Carrot cake may or may not be the official dessert of the Easter Bunny, but this rich, moist confection is a favorite on many Easter tables.
Basically a spice cake with carrots added, carrot cake falls into the category of fancy cake for many cooks, who pull out their favorite recipe for one of the feast holidays: Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Techniques vary; some recipes call for raisins or even pineapple. Some cooks add nuts; others forgo them. What is rarely in debate, though, is the thick coating of cream cheese frosting atop the cake.
"You have to have cream cheese icing," says Darlene Beason, sales floor manager at Federal Bake Shop in Hixson.
Their recipe dates to at least 1974 when the family-owned bakery bought the rights to the business from a national chain and set up shop at Northgate Mall, she says. It moved to its Northpoint Boulevard location about 20 years ago, and carrot cake remains a mainstay of the menu.
There are the usual peaks in sales. It's always big at Thanksgiving and Christmas, Beason says.
"Then again in spring, people like to get a different dessert cake, like Italian cream cake or carrot cake," she says. "We sell quite a few."
Federal's features nuts and raisins, but there are as many variations as there are cooks when it comes to add-ins for carrot cake.
"Everybody's is different," says Sue Ann Lockhart, owner of Cookie Jar Cafe in Dunlap, Tenn. "Ours is your basic 'what your grandmother would make' carrot cake."
In fact, her grandmother, Ruby Johnson, did originate the restaurant's recipe.
"She was the cook on the [Johnson family] farm," Lockhart says. "When we built the restaurant about 15 years ago, we carried on her recipe traditions."
Cookie Jar recently elevated carrot cake from occasional special to part of its regular dessert menu due to customer request.
"We used to do it seasonally," she says. "Now we've started keeping it all the time."
Lockhart says the homemade cream cheese icing "locks in the moisture. The longer it sits, the moister it gets."
Diners will find no nuts in the carrot cake at Cookie Jar.
There's a simple reason, says Lockhart: "So my kids will eat it."
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup chopped pecans (plus 1/2 cup unchopped pecans, for garnish, if desired)
1 batch cream cheese frosting (recipe follows)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8- or 9-inch pans, and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the eggs, oil, two sugars and vanilla. Beat on low speed for about 30 seconds, and then turn up the speed to medium for 2 to 3 minutes, or until combined and lightly frothy.
Reduce the speed to low, and add the flour mixture in 2 to 3 increments, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula with each addition.
Stir in carrots, mixing until combined. Fold in the pecans.
Pour an even amount of batter into each of the prepared pans.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack, remove the parchment paper, and cool completely.
Once cooled, place one cake layer, flat side up, on a serving platter, and spread 1/2 to 3/4 cup of frosting on top. Leave a half-inch margin all around, as the weight of the second cake layer will spread the frosting to the edges. Place the second cake layer, flat side up, on top of the frosted layer. Frost the top and sides. Garnish with reserved pecans, if desired.
Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners sugar
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter and vanilla. Beat at medium-high speed until the mixture has a very smooth consistency; pause to scrape the bowl as needed. Add the confectioners sugar cup by cup, mixing after each addition, until it is smooth and spreadable.
Contact Lisa Denton at email@example.com or 423-757-6281.