Carrot cake is one of those wholesome desserts that reminds me of farmers’ wives and sweaty milkmaids and healthy brown-skinned farmboys. The sight of a big round carrot cake takes my mind’s eye to the bright kitchen of a big white house in the middle of a sorghum field with a blue sky out the window and a chubby granny making lunch for all the hungry babies and men. I love that in this place where carrot cake takes me, people get cake at lunch. I love it for that.
I also love it for being sweet and spicy and tender . . . and for being covered in tangy cream cheese frosting. I think cream cheese frosting might be my favorite frosting and this one in particular with orange zest and maple syrup is the favorite favorite. I first made this carrot cake recipe over ten years ago and no longer remember where the cake part of the recipe came from. It’s all just written in my 22-year-old-self’s handwriting on a leaf from a legal pad. I do recall being happy with my own addition of the orange and maple to the icing. And I remember my sweet NatNat taking one bite and immediately requesting it to be made for her birthday every year, forever and ever.
- 2 cups grated carrots (1/2 pound or so)
- ⅓ cup hot water
- 1¼ cup sugar
- ½ cup vegetable oil (canola, safflower, sunflower)
- 3 eggs
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla
- 2 cups flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
- 1½ teaspoons cloves
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Cream Cheese Icing:
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- ¼ cup soft butter
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 2 tablespoons orange juice, if needed
- For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour (or line with parchment) two 9″ round cake pans or one 13″ x 9″ pan.
- Combine carrots, water, sugar, oil, eggs in a large mixing bowl and combine well.
- Whisk dry ingredients together and add to wet mixture.
- Pour into pan(s). Bake 25 minutes for 9″ pans and 45 minutes for 13 x 9″ pan, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Allow to cool in pans on wire racks then invert to remove from pans.
- Make icing while cake bakes: Cream cold cream cheese and soft butter together on medium-high speed until smooth and fluffy. Add vanilla, zest, maple syrup and combine. Sift in powdered sugar a little at a time until it’s all combined and smooth. Add a teaspoon of orange juice if necessary to make it come together. If the icing seems a little soft, just let it sit for a few minutes and it will thicken up. Refrigerate until ready to ice.
- When cake is cooled, ice and serve.
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