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Carrot Cake that Wows... does anybody know this recipe???

Hi all; so I'm a teacher, and a kid walked in a couple of months ago with a carrot cake made by her Mum for a fundraiser. It was placed in the staff room for a dollar a slice. It looked like a regular old cake, so no one took notice; just a whole lot of creamed cheese on the tops and edges (it was cooked in a Bundt pan). I walked over to my mailbox to pick up a paper that had arrived, and when I turned around there was one piece left, which I grabbed. It was HEAVEN. The other carrot cake brought in by another child sat sadly, mostly untouched.

Now don't get me wrong. but carrot cake has never been my favourite because the cake is usually not all that tasty. The creamed cheese always redeems it. But this cake, my friends, had walnuts, was moist, and had flavour!!! Maybe it had a sultanas in it (can you grind up sultanas so they aren't in chunks?) or something. The creamed cheese on top was whipped and fluffy and sweet and finger licking good, but it was literally "the icing on top of the cake". The cake, and the icing, were perfection.

Needless to say, I asked the student for the recipe. Got the dreaded (yet challenging) "It's a family secret, we aren't allowed to give it out". She then added insult to injury by bringing another one of the same cake to a class party three weeks later. I seriously considered sending a slice out to be laboratory tested.

Ok, kid, I thought to myself. I know my pals at CH can help me out on this one. Surely someone here has made the Carrot Cake to end all Carrot Cakes, the piece de resistance of Carrot Cakes; traditionally inspired, yet somehow unbeatable.

So, the million dollar question... does anyone out there have a similar sounding recipe for Carrot Cake, the Carrot Cake that people fight over, leaving the other desserts in the dust? I am willing to make as many cakes in a row as needed to get to the perfect one, but you folks will have the best places to start.

Thanks in advance to anyone with ideas, suggestions, etc.

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  1. I'll be watching to see if anyone decodes this and comes up with a recipe for a first-rate cake but I think you're going to have to provide more info.

    What was the texture of the cake? Was there a lot of carrot in discernible pieces or might the carrots have been cooked and pureed? Was it dense or light? Did it have dried fruit included? Nuts? Could you detect flavors like pineapple or apple or banana or citrus? Was it spicy? Was the color a conventional spicy-brown or was it more pale?

    What, in short, was it that made it so special?

    1 Reply
    1. re: rainey

      Thanks Rainey, no discernible pieces of carrots, but they tend to incorporate, don't they? The texture was heavier than light, but not heavy/dense like fudge. It was more like a bread than a cake, except far more moist. I ate the second slice with a keen eye, and saw no chunks of any fruit, but did find fragments of walnuts.

      Maybe they cut up fruit very very small and mixed it in? Or used a paste? I do not think I tasted pineapple. Maybe apple. I really just tasted "delicious", embarrassed to say. It was a bit spicy, but not cinnamon spicy, maybe a bit of nutmeg/allspice? It's colour was the conventional spicy brown.

      The moistness and the lively flavour made the cake special+the nuts. And the icing was pretty incredible too. Just hoping someone will have a good place to start, because there are thousands of recipes out there!


    2. I just look for a basic recipe, like from James Beard, and add lots of walnuts, some pineapple (crushed), possibly chopped dates. One could dice them small. I'm not one to like chunks of stuff, but it adds to the moistness of the cake. The chopped raisins or sultanas would be good, I'd think.
      I tend to follow the recipe somewhat for spices, may add a bit more of something, depending on the freshness of my spices.
      Sometimes I use a bit of coconut, too.
      Then the cream cheese frosting and some toasted coconut either on the sides or just the top.
      I tend to cook them longer, they are pretty dense. Like a carrot fruitcake almost.

      4 Replies
      1. re: wyogal

        Thank you Wyogal; this one was not like a carrot fruitcake, though I'm beginning to suspect some very finely chopped dried fruit was in there. Like you, I dislike chunks of anything in my food, and this cake did not disappoint. I didn't see any visible chunks of anything. But that moistness! Would pureeing the pineapple/dried fruit have that effect?

        When you say you cook cakes with fruit longer, do you mean at the same temperature, or slightly lower and longer?

        1. re: ideabaker

          I turn it lower at the end of baking and continue to bake it so it doesn't brown too much around the edges. I don't know about pureeing pineapple, but the applesauce suggestion below sounds good. I have put dried fruit like dates in the processor before, and would do that with the nuts, too, almost a meal. Then one would have that flavor, with a consistent cake texture. Full of flavor. easy to slice, too. Sometimes when there are too many chunks, the cake part isn't enough to hold it together.
          I'd say start with one of the offered recipes, and also look for what the recipes have in common.
          As far as spice, maybe there was powdered ginger in there, too. That can give a bite. Then, go from there.

