Sunday, August 26, 2007

All-American Carrot Cake

Sugar High Friday is one of the sweetest, most popular and long-standing food blog events. It is all about making sweet treats and sharing the joy. This month, our host, Johanna of The Passionate Cook wants us to go local. She says, "I want you to be on the look-out for a speciality that is local or regional to where you live..."

...Well, I am interpreting Johanna's challenge in a very broad sense: "where I live" is the United States, and so here I am, baking an All-American dessert, Carrot Cake!

Many food history sources suggest that the popularity of carrot cake began during World War II, when sweeteners were scarce and expensive and strictly rationed. Carrots were relatively abundant (often home-grown in victory gardens) and substituted as sweeteners in desserts.

Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield, has been quoted as saying, "Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie." Indeed, the addition of carrots, and the replacement of butter with oil is helpful in convincing oneself that carrot cake is a healthy dessert. Carrot cake reached its height of popularity in the US during the health food craze of the 60s and 70s, providing company to other foods like granola! Today, carrot cake remains a popular American dessert and a diner staple.

This carrot cake recipe comes from Cooking Light magazine. It has an exuberant ingredient list- apart from the freshly grated carrots that give the cake its name, it contains two ingredients that, in the US, are synonymous with the term "tropical": pineapple and coconut. Crushed pineapple is readily available in supermarkets, but I suppose gently cooked fresh pineapple would work as well. The recipe calls for sweetened coconut flakes that are sold in the baking aisle of US supermarkets, but I had our Indian-style dry coconut shreds at hand, so I just used those instead. Cinnamom is added to the batter to provide a hint of spice. Pecan bits add some more richness and texture. Carrot cake is usually made with oil instead of butter, and here the oil is reduced to 3 tablespoons, which is very reasonable if you consider that it makes a large cake yielding 20 servings or so (other recipes for carrot cake call for 1-2 cups of oil). With all the carrot and pineapple, this cake will invariably be quite dense, and not as fluffy and airy as other cakes. It is, however, very moist and tasty.

Another hallmark of the carrot cake is a tangy cream cheese icing (or frosting, as it is called in the US). Usually, the "icing on the cake" is my least favorite bit- I find classic buttercream icing unbearably greasy and achingly sweet. But the combination of zesty cream cheese (and a little butter) with sugar was worth a try. The original recipe called for 3 cups (!!!) of powdered sugar, and I reduced it way down to a cup and a quarter. This resulted in an icing that was plenty sweet, but where the taste of the cream cheese was not drowned by the sugar. You can buy powdered sugar (also called icing sugar or confectioner's sugar) but I use it so infrequently that I just make my own, by blitzing granulated sugar in a clean spice grinder.

Carrot Cake

(adapted from this recipe from Cooking Light magazine, April 2007, makes one large sheet cake)ccake4
1.5 C AP Flour
1 C granulated Sugar
1 t Salt
2 t Baking soda
2 t Cinnamon powder
1/2 C desiccated Coconut shreds (or sweetened coconut flakes)
1/3 C chopped toasted Pecans (or walnuts)
2 large Eggs
3 T canola Oil (or vegetable oil or peanut oil)
1.5 C drained canned crushed Pineapple
2 C fresh grated Carrots
1 cup (8 oz/ 1 packet) reduced-fat Cream Cheese, softened
3 T usalted Butter, softened
1 t Vanilla extract
1.25 C powdered sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with oil (or two smaller ones) and set aside.
3. Dry ingredients: Sift flour into a bowl. Add granulated sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon powder, coconut, pecans.
4. Wet ingredients: Beat eggs in a bowl. Then add oil and mix well.
5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and stir gently.
6. Stir in carrots and pineapple. Pour batter into the baking dish.
7. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is done: this is usually apparent from three signs- (a) a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes clean (b) when you press a finger gently on the cake, the surface springs back, (c) the cake leaves the sides of the pan. The cake will be quite dense, so don't expect it to rise very high.

