrot cakes, including a birthday surprise, and he has seriously upgraded the ingredient game. Recently, I made a surprise carrot cake of my own for friends that were moving away to celebrate our last meal together (for now)! Imagine my surprise to find out that carrot cake was their favorite, as well!

This cake is complicated, and it requires your patience. That said, it is beautiful and lovely for a special occasion or a luxurious weekend treat, and if you have time for a project, I highly encourage you to embark on this one. After decorating our wedding cakes, I have more confidence in my cake baking and presentation abilities. Turns out practice really does help me feel like I can tackle something!

This cake featured fresh summer carrots – their sweetness inspired me to celebrate them in this cake. Next up – perhaps a summer plum torte? Summer has much to offer!

Equipment

  • Parchment paper
  • 6-inch cake cutter
  • Acetate roll, 2-4-inch wide
  • Tape
  • Offset spatula
  • 6-8-inch cardboard cake base (optional)

Gather for the cake

  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 extra large eggs 
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk or kefir
  • 1 oz dark rum
  • 1/2 oz orange blossom water
  • 1/3 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup crystallized pineapple
  • 1/2 lb finely grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins

Make the cake

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Take out the eggs to let them come to room temperature.
  • Prepare a large baking tray (about 11×17 inches): line it with parchment paper that goes up the sides. 
  • Peel and grate the carrots. Measure, chop, and toast the pecans on high heat for about 45 seconds, constantly shaking the pan. Remove from heat. Chop the pineapple and raisins. Grate a 2-inch piece of ginger on a micro-planer.
  • Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg together in a bowl. Set aside.
  • Mix the eggs, sugar, oil, buttermilk, brown sugar, vanilla, ginger, orange blossom water, rum, and pineapple together in a large bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until fully incorporated. Stir in the carrots, pecans and raisins just until evenly distributed throughout the batter.
  • Pour the batter into the baking tray and use a spatula to level it. It will be quite thin – only about 1-inch deep. Bake for 15 minutes on the center rack and then rotate the pan. Bake additionally 10 minutes – the cake is done when a toothpick comes out clean. Test after the total 25 minutes, then each 5 minutes until the cake is done. 
  • Cool cakes the cake in the pan for about 15 minutes. Then, lift the cake by grabbing the parchment paper and move it to a cooling rack and let cool completely. 

Make Cream Cheese Frosting

Beat 8 oz cream cheese and 2 oz softened unsalted butter together until smooth. Add 1 tsp vanilla extract and beat until just incorporated. Beat in 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, one cup at a time, until frosting is smooth.

Make Garnish

Cut the bottom 2-3 inches of a carrot. If you like, peel the wider end slightly to make it resemble a baby carrot. Slice thinly lengthwise into 6-10 slices. Cook on medium heat in a saucepan with 1/2 cup orange juice – watch closely until the orange juice has completely evaporated, then remove from heat. Move the carrots to parchment paper to cool. Cut small greenery to garnish with – I used flowering mint; mint leaves, anise hyssop, Thai basil, or holy basil would also be good.

Assemble the cake

  • Create acetate rings to build the cake up. Cut two 12-inch pieces of acetate. Line the inside of the cake cutter with one piece of acetate as closely as you can – tape together the ends. Make a second ring the same way and set both aside. Trace the ring on parchment paper and cut out a 6-inch wide circle.
  • Use the cutter to cut out 3 circular pieces of cake on the baking sheet/parchment paper. Start in the corners so you will be able to get three pieces. Leave the rounds on the paper for now.
  • Start to build! Place the 6-inch parchment paper circle on the cardboard or a wide plate. Put the ring directly on top, and move one of the acetate rings inside the ring. Using a spatula, peel up cake “scraps” (not the circles) and press them together at the bottom to form your first layer. I used the outer edges of the cake around the outer edges of the ring.
  • Using an offset spatula, spread a scant quarter of the frosting evenly over the surface. Using a regular silicon spatula, peel up one of the circles and fit it inside the ring on top of the first layer. Spread another scant quarter of the frosting evenly over the surface.
  • Now, fit the second acetate ring inside the first with about 1/4-1/2-inch overlap. Lay in the next cake layer, icing layer, cake layer, and final icing layer. These should all fit inside the two acetate rings.
  • Move to the freezer for 30 minutes – do not cover.
  • After 30 minutes, take a deep breath of confidence and lift the cake off the cardboard – hold the ring in one hand, and pop the base out from the bottom with your other hand. Once the ring and acetate are loosened, you should be able to place the cake back on the cardboard and pull the rings off the top.
  • Tuck the herbs evenly around the cake and layer the carrot slices around the cake.
  • Serve immediately, or store in a large container in the fridge!

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