          1. re: wyogal

            Mmm! Dates sound like a very promising alternative to the usual raisins.

            1. re: rainey

              Rainey, so true, and if cut finely enough, as Wyogal suggests, they mightn't be too noticeable when shoving the cake into the mouth...

      2. Here's a recipe that strikes me as being a significant variation from a conventional carrot cake baked in a different shaped pan: http://rosas-yummy-yums.blogspot.com/...

        NIcole Weston's recipes are generally very reliable and she speaks to the issue of the greasiness and heaviness of conventional carrot cake recipes. Maybe that's the difference in the cake you're trying to replicate: http://bakingbites.com/2008/03/carrot...

        This one from the Epicurious files dates from 2000. Do you think that has enough longevity to be a "family" recipe? In any case, the reviews are pretty consistently good with at least one rave: http://bakingbites.com/2008/03/carrot...

        This one from Taste of Home has citrus rather than pineapple and got good if a limited number of reviews: http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Pe...

        Here's one made with applesauce. There's a single review but it's a very good one: http://www.cdkitchen.com/recipes/recs...

        This one from AllRecipes got nearly 5 stars from over 100 reviews: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/carrot-c...

        Here's another one that's different in that it uses sour cream and is pretty light on the amount of actual carrot: http://www.canadianliving.com/food/or...

        Hope one of them might sound like it fills the bill or at least give you a place to start from.

        1. I've adapted Ina Garten's recipe and I've been making it for the past couple years to extremely good results. I've changed some proportions a bit in addition to heavily modifying the instructions- the end result is something extremely moist, rich, and somewhat light at the same time. For frosting it really does depend on how long or how vigorously you whip it: leave it on a slow speed and it's quite dense but put it on high it's light and fluffy. Finally I top it with candied orange zest, which is the perfect accompaniment that cuts through the richness.

          3 extra large eggs
          2 ½ CUPS granulated sugar
          1 ½ CUPS vegetable oil
          1 TABLESPOON pure vanilla extract, divided
          2 TEASPOONS cinnamon
          ¼ TEASPOON nutmeg
          1 POUND carrots, grated
          2 ¼ CUPS all purpose flour
          2 TEASPOONS baking soda
          1 ½ TEASPOONS kosher salt
          1 ¼ CUP raisins
          1 ¼ CUP walnuts, toasted and chopped
          ¾ POUND (1 ½ PACKAGES) cream cheese, room temperature
          1 CUP (2 STICKS)unsalted butter, room temperature
          ¾ POUNDpowdered sugar
          2 large navel oranges
          ¼ CUP grand marnier, freshly squeezed orange juice, or water

          Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
          In a stand mixer, beat the eggs and 2 cups of the sugar together until pale and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. While mixing, slowly drizzle in the oil... the end result should be almost a mayonnaise like consistency. Add half of the vanilla, the cinnamon, and the nutmeg, afterwards scraping the bowl. Add the grated carrots and stir to combine. Sift together 2 cups of the flour, baking soda, and salt, and while on low speed add to the wet ingredients in thirds, waiting until each addition is completely absorbed before adding the next. Toss the raisins and walnuts together with the remaining flour, and fold into the batter by hand.
          Scoop the batter into lined cupcake tins about ¾ of the way up. A 2 oz ice cream scoop works perfectly, which holds about a ¼ cup. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the oven down to 350 degrees, and bake for an additional 8-12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Take the cupcakes carefully out of the tins and let cool on wire racks.
          In a small saucepan heat the Grand Marnier and sugar together until dissolved. Using a cheese grater with a medium grate, run the oranges down the entire length, rotating them as they go down creating long laces of rind. Be firm enough so the rind doesn’t tear, but not so hard as to get the pith. Simmer the orange rind in the syrup for 10-15 minutes until they turn soft and slightly translucent. Drain and let cool.
          For the frosting, beat together the cream cheese, butter, remaining vanilla, and powdered sugar until combined. For a rich, dense frosting leave the mixer on low, and for a more lighter, fluffier one beat on high (the lighter frosting will melt more easier than the denser one). Generously frost each cooled cupcake with icing, and top with a pinch of candied orange zest.

          1 Reply
          1. re: fattychalupa

            Fattychalupa, that sounds divine! I'm extremely sensitive to the taste of liquor in my food, so think I would have noticed if Grand Marniere was in it (don't think it was because children were eating it at school). But maybe the orange masked the flavour and the liquor burned away? In any case, your detailed recipe definitely makes me want to make these cupcakes, perhaps for a tea. Scrumptious! Thank you.

