One of my favourite things to bake is carrot cake. It reminds me of Australia, suburbia, cafes and the beach... I instantly imagine myself sitting at a cafe by the beach in Sydney with sunkissed skin and salty hair. It's hot under the sun but the breeze is cool through the open windows; I am having a cappuccino and a slice of cake with my girlfriend on a Sunday afternoon.
Carefree days, don't we miss them?
As I am sitting in my apartment now in Milan, with my temporary puppy laying by my feet (a cocker spaniel belonging to a friend who we've taken in to look after over this period), the white fluff of the cottonwood trees from the outskirts of Milan float around in the air in my living room, letting me know that spring is in full bloom outside.
It mixes with the smell of the fresh bread I baked this morning along with a whiff of this sweet cream cheese frosting on my carrot cake cupcakes. It's not sun and surf, but it's wonderful.
I make a mean carrot cake. Anyone who knows me well enough knows that.
Here is the recipe that you've been asking me for years.
About my favourite carrot cake recipe
I have made this cake many, many times for various occasions, so much that I can almost make it with my eyes closed. I would have done it again, turning out a large, round cake with cream cheese frosting piled on top. But these days, with all of us staying home, a large celebratory cake I couldn't even share just didn't make any sense.
I cut down the recipe and turned it into a small batch of cupcakes instead. It's much more approachable these days under #quarantine. Nevertheless, I have included the instructions to make this into a large cake in its original form. Keep on reading to find out.
How to turn this into a 24 cm (8-inch) celebration cake
This cake originally started life as a full 24 cm cake, so it only makes sense to include the recipe for that here as well. I've tried this in different size cake tins without adjusting the recipe and they have always come out brilliant. Whether you have a 22 cm, 23 cm or 24 cm tin, it will still work, and if they have removable bottoms (like the type you would use for a cheesecake recipe) then even better.
This is a robust cake. It's big, it's full on flavour, it's full of texture, it's full of everything. It's wonderful. So don't be shocked at the amount of ingredients that go in here, they all serve a purpose: to make your tastebuds dance.
Ingredient quantities for a full 24 cm cake
375 g plain flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of grated nutmeg
2 teaspoon salt
250 g sugar
375 ml vegetable oil
3 medium carrots, grated
200 g pineapple, fresh or canned, roughly chopped
200 g walnuts, roughly chopped
For the glaze: double the quantity for the cupcakes below.
For the frosting: double the quantity for the cupcakes below.
Method: Follow the instructions below for the carrot cupcakes up to step 4. Pour batter into the cake tin (lined with baking paper) and bake for 30 minutes. Prepare the glaze, and quickly pour it all over the cake. Place the cake back into the oven and bake for a further 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the tin for at least 20 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
How to make the best carrot cake
This recipe is pretty straight forward. You start by preparing the tin with butter and lining it with baking paper, whisk together the dry ingredients, whisk together the egg and oil, then combine all of this, and stir in the additionals (pineapple, carrot and walnuts).
The only little trick here that is out of the ordinary is the glaze: as soon as you place the cupcakes in the oven, start warming up the ingredients for the glaze on the stove over medium heat until the sugar has melted. When you are ready, pull out the cupcakes briefly to add the glaze to the top of the cupcakes, then quickly place them back in the oven. The glaze will bubble and caramelise, creating a crunchy topping that you will notice even with the cream cheese frosting on top later.
Don't skip the glaze if you could help it - it's absolutely delicious.
How to make cream cheese frosting
This is a standard cream cheese frosting that you can use for any cake that could use a touch of acidity and sweetness. Red velvet cake, lemon cake, even chocolate cake is fabulous with cream cheese frosting.
Having said that, all you need to do is beat it well enough. Beat the butter on high to make if fluffy first, then beat in the cream cheese to combine before adding the icing sugar. Cream cheese frosting tends to be soft (unlike buttercream that you can easily shape into different forms). Some time in the fridge would do the trick, as will increasing the sugar amount. Try placing the cream in the fridge for half an hour first if you need it to stiffen up a little before frosting the cupcakes.
I found that the quantities I included below worked fine for me without cooling or adding sugar, but even the same brand of cream cheese (Philadelphia) in this case has different consistencies across different countries, so find out what works for you. It's important for example, if you are using cream cheese in Italy, to drain the cream cheese on some paper towels before using it as it tends to have excess liquid in the containers.
Tools you will need
You don't need an electric whisk or beaters to make the cake batter, but you will need it for the frosting. Everything you need is listed below:
wooden spoon or rubber spatula
1 medium bowl
1 small bowl
grater (to grate the carrots)
knife and chopping board (to chop the walnuts and pineapple)
regular muffin/cupcake tin with 12 holes
paper or silicone cupcake liners
offset spatula to decorate the frosting
electric beaters (to make the frosting)
Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe
Makes 8 cupcakes (to make a 24cm cake, multiply the ingredients by 4 - see my notes above)
I'm pretty excited to share my carrot cake recipe with you. This is a downsized version of the full-size 24 cm cake I usually make, but it's just as irresistible and just as tasty. The steps are very simple and nothing can really go wrong. If you want to skip the glaze that's up to you, but I highly recommend it. The added caramel crunch make this carrot cake recipe all the more special.
95 g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
a pinch of grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
70 g sugar
95 ml vegetable oil
1 medium carrot, grated
80 g pineapple, fresh or canned, roughly chopped (about two rings if they are from the tin)
50 g walnuts, roughly chopped
For the glaze
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon oil
55 g brown sugar
20 g walnuts, roughly chopped
For the cream cheese frosting
70 g butter, room temperature
100 g cream cheese, room temperature
170 g icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Line a regular muffin/cupcake tin with 8 cupcake liners. If your walnuts are not toasted, place them on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes until fragrant. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and oil until well combined and smooth.
4. Add the egg mixture to the dry mixture and using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, stir until just combined. Stir through the carrots, pineapple, and walnuts.
5. Using a spoon, scoop out the batter into the lined muffin holes. Fill up to about 3/4 of the capacity of each hole.
6. Place in the oven, and set the timer for 25 minutes.
7. In the meantime, prepare the glaze. Place the ingredients for the glaze in a small saucepan, and stir continuously over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. After the muffins have been in the oven for 15 minutes, (the tops should be slightly firm and dry looking) take it out, and working quickly and carefully not to push down on the cakes, add a teaspoon or two of the glaze mixture on the top of each cupcake.
8. Place back in the oven and finish baking until done, or when a wooden skewer inserted in the cupcakes come out clean or with small crumbs. Let cool entirely before adding the frosting.
9. Prepare the frosting: using an electric mixer beat the butter in a medium bowl on high for a full 4-5 minutes until fluffy. Add the cream cheese and beat for a further 2 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla, start on low and once the sugar is somewhat incorporated, increase the speed to high and beat for an extra 3 minutes until the frosting is light and fluffy.
10. When the cupcakes are cool, top with the frosting and walnut crumbs.