Some carrot cakes are so chock-full o' stuff that your fork can't travel from frosting to plate without hitting traffic light after traffic light: Walnut. Raisin. Long strand of carrot you'll later find in your molar. Coconut flake. Pineapple chunk?
Others are so homogenous and heavily spiced—the meatloaves and gefilte fishes of the cake world—you'll wonder why (and if) the carrots are even there at all.
But this cake, which comes from Australian food stylist, magazine editor, and cookbook author Donna Hay is a peacekeeper between the two camps. The carrot is present in discernible flecks, neither intrusive nor invisible. The nuts contribute to—rather than disrupt from—the texture as a whole (to continue with our road image, the nuts are speed limit signs, not roadblocks). The cake is moist but not spineless; it's still got a crumb you'll need to chew. And there are no raisins.
I'd make this cake even if it necessitated standing at the counter with my box grater for 20 minutes, reducing each carrot to a little nub. But perhaps the very best part of the recipe is that it demands no such thing: The entire thing is made in the food processor, which happens to mix together the ingredients to just the right consistency.
Pulse together the carrots and nuts until finely chopped, then add all of the other ingredients for the cake and process until smooth. (If you're using weight measurements rather than volume measurements, put your food processor bowl on a scale and zero it every time you add a new ingredient—you won't have to dirty any measuring cups at all!)
While the cake bakes and cools, wash out your food processor bowl and make the frosting—cream cheese, ricotta, lemon juice, and confectioners' sugar—in the same way. You don't have to soften butter to room temperature or pull out the paddle attachment of your stand mixer, and—what's more—you'll get a frosting that's creamier, airier, and more inhalable than your usual carrot cake topping.
The recipe calls on two spices—vanilla and cinnamon—for flavor, which means, as is not the case with many other carrot cakes, the taste of carrot actually comes through. Play if you'd like: Add other spices (cardamom, ginger, nutmeg); lemon zest; almond extract; chocolate chips; or sesame seeds. Sub in some tahini for the Greek yogurt. Use another type of sugar (or reduce the amount). Try swapping in a new type of flour for half of the all-purpose.
Or declare your loyalty to the chock-full-o' camp and add pineapple and coconut and raisins, too.
For the cake:
- 400 grams carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
- 120 grams (1 cup) pecans or walnuts
- 175 grams (1 cup) brown sugar
- 110 grams (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
- 225 grams all-purpose flour (see headnote)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup (125 milliliters/100 grams) vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup (70 grams) Greek yogurt
- 2 eggs
- Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
For the frosting:
- 250 grams cream cheese, chopped and softened
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) fresh ricotta
- 1/3 cup (55 grams) confectioners' sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean
Carrot cake: Yes stuff or no stuff? Discuss in the comments below.