I always think of carrot cake as a Fall dessert, with its warm spices and hues that match the leaves starting to turn colors. But I know there are people who think of it as Easter fare, because of the (fake) Easter Bunny and all. Don’t get me started…I covered that in the Spring.
Let’s just say this carrot cake with blissful cream cheese frosting is perfect any time of year. I’ve been making it since 2010, and it always gets rave reviews.
I have to give props to Mel’s Kitchen Cafe for the perfect cake batter, which contains only a bit of oil but bakes up moist because it includes some applesauce and water. Genius!
The cake is nice and smooth, with no chunks of nuts or pineapple to interfere with the wonderful texture. (You can always sprinkle some chopped walnuts onto the finished cake.)
I didn’t mess with the batter, but I cut the sugar in the frosting by almost half. For me, two cups of sugar in cream cheese frosting are plenty.
It’s enough to be lightly sweet, yet nicely tangy. And I bumped up the ratio of frosting to cake, because…yum!!
I’m calling the frosting “blissful,” since, besides tasting delicious (there’s whipped cream in there!), it’s an example of the food science term known as “bliss point.” The bliss point refers to the optimal amount of an ingredient — like sugar, salt or fat — needed to provide maximum enjoyment.
Once you go past your bliss point by adding more sugar, pleasure starts to decrease proportionately. (This is why I find grocery store cakes sickeningly sweet.)
Interestingly, children have a much higher sugar bliss point than adults. Case in point: I used to enjoy candy corn around Halloween as a kid, but when I tried one as a grownup, I had to run to the garbage and spit it out.
Whoa! Very, very, unblissful. (In case you’re wondering, you can read more about the bliss point and other secrets of the food industry in Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss.)
Anyway…back to this carrot cake with blissful cream cheese frosting. My son requested it for his 21st birthday, and I gladly obliged.
I made it in a 9×13 pan, which is easy, casual and just how I roll. But I’ve included notes for a more fancy-looking three-layer cake, which my artistic son has been known to produce.
However you decide to serve it, run, don’t walk, to make this recipe. Enjoy!
(Recipe Source: Adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, where it was adapted from Alisha O.)
- 2 eggs (I use extra-large)
- 3 ounces oil
- 3 ounces unsweetened applesauce
- 3 ounces water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 12 ounces carrots (rinsed, ends trimmed, and peeled)
- 8 ounces salted butter (softened)
- 8 ounces cream cheese (softened; light is OK)
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
- chopped walnuts (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9x13 pan (see notes for other pan sizes.)
- Shred the carrots using a food processor or grater and set them aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, oil, applesauce, water and vanilla until combined. Whisk in the sugar until mixed evenly.
- In another bowl, stir together the flour, cinnamon, allspice, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Stir those dry ingredients into the wet ingredients in your large bowl, just until moistened. Gently fold in the carrots (using an under-and-over motion) with a spatula, until they are evenly distributed.
- Transfer the batter to your pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Let the cake cool completely before frosting it.
- For the frosting, in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until smooth.
- In a separate (ideally stainless steel) bowl, and with clean, dry beaters, beat the heavy whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the frosting and then whip to combine it, just until blended. The frosting should be smooth and creamy.
- Frost the cake when it is completely cool. Garnish with walnuts, if desired. Store the cake in the refrigerator (I stick toothpicks in the cake and gently cover it with foil.) Take out the cake several minutes before serving, for best taste.
For a standard round, three-layer cake, double the cake and frosting ingredients. Check the cakes for doneness after 20 minutes. You can decorate the cake with chopped walnuts sprinkled on the sides and around the edges of the top of the cake, if desired. You can even decorate with orange and green icing piped into the shape of little carrots, if you are artistic.
For a 10x15 large glass pan, double the cake ingredients and use 1.5 times the frosting. Add 10-13 minutes to the baking time listed.