          2. The best carrot cake I ever had had pineapple in it and the carrots were shredded. The best frosting I ever had on a carrot cake was a cream cheese with maple syrup added. Do you think the cake had pineapple in it?

            1 Reply
            1. re: Hank Hanover

              That's how my carrot cake is made, minus the maple, which sounds quite good...

              2 C sifted flour
              2 tsp baking powder
              1 1/2 tsp baking soda
              1 1/2 tsp salt
              2 tsp ground cinnamon
              2 C sugar
              1 1/2 C salad oil
              4 eggs
              2 C finely shredded carrots
              1 (used to be 8.5 oz) can drained crushed pineapple in juice
              3 1/2 oz unsweetened flaked coconut (or adjust sugar)
              1/2 C chopped walnuts
              sift together flour, salt, b. soda, b. powder and cinnamon
              beat at med. spd. 1 min. oil, eggs, sugar, then stir into flour mixture
              stir in carrots, coconut, nuts, pineapple
              1/2 C butter, soft
              8 oz cream cheese, softened
              1 tsp vanilla
              1 lb box 10x sugar
              Blend, chill before using.
              bake at 350 in a 10” cake pan

              This cake weighs a LOT, very moist, dense TDF.

            2. I don't think it's the elusive cake you're looking for, but the Brown Butter Carrot Cake in Sherry Yard's baking book is very good. You might try it as a starting place and if it's close work on the modifications.

              6 Replies
              1. re: DiningDiva

                I went right to "The Secrets of Baking" and found a browned butter pound cake and a carrot variation on a financier. I'm not sure about baking a financier as a bundt because they're so rich and have little leavening. But adding carrot to a pound cake is an interesting possibility and browning butter always adds a more complex flavor.

                Is it possible that she did another carrot cake in a different book?

                1. re: rainey

                  No, that's it and I forgot it was a financier. You're right it probably wouldn't work too well in a bundt pan. I just remembered that was one of the better carrot cakes I've had.

                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    Financier are sensational! I love her pumpkin financier split and filled with lemon curd then just dusted with some confectioners' sugar on the top. We've had that for Thanksgiving dessert. YUM! It's all that almond flour and browned butter.

                2. re: DiningDiva

                  Would I see the pineapple in a cake? I mean if it were crushed really, really well? Because you guys/gals are making me think that the cake might have had it. Also HankHanover- the icing with cream cheese and maple syrup sounds divine. There definitely could have been some of that action going on... but it would have been only a tad as the creamed cheese was still more white/ivory than tan/ivory. Do you happen to have that maple cream cheese icing recipe?

                  1. re: ideabaker

                    If you looked hard enough, you would see the small pieces of pineapple

                    Maple Cream Cheese Icing

                    10 oz cream cheese, room temperature
                    5 tbls butter, room temperature
                    2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
                    1/4 cup pure maple syrup
                    12 walnut halves


                    Beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl. Add powdered sugar and beat at low speed until well blended. Beat in maple syrup. Chill until just firm enough to spread.

                    1. re: ideabaker

                      Pineapple appears frequently in conventional carrot cakes. How well you'd be able to see it would depend on how fine it was. Pretty much like the carrot.

                  2. What differentiates this recipe is the use of pureed carrot. I use this recipe as a guideline with the following changes, 3 med. carrots cooked & pureed. 3 med. carrots grated, 1/2c. ea. lt. brown & white sugars, 1T. cinnamon, 1/2c. melted butter, 1T. vanilla paste, no nuts, 1/2c. flaked coconut, 1 lg. can crushed pineapple. The pureed carrots lend incredible moistness to the cake. If you're going to use a bundt pan I would initially check @ 40mins. for conventional, or 30 mins. convection and add time accordingly.


                    8 Replies
                    1. re: letsindulge

                      Letsindulge, pureeing the carrots sounds like an interesting idea; one that also would not leave obvious strings of carrot through the cake. A couple of questions: does cooking the carrot not change the flavour of the cake to more savoury than sweet? And please pardon my ignorance, but what is vanilla paste? (I live in New Zealand, so if I can't find it -which is likely- I will need a substitute). The cake the student made definitely didn't have coconut in it. Yours sounds like a fun cake to make just to test the tastes. Do you top yours with a creamed cheese topping that is different in any way? Thanks

                      1. re: ideabaker

                        ideabaker it's become my "go to" carrot cake recipe after many trials. Cooking the carrots bring out the natural sweetness. There are grated carrots in the recipe as well but if you grate them small enough they will meld into the cake texture. Personally I like the coarse grate. Here is a link to vanilla paste. It contains the seeds from the whole bean in a syrupy base, no alcohol (taste). Depending on whether I'll be partaking of the cake I'll adjust it to what I like, void of nuts, raisins, etc. You can easily adjust a standard cream cheese frosting to include zest (orange, lime, lemon). I've done maple syrup, and minced candied ginger too.


