Resurrecting an Easter Classic: Carrot Cake Makeover

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You might’ve thought good ol’ carrot cake was dead and gone. Well have a little faith my friends. It is Easter after all, and what better way to celebrate than by resurrecting a classic. Traditional carrot cake gets a makeover this week with some funky, yet festive, frosting techniques that are all the rage this season. In true Easter fashion, the bold, bright outside will breathe new life into the classic recipe inside, reviving your love for the age-old spring staple – and just in time for the holiday weekend! Look how that worked out. The best part? This cake is so good you won’t carrot all about the calories. (Caution: bad puns ahead).

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Thanks to tons of trending posts on the ‘gram, I’ve developed quite the obsession with “drip cakes” as of late. Pioneered by cake connoisseur Katherine Sabbath, this versatile technique can be used to create crazy, contemporary cakes, or can add a little funky flare to elegant, traditional cakes.  Drip cakes have spread like wildfire, and I’ve happily jumped on the bandwagon. I’ve read and watched countless tutorials (Tessa over at Style Sweet CA and Rosie from Rosie’s Dessert Spot are a couple of my favorites) in a desperate attempt to perfect these beauties so I can incorporate them into my selection of cake decor offerings.  However excited I was, though, this endeavor was rife with teachable moments. The cake isn’t perfect, but I’m still going to share because, hey, this a journey, and y’all are along for the ride (whether you like it or not)!

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First and foremost, this ganache recipe was not stellar. The first thing any drip cake expert will tell you is to ensure the ganache is on point and, well, let’s just say they don’t call ganache a “fickle mistress” for nothin’. I had to correct it about 4 times while making it in an effort to get the thickness right. Add a subpar recipe to the rookie mistakes of not sufficiently chilling the cake and buttercream, and not sufficiently cooling the ganache before applying it to the cake, and you end up with a not so silky drip finish, with some melting and excessive dripping as an added bonus. Not a good look. Needless to say, I will use a better recipe and be more patient with my chilling obligations next time, BUT, I am still freaking in love with this cake. It’s something outside the box for me and was so much fun to get creative with. I even broke out my new Ateco 849 piping tip (#obsessed) to add some frilly, whimsy touches on top. Plus, it tastes divine; heavenly, if you will. And that’s really the goal, right?

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So about the inside. This really might be my favorite carrot cake I’ve ever had. Seriously. I’m kind of a brat about carrot cake, and really prefer the “kitchen sink” recipes that include everything from pineapple to coconut to golden raisins. And you of course cannot have carrot cake without cream cheese frosting. Well let me just say, this version takes the cake. (I really should stop, but I can’t). I started with a Southern Living recipe as the base (seriously, Southern Living, you just never let a girl down), and modified it ever so slightly with some brown sugar, spice and mix-in swaps and additions. The result is out of this world, and will make you think you’ve died and gone to heaven with Jesus himself. What’s the secret? There are two: 1) the buttermilk glaze that is spooned over the top of the warm cakes to add moisture and flavor; and 2) the fresh whipped cream folded into this cream cheese frosting that makes it light, fluffy and flavorful, as if angels themselves had made it. Think I’m eggsaggerating? Try this. I dare you.

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Don’t let the whole “drip cake” thing here overwhelm you. You can absolutely bake this cake with a much more traditional presentation, and it’s just as show-stopping. I won’t even begin to try to provide a “how-to” for drip cakes (I’ll leave that to the experts since I’m still learning myself), but I will tell you that this carrot cake is simpler than you think to put together, and can easily be used for cupcakes too! It would be the perfect centerpiece for your Easter Sunday table, and the decorating possibilities for the holiday are endless. It’s time for carrot cake to rise again – bake this cake and I guarantee everybunny will sing your praises. (Aaaand I’m done).

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Carrot Cake with Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting

INGREDIENTS

Carrot Cake (adapted slightly from Southern Living)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated carrot
1 8-oz can crushed pineapple, drained
1/4 cup flaked coconut
1/4 cup golden raisins (you can make this a generous ¼ cup!)
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Buttermilk Glaze (from Southern Living)

1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting (from Not So Humble Pie)

16oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup heavy cream, cold.

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Go ahead and prepare the glaze. This is a little like making caramel, so be prepared to be very attentive! Bring first 5 ingredients to a boil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Boil, stirring often, 4 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Set aside to cool.

2. Let’s get this cake started! Preheat the oven to 350. Line 3 9-inch cake rounds with parchment paper and lightly grease (I used 6-inch rounds for a smaller cake, and had some extra batter leftover for cupcakes!). Set aside.

Stir together first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, beat eggs and next 4 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, beating at low speed until blended. Fold in the carrots and next 4 ingredients. Pour batter into prepared cake pans. If using 6-inch rounds, fill them up no more than halfway.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean (more toward 30 minutes for a 6-inch cake). Drizzle the Buttermilk Glaze evenly over each layer, and allow to cool in pans on wire racks for 20-30 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

3. Time for frosting. Place metal mixing bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer for 15 minutes. In a separate mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat for another 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix one last time until smooth and fluffy. In the chilled mixing bowl, beat the heavy cream to nearly stiff peaks, then gently fold the whipped cream into the cheese mixture. Once it’s at least partially mixed, use the mixer to briefly beat to fully combine (very briefly though – gentle is key and you don’t want to overbeat!).

4. Build your masterpiece! Place one layer of cake on a cake board, and pipe on a layer of frosting. Add the next layer on top, and pipe on another layer of frosting. Place the final layer on top, and adjust cake to ensure it’s level and even, trimming the sides with a serrated knife if necessary. Place in the freezer for 15-20 minutes to chill and lock in place a bit. Remove from freezer and, using an offset spatula, cover the cake with the rest of the frosting, using a cake scraper to smooth the edges. Decorate as desired!

Note: Alternatively, this recipe will make 24 cupcakes. Line 2 cupcake pans with fun spring liners, and fill each 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and add a spoonful of glaze on top. Allow to cool in pans for 5 minutes, removing to wire racks to cool completely. When fully cooled, add frosting to piping bag fitted with piping tip of choice, and frost the cupcakes! 

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