8. When the cake is completely cool, it is ready to be iced. To make the icing, beat together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Stir in the vanilla extract and sugar and mix well. Spread the frosting evenly on the cake. Optional: If you have Way Too Much Time on your hands, as I did when I made this cake, you could decorate it :) I used some extra shreds of carrot and black poppy seeds to add a dash of color to the snow white icing.

This recipe is a keeper! The cake was moist and tasty, and the combination with the icing was fantastic! Plus, the generous size of the cake is perfect for bringing it along to picnics and pot-luck parties as a "blast from the past" dessert. I will definitely be making it again.

For all the little kids and all the big kids who are returning to school this week, here's wishing you a wonderful fall semester and a great school year!

For dozens of interesting specialty desserts from all over the world, check out Johanna's delicious round-up.


  1. Lovely Cake.. u have decorated it soo well... Feel like eating gajar ka halwa after seeing this :D
    Am one of the big kids returning to school after a gap of 3 yrs :D Thanks for ur wishes!

  2. wow that's a fantastic looking cake.I am also one who doesn't like the buttery icing and prefer it to the minimum.will try this out. what can i substitute for cream cheese? those carrot "stars' on the icing look cute! :)

  3. I love your decorations on this cake! Usually I'm not a fan of carrot cake, because it can be far too sweet. But Cooking Light's recipes often address that issue, so I'll give this one a try.

  4. Nupur, the carroty bits reminded me of starfish at first glance!
    I made your Orissa potatoes recipe today, turned out super.

  5. That's got to be the prettiest ever carrot cake!! In tribute, I make it on my grandmother's birthday every fall ...

    And great job lightening what is way too sweet and way too heavy.

  6. Hi Nupur,

    Worderful Cake. Will taste good without the icing too.

  7. Moist, rich carrot cake with a fantastic decoration. Looks real yummy, Nurpur.

  8. Nupur...that looks so tempting...the carrot decoration is really so wonderful...great piece of art...

  9. beautiful. have you tried just a salted cream cheese frosting? it tastes yum - the salty and sweet.

  10. Lovely Nupur..:)The second pic fondly reminded me of Gajar ka Halwa:)
    Have never tasted carrot cake before, am sure it tastes yummy...

  11. the carrot cake looks yummy,i love the small carrot stars u made... and thanks for the reminder on the SHF.. i almost forgot about it ;)

  12. lovely presentation. carrot cakes are always a great hit. the coconuts and pineapple would make it more delicious. I too add sweetened coconuts.

  13. Fun recipe, Nupur. The icing is super cute :). Thats such a yummy looking cake. Jim Davis is quite right, isn't he :-D.

    and i agree about you on the regular cake icing, that achingly sweet icing!! This icing looks fresh and yummy and i love the fact that your recipe uses so lil' oil! great one all the way!

  14. What a beautiful cake Nupur! I've always loved carrot cake (preferably with pineapple and coconut - like yours), but it's not something I've made often. I have to try your yummy sounding light version - then maybe I can indulge more often!

    P.S. I'm horrified to learn that carrot cake is now retro - now I do feel old!!

  15. carrot cake is my favorite.... looks yummy Nupur!!!!

  16. I love carrot cake and yours is so pretty. I too add pineapple, walnuts and coconut and prefer cream cheese icing to all others. Only 3T of oil? That's really cool. Will try your version soon.

  17. Ooh! I never saw such a pretty carrot cake before :) Loved your decoration!!

  18. Pineapple in a carrot cake, thats interesting. I will try this recipe, scaling down, of course :)

  19. Nupur, that carrot cake is a work of art! I have never tried baking one -- might have to break down now :) Love the decorations on top -- looks like tiny orange butterflies :)

    BTW Dale is looking handsome as ever!

  20. What a pretty looking carrot cake!I love the addition of pineapple to it.

  21. Aarti, you must be so excited about returning to classes! I am sure it will be a fun and rewarding experience.

    Madhuli, cream cheese here in the US is the same as cheese spread in India (I have seen it being sold by Amul and Britannia). Let me know if you try it :)

    Lydia, CL's recipe reduced the sugar quite a bit, and then I have used even less here....I don't like too-sweet desserts, but this was just right!