                        1. re: ideabaker


                          ideabaker, when you mentioned living in NZ, I remembered this thread.

                          1. re: HillJ

                            HillJ, you are brill.
                            I love the looks of this one and intend on making it tonight for my darling husband.
                            not sure where I'll get the passion fruit ;:+\

                            1. re: iL Divo

                              why tyou iLD...I have moments :)
                              passion fruit, asian markets. or use passion fruit puree in the jar (grocery aisle).

                              1. re: HillJ

                                thanks HillJ
                                I ended up, maybe you've read, making those brownies instead.
                                hubby said he didn't want dessert tonight so that let me out of the kitchen until I read that thread about brownies. they'll go to the party tomorrow.
                                didn't know other than passion fruit Kern Nector juice maybe where to find that flavor profile. thanks for help

                                and by the way, that's not the first time I've told you you were brill :)

                                1. re: iL Divo

                                  hey, all that matters is you enjoy yourselves!
                                  there's always another wonderful recipe around the corner.
                                  and btw-I know....but we wouldn't want to create a scene :)

                                  1. re: HillJ

                                    being critical seems easy off tongues of some
                                    offering compliments are more easily read but not often enough done

                      2. The best carrot cake I have ever had is also from the first cookbook I ever bought, the Frog Commisary. In addition to the cream cheese icing on top and sides, the cake is split and has a gloriously fudgy praline icing in between the layers. Probably not the cake of your dreams, but definitely worth the Google. Actually the cookbook is worth searching: most of the recipes are a tad on the fussy side, with perhaps a bit more cream and butter than we use now, but everything I have ever made from it has been really really good.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: badrockandroll

                          Cook's illustrated would have a great traditional carrot cake recipe or anything from Sarah Levy Beranbaum. http://www.realbakingwithrose.com/

                          Or if you have no time, Dufflet's carrot cake (Toronto, Ontario) is awesome, my favourite so far and it does have nuts, pineapple and coconut with a cream cheese frosting.

                          1. re: badrockandroll

                            Another fan of the FC cookbook--and that carrot cake (although I actually prefer it w/out the fudgy praline icing).

                          2. Try this one, dubbed "14 carat Carrot Cake". It's the only one I eat!
                            2 cups finely grated carrot
                            1 8 1/2 oz can crushed pinapple , drained
                            1 3 1/4 oz package of flaked coconut
                            1/2 cup chopped nuts (I use walnuts, but pecans work too)
                            Mix above ingredients and set aside.
                            2 cups flour
                            2 tsp baking powder
                            1 1/2 tsp baking soda
                            1 Tsp salt
                            2 tsp cinnamon
                            Sift above together and set aside.
                            In another bowl, beat 4 eggs very well then stir in 2 cups of sugar, I 1/2 cups oil, 2 tsp vanilla. Stir this mixture vigorously into the dry ingredients and then into carrot mixture.Pour into either three 9" round pans (makes an impresive birthday cake) or a 9 x 13" rectangular pan for a sheet cake. Bake 45 min at 325 F. Frosting 1/2 cup butter, 1 8oz package cream cheese, 2 tsp vanilla, 1 lb confectioners sugar. It sounds very simple, but it takes on a wierdly complex flavour. Perhaps the recipe is more simple than it first seems?

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: dianne0712

                              This "14 Carat Carrot Cake" recipe appears to have originated in The Farm Journal Cookbook series from the 60's and 70's... I tried to find a valid link but could not find one that looked OK. If this is the recipe (sorry I am on the road and don't have access to my Farm Journal collection), I have used it successfully for many, many years and it is the best I have ever tried.

                              My husband and I made 10 bundt style cakes frosted with the cream cheese icing with a tiny bouquet of flowers, one for each table, for our wedding 32 years ago and then re-created the idea for my daughter's marriage 2 years ago.

                              As you can see "nuts" are what it says, but pecans are the best, IMHO. The OP liked the walnuts and I agree IF they are sure to be fresh, otherwise fresh pecans are terrific, especially if you toast them first.

                              1. re: LJS

                                You know when I was trying to find this recipe to copy it out for the board, I couldn't find the original cookbook it was in so I had to use my handwritten copy from my favourites cookbook. I now have brain freeze and CANNOT remember the name of the book, but I bought it in the 80's and I know that all the pages look as if they are handwritten. I can't believe I've lost that book! I always keep al my cookbooks together so now I'm a bit panicky that I can't lay my hands on it!

