Carrot cake experienced a decline in popularity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In fact, it was fairly obscure until the second half of the twentieth century. In Britain it was revived by the Ministry of Food, which disseminated the recipe during the food rationing of World War Two. The signature cream cheese frosting is a modern American invention that appeared in the 1960s. Some attribute its newfound popularity to its perceived healthfulness since it contains no butter (which is high in saturated fat and cholesterol) and a significant amount of carrots; others dispute this given its sugar and oil content.
To address some of these concerns, this recipe has slightly less sugar and oil than the original, and is balanced by moist and sweet pineapple. The frosting for this recipe also uses an American Neufchatel which contains less fat than regular cream cheese without compromising the taste. Do not skip the coconut extract as it gives the cake an amazing fragrance. Carrot cake is versatile and you can add many of your favorite ingredients to it. I’ve included pineapple, coconut and walnuts; you could also add raisins, pecans, apples, cocoa powder, dried fruit or currants.
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup vegetable oil (canola or corn)
1lb carrots, grated (about 3 large carrots)
12 ounces crushed pineapple, drained
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)
1/2 to 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped and toasted (optional)
12 ounces cream cheese (up to 8 ounces can be American Neufchatel cheese (also called farmer’s cheese)), softened
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioner’s sugar or to taste
1 teaspoon coconut extract
sprinkles or chopped nuts for garnish (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and line two 8-inch round cake pans with parchment. Butter again and flour.
2. In a medium bowl mix flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and salt. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, beat sugar and eggs using an electric mixer. Add vanilla and oil and mix well.
4. Add the flour mixture, continuing to beat on low speed.
5. Using a spatula, fold in the carrots, pineapple, coconut and walnuts.
6. Divide batter into cake pans and bake for 30-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool to room temperature before frosting.
7. To make the frosting, beat together all the ingredients by hand.
8. Unfrosted carrot cake freezes well. Wrap in wax paper, then in saran wrap, and place in an airtight container. Should last 3 to 6 months. The frosting can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for several weeks or in the freezer for several months.
9. You have several options in terms of presentation. You could individually frost each cake and serve separately. Or you could frost one cake and place the second cake (top-side down) on top and then frost the top and sides. Alternately, you could make half the frosting, frost only one cake, and eat the other cake without frosting (a dusting of confectioner's sugar provides a lovely and light alternate). I recommend eating a frostless cake fresh; frozen cake is best served with cream cheese.