    Sra, starfish? :) Very imaginative!!! Glad the Orissa potatoes worked well. Thanks for letting me know :)

    Alanna, awww...that is such a sweet tradition for your grandmother. I'm guessing you use her recipe, or maybe a traditional family recipe. CL did a wonderful job of lightening this one, and I used even less sugar.

    Priya, very true! It definitely does not need the icing...tastes great just as a simple cake by itself.

    Cynthia, thanks! It only looks is quite light compared to most other desserts :)

    Srivalli, the work of art of a 5 yr-old ;) just my silly attempts at icing (am very new to cake decoration).

    Joj, I love anything salty, and the salty-sweet-tangy frosting does sound delicious! Thanks for the tip!

    Vani, oooh, gajar halwa is the ultimate carrot dessert! This does taste yummy, I promise :)

    Rajitha, so what are you making for SHF? :) this theme was fun!

    Sharmi, sweetened coconuts would definitely add more sweetness and moisture, but the dry coconut that I used did work as a substitute!

    Musical, Jim Davis is right, but you and me, we love vegetables in any form, right? ;) This icing was creamy and delightful, completely different from the usual.

    Cathy, no, no, not retro! Carrot cake is TIMELESS :D The light version is from Cooking Light mag and I have to say, it is waaay lighter than all the recipes out there.

    Priyanka, glad you like it :)

    Laavanya, this recipe is worth trying! You should read the reviews on the original recipe to see how everyone who has tried it loves it.

    Tee, thanka :) my first childish attempts at cake decoration :D

    Suganya, the pineapple adds a lot of moisture to the cake, so that one can get away with less oil. The cake can be easily halved and baked in a 8 X 8 pan or so.

    Linda, oh, y'all are so poetic...the decorations have been called stars and starfish, I thought they were flowers, and now you are calling them butterflies! Amazing :)
    This one is worth baking the next time you have some occasion that calls for a cake. Dale is blushing at your compliment :D

    TBC, thank you! The pineapple adds good flavor and moisture to the cake.

  22. I love carrot cake and its an easy way to get the kids to eat some veggies. Your recipe with reduced sugar and oil sounds great. Wonderful pictures!!!

  23. Hi Nupur,
    The decoration is looking superb, with those carrot flowers.Never made a carrot cake. Will try your recipe:)

  24. Lovely Nupur. I may try this soon... without the icing... getting stuff like cream cheese is a difficult thing in Gurgaon... a phone call to Anita might help... but let's see :-)

  25. Nupur what a lovely cake. There were two cakes I remember my mum baking on a regular basis as we were growing up.One was an orange cake and another was the carrot cake. Your version looks and sounds just incredible. I love the decoration too.

    BTW: Thanks for you know what! ;-)

  26. that cake looks sooo cute Nupur, love your carrot-poppy seeds decoration...

  27. Carrot cake is one of my favorites! And that looks magnificent. I love the way you decorated it.

  28. Hello Nupur, Greetings from India! Your recipe of carrot cake with coconut is just in time for Narali Paurnima (Rakhi Paurnima). It can be a novel Naariyal dish for the festival tomorrow. Great!
    Thank you and best wishes,

  29. Lovely cake Nupur, Carrot with pineapple - nothing can beat its taste. Could feel the aroma. Very nice. Viji

  30. Diane, yes, truly the yummiest way to eat your vegetables! Glad you like the pics :)

    Archana, this is an easy and crowd-pleasing recipe. Certainly worth a try!

    Raaga, try cheese spread, which is commonly available everywhere.

    Meeta, oooh, orange cake sounds so delicious! Will you get your mum's recipe for that sometime? ;)

    Sig, thanks, it is the grade-schooler in me doing all that decoration :D

    Sher, thanks so much!

