Alyna, I'm afraid I have to break our vegan streak! But I don't feel too bad about it because I know how much you love carrots.
Carrot cake is the first cake I ever made because it is my dear mama's absolute favorite, and I like to make it for her every so often (carrot cake is mandatory on her birthday, and she tries to make it mandatory on other family members' birthdays, too). My mom sweetly claims that this is the best carrot cake she's ever had, but I'm not so sure about that one because I know she also likes the carrot cake at the Cheesecake Factory. Sometimes, a weird thing happens where you like something so, so, SO much that you'll take whatever someone's got, because a not great slice of Cheesecake Factory carrot cake is still carrot cake, just like depressingly skinny shoestring fries are still fries.
The best carrot cake recipe I've come across is that from Smitten Kitchen for carrot cake cupcakes. The recipe is great because it is straightforward and simple -- no drained pineapple, no nonsense nuggets. Honestly, query why someone who is resorting to putting carrot in cake in the first place would also have access to tropical fruit. I'm similarly baffled by the presence of coconut in German chocolate cake. Anyway.
I've modified the original recipe over the years so that it makes a one-layer cake, for when one wants just a little carrot cake in one's life instead of a multi-tier cake. This recipe is also a bit more virtuous because the frosting is significantly less sweet, and the cake batter calls for white whole wheat flour (This guide from King Arthur Flour is great for figuring out when you can replace all-purpose flour with white whole wheat flour) and turbinado sugar. But rest assured, this is still CAKE and delicious, not whole wheat bread masquerading as dessert.
My family has officially gone carrot cake crazy -- this is the second carrot cake in two weeks, and another has been requested for Easter weekend. Speaking of which, this cake would be a delightful way to wrap up an Easter brunch, or just to celebrate the arrival of spring.
Whole Wheat Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes a one-layer, 9-inch-diameter cake
For the Cake:
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup turbinado sugar
2/3 cup olive oil
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups grated peeled carrots
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line the bottom of a 9-inch diameter cake pan with parchment paper. Use some olive oil to grease the parchment paper lining, as well as the sides of the pan. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger to blend.
In a larger bowl, whisk together sugar, oil and eggs until well incorporated.
Add flour mixture to the wet ingredients, and stir until almost combined. Stir in carrots and walnuts until evenly dispersed throughout the cake batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 15 minutes. Turn the cake onto a cooling rack, peel off parchment paper, and cool cake completely.
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
In a medium bowl, cream the cream cheese and butter together until fluffy, either by hand or with an electric mixer. Sift in the confectioners' sugar, and then beat again until sugar is completely incorporated. Chill the frosting for 10 to 20 minutes, until it has set up enough to spread smoothly. Frost cake.*
*I like to set aside some of the frosting so I can make little carrot decorations (how else will we know that we are eating carrot cake?). Just set aside the desired amount of frosting (about a couple tablespoons' worth), and then use food coloring to tint half of the frosting green and the other half orange. Then place frosting into piping bags (or small Ziploc bags with a corner snipped off), and decorate as you please, with tiny carrots or otherwise.