My parents came for a visit a couple weeks ago, and I wanted to bake a traditional layer cake for them. I decided I didn’t want to do chocolate or a plain white or yellow cake – too overdone, too boring, too much like birthday cake. I remembered that I had made perfect little carrot cupcakes in the summer and that I had been really impressed with how good that recipe was, so I wanted to make it in cake form. Luckily the recipe for the cupcakes is from Cook’s Illustrated, and the same recipe – adapted  for a layer cake –  was in my America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book. Yippee!

This cake is moist and flavorful and really, it’s just carrot cake perfection. I love that it doesn’t include any carrot cake oddities like raisins or crushed pineapple. It’s a simple, straightforward cake that is the perfect way to welcome spring. And it’s an easy recipe – the cookbook notes that it’s “great for beginners” but it’s still a recipe that will impress company.

Pro tip: America’s Test Kitchen recommends that you use the grater attachment in your food processor to grate the carrots. I agree! A pound of carrots would take a lot of time and effort to grate up by hand, and the food processor will buzz through them in no time. Plus, it’ll save you from the fear that you will end up grating your fingertips or knuckles on your box grater. Or is that just me?

Carrot Layer Cake

From America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

Serves 8 to 10

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

4 large eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

1 pound (5 medium) carrots, peeled and grated

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices together in a medium bowl.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugars together by hand until the sugards are mostly dissolved and the mixture is frothy. Continue whisking while slowly drizzling in the oil, until thoroughly combined and emulsified. Whisk in the flour mixture until just incorporated, then stir in the carrots.
  3. Give the batter a final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined. Pour the battering the prepared pans, smooth the tops, and gently tap the pans on the counter to settle the batter. Bake the cakes about 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean, rotating the pans halfway though baking.
  4. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto wire racks to cool completely before frosting, about 2 hours.

Cream cheese frosting

8 oz cream cheese, softened

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 – 6 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons milk

Whip the cream cheese and the butter together in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Add the vanilla then 4 cups of sugar, one cup at a time. Add more sugar if necessary, to achieve the flavor and texture you like (I generally like to add more sugar so the frosting is less buttery). Use splashes of milk to loosen the frosting as necessary, adding only a teaspoon or so at time.