Professional Pastry Arts student Meredith Adams-Spurrier on the history of carrot cake.
With spring right around the corner, some tasty confections that are most often thought of around this time are tart lemon meringue pies, cupcakes showered with pastel colored sprinkles and maybe a marshmallow bunny, and of course the incredibly flavorful carrot cake.
The carrot cake we enjoy today is lightly spiced, studded with walnuts, and covered with a thick layer of tangy cream cheese frosting; however, it dates back to Medieval times when carrot pudding was served at banquets for dessert. This was probably because carrots have a natural sweetness.
Around the same time carrots were imported to America by European settlers in the early 1900s, puddings and quick breads were starting to be baked in loaf pans. By the middle of the century, a businessman by the name George C. Page made carrot cake famous. Having a surplus of canned carrots after WWII, he hired bakers to turn canned carrots into a product he could sell; hence the carrot cake was born.
During the 1970s, carrot cake was extremely popular due to its “health conscious” ingredients. Since then it continues to be found on diner menus, restaurants and boutique bakeries.
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Yield: two 6-inch cakes
Estimated time to complete: 90 minutes
Ingredients for batter
- 125 g cake flour
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 220 g sugar
- 170 g vegetable oil
- 165 g grated carrots
- 60 g chopped walnuts
Ingredients for icing
- 455 g cream cheese, at room temperature
- 180 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 350 g confectioners’ sugar
- 20 g sour cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- zest of ½ lemon
- For the finish
- 50 g chopped walnuts (optional)
- 12 marzipan carrots
1. Prepare your mise en place.
2. Butter and flour the cake pans. Set aside.
3. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
4. Sift the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.
5. Fill a saucepan large enough to allow a heat-proof bowl to fit snugly into it without touching the water with about 3 inches of water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Immediately remove pan from the heat.
6. Combine eggs and sugar in the heat-proof bowl and, using a wire whisk, whisk to blend. Quickly place the bowl into the pan, checking to make sure that the bottom is not resting in the hot water. Immediately begin whisking and continue to do so for about 10 minutes, or until mixture registers 110˚F on an instant-read thermometer.
7. Remove the bowl from the heat and continue to whisk vigorously for about another 10 minutes, or until the mixture has tripled in volume and forms a ribbon when lifted from the bowl.
8. Slowly pour oil in a steady stream and, using a rubber spatula, gently stir to combine. Work slowly and steadily or the mixture will separate.
9. Add the sifted dry ingredients and, using the spatula, mix slowly to just barely combine. Do not over mix.
10. Stir in the carrots and nuts just to incorporate, then, pour an equal portion of the batter into each of the prepared pans.
11. Bake the cakes for about 35 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
12. Immediately invert each pan onto a wire rack. Unmold the cakes and let cool completely. While cakes are cooling, make the icing.
13. Combine cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low just to blend. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat on a medium speed for about 4 minutes, or until very smooth.
14. Beat in sour cream and vanilla. When well blended, remove bowl from mixer and stir in the zest.
15. When cakes are completely cool, using a serrated knife, cut each one in half crosswise.
16. Place bottom layer, cut side up, on each of 2 cake plates. Using an offset spatula, lightly coat the surface of each bottom with an equal portion of the icing. Place a top layer over the icing, cut side down. Using the remaining icing, completely cover each cake with about 1/8 inch thick coating of icing. Note that the cake itself is quite sweet, so you don’t want to frost it too thickly.
17. Using your hands, apply chopped walnuts about ½ inch up the side of each cake.
18. Place six small marzipan carrots or candied carrots on top of each cake in a decorative pattern that will yield one carrot per slice when cakes are cut.
18. Serve immediately or within a few hours of being frosted.