After having a 5-spice carrot cake at a local restaurant, I knew it was time to tackle carrot cake again. While I compared Pioneer Woman and Flour Bakery’s carrot cake recipes a while back and discovered that I preferred Flour’s very carrot-y cake, I can’t help but feel that I haven’t quite finished the process yet! I discovered what type/style I prefer but I don’t know if that is my best option. And after a meal which featured a carrot cake with a 5 spice cheesecake filling, I knew I had plenty of room to explore (Harvest in Cambridge, thanks mom and cioci!). Looking around, there seem to be quite a few recipes based on the Cook’s Illustrated recipe with a bunch of really interesting frostings or interiors. And since spices go so well with carrot cake, how could I not want to try out A Brown Table’s marsala chai carrot cake (based on a Cooks Illustrated recipe)? Especially I have been known to steal my beau’s chai tea mix and smell the leaves for a while… It’s pure joy, by the way. You should try it. Its my happy place. Beyond that, I devled into the spicy relm by making my own 5 spice cheese cake and frosting. I paired it with Flour’s cake since I already knew what that would be like. After that, I decided that I wanted to try out one more cake recipe and went with Gimme Some Oven’s recipe in large part because it almost doubles the amount of carrots in the Flour and Cooks recipes. Then again, almost every ingredients is increased by 1.5 times compared to the Cooks recipe (and I already increase the amount of carrot in my Flour recipe) it’ll be interesting to compare the three cakes. And while the flavorings are more classic than chai and 5 spice, they’re still pretty unique. Three cakes. They turned out to be plenty for one weekend. And then some. So here we go:
- Flour Carrot Cake: its moist and heavy in carrot. Its probably still my favorite texture-wise but I’m also rather prejudiced in this department. And after this set of cakes, I think the secret weapon is the buttermilk that Flour adds to the recipe. The changes that I made play fairly well with the base cake – there is a 5 spice cheesecake which added creaminess and depth to the overall experience plus some 5 spice in the cream cheese frosting. (Note: I made Chantel’s NY Cheesecake for its great ratings on AllRecipes. I quartered the recipe and added about 3/4 tsp seemed just about right to get the flavors across. No crust! I baked it for 20 minutes then let it cool until I went to bed. No cracking.) The down-side of this recipe is that is probably could have used slightly thicker layers of carrot cake. Its essentially an excuse to make carrot cake pops someday. *Please note that this was still the longest cake to bake.
- Brown Table’s Marsala Chai Carrot Cake: I loved how this cake grew to fit my large pyrex pan. It was a thick batter (but spread significantly more easily than Gimme Some Oven’s) that definitely increased in height as it baked. Its a beautiful cake. I also like that its in a single sheet – no need to release it from a spring-form pan and fight crumbs as they get all over the cake while I frost it. The cake itself is a bit less moist than the Flour cake but about on par with Gimme Some Oven’s carrot cake. It is by no means a ‘dry’ cake; simply a difference of opinion in what you’re looking for in a recipe. And as in all carrot cakes, spicing is integral to the enjoyment of the cake. In this instance they don’t hit you in the face like the five spice or nutmeg/cinna/clove mixture of the other two cakes but its certainly a spiced cake. Its reminiscent of a chai latte – soothing without the powerful spiciness of straight chai tea. Maybe I’ll add more cardamom the next time I make it? As a final note, this ended up being my beau’s favorite of the three cakes – with the five spice cream cheese on top. Both the spicing and texture suited his tastes well. Then again, he drinks chai as his breakfast tea at work and he loves crumbly, dry cookies.
- Gimme Some Oven’s Best Carrot Cake: This cake had the best traditional spicings of all the cakes! It followed much more closely what I tend to throw into my carrot cakes when veering from the recipe. The other thing that I loved about this cake was how impressive it was – its tall. It felt very celebratory and was perfect to have as the cake to celebrate my FIL’s birthday (he is a traditionalist with his desserts so double win here). The main down-side was that it wasn’t as moist as Flour’s cake. The batter felt significantly thicker than either of the other two cakes and its probably because it doesn’t have the extra liquid that they include. Here’s the thing, though, you can’t simply add in buttermilk without taking the pH levels into account because that will change the ratios of baking powder and baking soda needed in the batter.
A note on frosting: I made one batch of frosting for all three cakes and it covered all 3 well. It contained 3 8 oz bars of cream cheese and 3 sticks of butter (1.5 cups) and powdered sugar to taste. All ingredients were at room temperature prior to mixing. After frosting the Gimme Some Oven’s cake, I added 1/2 tsp 5 spice to the frosting and mixed to combine then spread it over the top of the other two cakes. I add sugar to taste since there are slight variations between brands.
ps. Check out how Cupcakes and Cashmere decorated her cake with edible flowers after following the Cooks recipe – the link is for the Cooks recipe with a picture of how using edible flowers makes this a perfect spring dessert!
The BEST Carrot Cake (by Gimme Some Oven)
Carrot Cake Ingredients:
- 1 1/2 cups plus 2 T Olive Oil
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 6 eggs
- 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
- 3 1/4 cups flour
- 1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1 lb. finely-grated fresh carrots
- (optional: 1 cup chopped walnuts and 1/2 cup raisins)
How To Make The Carrot Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. G
Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans. (Just be sure that every square inch of the pans greased and coated in flour so that the cake does not stick!)
In the bowl of a large stand mixer, mix together oil, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until combined and smooth. Add in the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla, and mix until smooth.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining dry ingredients (flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, baking powder, nutmeg and cloves) until combined. Add the dry ingredient mixture to the mixing bowl, and beat on medium-speed until just combined, scraping down the pan at least once to be sure that everything is well mixed. Then fold in the grated carrots by hand, and stir until combined. If you would like to add nuts and/or raisins, stir them in at this time as well.
Pour the batter evenly into the prepared cake pans. [I spread the batter so that it was higher along the sides than the middle – it still rose so that the middle was highest but the difference was slight] Then bake for 25-30 minutes [min took closer to 50 minutes] or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Remove pans and let them cool on a wire rack until the cakes reach room temperature.
I then like to pop them in the fridge for 10-15 minutes to cool off slightly. Then remove them and use a large knife or a cake leveler to level off the domed tops of the cakes so that they are level and even.
Layer the cakes with the cream cheese frosting, and then frost the outside of the cake as you desire. Serve that day or store, covered, for up to 4 days.