Yeah, yeah…you’ve heard it all before. The perfect this. The best that. But this time the claim means business. Here’s why this recipe truly is the perfect carrot cake.
1. It fits nearly any season.
It’s springtime right now and we all have visions of flowers, eggs, bunnies and carrots. Granted, the only reason carrots made the list is because of the bunnies…but no matter the reason, we’ve all accepted carrots as part of the season. (Eggs and bunnies have long been a symbol of spring because of their fecundity and spring is a celebration of renewal, birth and growth.) Carrots are also a popular root vegetable through autumn and winter. This carrot cake is equally capable of punctuating an autumn feast or an Easter brunch.
2. It’s the ONLY carrot cake to achieve a consistent, moist texture and light, tender crumb.
This recipe was developed by Cook’s Illustrated to devise a carrot cake capable of standing on its own merits without the usual culinary gimmicks (e.g. pineapple, raisins). Think I’m being dramatic? Here’s what Bridget Lancaster, the recipe’s creator, has to say, “I hate dense carrot cake, so I was the perfect cook to develop a streamlined recipe that would please anyone, even myself.” She cuts to the core, “…carrot cake (at least, to me) is nothing but a good spice cake gone bad.” Ouch.
Ah, but the sweetness of success. Not only did this recipe convert her to “carrot cake’s biggest fan” but she’s joined by others. This is my husband’s favorite cake ever, hands-down. Even my picky seven year old loves it. And get this; he prefers the cake to the frosting. Amazing.
3. Cracked black pepper is one of the ingredients.
Okay, how cool is that? How can you resist? And true to their reputation, Cook’s Illustrated uses the chai inspired spices in a way that delicately enhances the cake without overwhelming it.
One small flaw; it discriminates against an austere kitchen. You must have a food processor to make it. A food processor allows you to add the oil in a steady stream to the eggs and sugar to create an emulsion (like mayonnaise). Without the emulsion the heavy oil will sink to the bottom while cooking. There’s a little wiggle room–you might be able to improvise with a blender.
Okay, let’s get to the cake.
Perfect Chai Carrot Cake
Ingredients: 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour; 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder; 1 tsp. baking soda; 1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon; 1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper; 1/4 tsp. cloves; 1 Tbs. fresh ground cardamom; 1/2 tsp. salt; 1 lb. peeled carrots (6-7 medium carrots); 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar; 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar; 4 large eggs; 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil.
FOR THE CAKE:
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 13 x 9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom of pan with parchment and spray parchment. If you want to lift the cake out of the pan before frosting extend the parchment on either side.
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices in a medium bowl. Set aside.
3. In a food processor fitted with a large shredding disk and shred the carrots. (This is such a satisfying thing to do.) Wipe out the food processor (don’t waste your timing washing it, a paper towel wipe out is just fine). Fit with the metal blade. Process both sugars and eggs until frothy and thoroughly combined, about 20 seconds. With the machine running, add oil through the feed tube in a steady stream. Process until mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 20 seconds longer.
4. Scrape the sugar/egg/oil mixture into a large bowl. Stir in carrots and dry ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain.
5. Pour into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Make sure to rotate the pan halfway through baking time. Cool cake to room temperature about 2 hours.
FOR THE FROSTING:
Ingredients: 8 ox. cream cheese, softened but still cool; 5 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened but still cool; 1 Tbs. sour cream; 1/2 tsp. vanilla; 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1. When cake is cool process cream cheese butter, sour cream and vanilla in a clean food processor until combined, about 5 seconds. Add confectioners’ sugar and process until smooth, about 10 seconds.
2. Frost your cake.