                                1. re: dianne0712

                                  Could it have been one of Molly Katzen's cookbooks?Moosewood, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest?

                                2. re: LJS

                                  Ha! Found it! The Virginia Bently Cookbook 1987

                                  1. re: iL Divo

                                    Bummer, that pdf is no longer live.

                                    1. re: HillJ

                                      If it's an old web link, try finding it here: archiving of old and defunct web pages... can take some fiddling, but it usually works. http://www.archive.org/web/web.php

                                      1. re: mcf

                                        no such luck but thanks for the suggestion.

                                1. I swear, the cake you've described sounds very much like Joy of Cooking's carrot cake. I make it often and it is drop yer panties good. This cake is incredibly moist and dense but not heavy. The pineapple is undetectable in the final product. It does call for whole golden raisins...you can leave those out or, if you prefer, I'm sure you can puree them

                                  I use a basic cream cheese frosting for this cake (also from Joy of Cooking).

                                  CARROT CAKE
                                  Serving: 12
                                  Prep Time: 20 minutes
                                  Cook Time: 30 minutes
                                  Total Time: 50 minutes


                                  1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
                                  2/3 cup vegetable oil
                                  3 large egg
                                  1 1/2 peeled and finely grated cup carrot
                                  1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
                                  1 cup sugar
                                  1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
                                  1 teaspoon baking powder
                                  1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
                                  1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
                                  1/2 freshly grated or ground teaspoon nutmeg
                                  1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
                                  1/2 teaspoon salt

                                  1 cup golden raisins
                                  1/2 cup crushed pineapple, lightly drained

                                  1. Have all ingredients at room temperature, 68°F to 70°F.

                                  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

                                  3. Grease and flour two 9×2-inch round pans or two 8×8-inch pans or one 13×9-inch pan, or line the bottom with wax paper.

                                  4. In a large bowl, throroughly whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, all-spice, and salt.

                                  5. Add the vegetable oil and eggs, and stir together well with a rubber spatula or beat on low speed.

                                  6. Stir in the carrots, walnuts, raisins and pineapple (if using).

                                  7. Scrape the batter into the pans(s) and spread evenly.

                                  8. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

                                  1. I use Excellent Carrot Cake by Mizznezz (http://www.food.com/recipe/excellent-...) and it is truly excellent according to everyone who has tried it.

                                    Made a slight change to the recipe by adding 2 others spices: 1/4tsp nutmeg, and a pinch of allspice. I also use lemon juice to make buttermilk, and that seems to enhance the flavor of the cake.

                                    As a technique, I mix thoroughly the grated carrots, crushed pineapple, dessicated coconut and walnuts in a separate bowl. That way, I moisten the coconut, and I don't have to stir as much when I add them to the batter.

                                    1. It is one of the few cakes I do not like, but I know several people who love Martha Stewarts recipe.

                                      1. The Cook's Illustrated carrot cake uses carrot baby food in addition to the shredded carrots. If there are really no discernible bits of stuff other than nuts and maybe raisins, perhaps the baker is using baby food forms of applesauce or pineapple as well. I buy sultanas (Swad brand, I think) in an Asian grocery store. They are half the size of supermarket brands like Dole, and lighter in color as well. Your mystery baker might have soaked and chopped the raisins.

                                        It's also possible that she cooked all the "stuff" together, added the liquid ingredients, then pureed it before mixing with the dried ingredients.

                                        As for cream cheese frosting, I use whipped cream cheese, whipped butter, and marshmallow fluff. Just blend and taste, add a little vanilla. It's a lot lighter that way. Usually the fluff is sweet enough that little or no extra sweetening is necessary.

                                        1. This delightful carrot cake contains grated carrot and pineapple -- and you really wouldn't know about the pineapple. I know you said that you didn't taste pineapple, ideabaker, but even making this one myself I couldn't detect the pineapple as an independent flavor in the resulting delicious mingling of flavors. I used walnut oil.


                                          1. Yes, look up "Silver Pallet" cookbook. They have the best recipe in there for your cake. I use both cooked carrots and raw grated, also crushed drained pineapple, coconut,and pecans. after baking you can put apricot preserves over the warm cake and then frost with cream cheese frosting, easy on the powdered sugar. That's what I do. Yum!

                                            1. I see that you don't want pieces of fruit in your cake. I have a quick and easy carrot cake recipe that is pretty good and is made with baby food - are you interested in that?