    Vandana, nice to meet you! Wishing you a wonderful Narali Paurnima! Just one thing: this recipe has eggs...I'm not sure that is OK for festivals. Do check first :)

    Viji, yes, the combo of carrot and pineapple was very tasty!

  31. But cheese spread here is salty... is that OK?

  32. Raaga, that just means that the icing will have a sweet-salty-tangy taste, and should work just fine with the taste of this cake. Let me know how it works, if you do try it :)
    Actually, I did not actually check the label, but I am fairly sure that cream cheese here has salt as well. It is designed for use exactly as a cheese spread.

  33. With a cake that beautiful, I will never end up eating it!! :)

  34. Nupur, I loved the decoration, must have tasted yummy, were you able to have such a beautiful thing....

  35. Ooohhh, it looks wonderful! I love carrot cakes...

  36. This looks good! Carrot cake is one of my favorites.

  37. Hi Nupur,

    Can you suggest a substitute for eggs in the recipe? I would love to try this recipe for my mother-in-law who is visiting us from India.

  38. This comment has been removed by the author.

  39. Anon, to answer your question...eggs in this recipe (and most cake recipes) act to add airiness and lightness to the cake. There are several substitutes that people use, and I would suggest looking at these two websites.
    I think replacing eggs with any of these suggested substitutes will result in a denser cake, but in this case, it will still taste good, because this is a dense cake anyway. It will just be more halwa-like than spongy. No big deal.
    I have personally not tried an eggless variation of this cake though, and these are just suggestions. If you do try something and it works well, please do let me know and I will share that information with anyone else seeking an eggless cake. Thanks!

  40. I am madly in love with the carrot stars on the top. What sweet, little stars they are. And what a wonderfully creative idea. Who knew you could improve on carrot cake?


  41. great contribution... what amazing little carrot stars! carrot cake was a staple in my Mum's kitchen, but glazed with chocolate, rather than sugar icing. it didn't look nearly as beautiful as yours, though! thanks for your submission...

  42. Hi Nupur! This looks too good! i love the decoration!!
    There is another award for u on my blog!!!

  43. Almost Vegetarian, those carrot stars are the lazy way out ;) the real decoration on carrot cake is miniature carrots made of marzipan!

    Joanna, carrot cake with chocolate glaze sounds delightful! The cream cheese icing might be a very American thing. Thanks for hosting this lovely event.

    Manasi, thank you for another generous award! How sweet are you?

  44. Hi Nupur,
    Have been a lurker at your site for ~a month now and thought would delurk to tell you that I tried this carrot cake yesterday with no eggs and it has turned out yummy and as dense, or not, as the store bought ones. Not to mention it is not as sweet as store bought carrot cake, Yeyii!

    I used the formula of
    1 egg = 2Tbsp Water + 1Tbsp Oil +2 tspn baking powder.


  45. AD, Thanks so much for the feedback! I can see how the oil replaces the fatty egg yolks, and the baking powder adds the airiness contributed by egg whites. Very nice! This will be useful to others wishing to make this recipe eggless.

  46. Hi Nupur,
    just tried this cake a couple of days back and it came out wonderful! I substituted half a cup of silken tofu for the eggs though. The recipe is a keeper ! Thanks for posting it :)

  47. Thanks so much for the feedback, Chhaya! You made my day :)

  48. Hi Nupur,
    You are really the heroine of my party this evening. Had a big crowd of 10 adults and 20 kids; all at my place to do a dance practice . I made this cake and boy, did they enjoy or what :-) they just loved the cake and the best thing is each kid took seconds, thirds and many more ...... It felt soooo good looking at those hungry eyes gobble the cake in a flash :-)lol thanks for such an awesome and easy recipe...


    1. Mina- You made my day! I am so thrilled that the recipe worked well for you, and that your friends all enjoyed the cake. Thank you very much for taking the time to leave your feedback.

  49. Hey, can I exclude the nuts? How should I modify the recipe with no nuts? Thanks!


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