Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Icing

If you're looking for a show-stopping Easter dessert, this carrot cake should do the trick. It's one of the most-loved recipes from my first cookbook All the Sweet Things, and I'm always getting notes and messages on how much people love to bake it. Here's why: there's moist and aromatic carrot cake, creamy brown butter icing, and a layer of crunch from the maple pumpkin seed brittle. If you love regular cream cheese icing, this recipe will make you downright giddy. It’s smooth and creamy, with the lovely caramel nuttiness that brown butter is known for. The carrot cake is rather wonderful in its simplicity—no pineapple, raisins or nuts to be found here, just straight-up carrots. Feel free to make the cakes a couple of days ahead. They freeze well, too. The middle layer of crunchy brittle may feel like an extra step, but it’s one you want to take. As my friend Lindsay said while testing this cake, the brittle makes it. 

This is an impressive cake, made even more so with the garnish of pretty Easter chocolate. I mean, just look at that bunny! Bring it out on your prettiest cake stand, slice it at the table and be prepared to take a bow. If your gathering is small this year, don't worry about having extra cake around the house. It makes an excellent second breakfast! 

Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Icing

3 large eggs, at room temperature
11/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup canola or other cooking oil
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
31/2 cups lightly packed grated carrots
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 cup unsalted butter, softened and divided
2 cups cream cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
3–4 cups icing sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the rack in the centre of the oven. Grease the bottoms and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans with your preferred cooking oil and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
2. To make the carrot cake, whisk together the eggs, sugars, oil, buttermilk and vanilla in a large 
bowl. Stir in the grated carrots. In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking
soda, salt and spices. Add the dry ingredients into the carrot mixture and stir until well combined.
Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans.
3. Bake for 35–40 minutes, until the cakes are golden and spring back when touched lightly and a
toothpick inserted in the centre of a cake comes out clean. Remove the pans from the oven and
let the cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for about 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of
the cakes and carefully remove them from their pans. Let the cakes cool completely on the rack.
The carrot cakes can be made a day or two ahead of time. Wrap them well in plastic and refrigerate
until ready to assemble.
4. To make the icing, melt 1/2 cup of the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. The 
butter will froth and bubble then turn golden. (You can give it a bit of a stir.) When it starts to brown and smell nutty, remove the pan from the heat. Pour the butter into a small dish and let it cool for 5
minutes. Place it in the refrigerator, uncovered, and chill for 15 minutes.
5. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, place the chilled melted brown butter, remaining
1/2 cup butter and cream cheese. Beat the mixture on high speed until creamy and smooth. Scrape
down the sides of the bowl a couple of times. Beat in the vanilla and salt. With the machine running
on low speed, add 1 cup of icing sugar and then increase the speed to high and beat it well. Add
the remaining icing sugar in batches of 1 cup, 1 cup, 1/2 cup and then a final 1/2 cup if needed,
stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times. I use about 4 cups of icing sugar, but if
it’s thick and creamy after 31/2 cups, stop then. If you feel like you need more icing sugar to make a
thick and creamy icing, then by all means add more icing sugar.
6. To assemble the cake, smear a bit of icing on the bottom of a cake stand or platter. This will keep
the cake in place as you decorate it. Set the bottom layer of cake on this smear of icing and then
spread the cake layer generously with icing. Scatter the crushed maple brittle on top of the icing.
Top with the second layer of cake. Using a large offset spatula, apply a thin layer of icing all around
the cake. This is called “dirty icing” and it helps adhere those pesky crumbs to the cake. Chill the
cake for 30 minutes.
7. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and apply the remaining icing with an offset spatula. Use
the back of a spoon to create swirls, if you so desire. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes before
serving. The cake will keep wrapped well in plastic in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Unfrosted
carrot cakes can be wrapped well in plastic and frozen for up to 1 month. Serves 10-12. 

Note: Here is the recipe for Maple Pumpkin Seed Brittle, which you can crumble in between layers if you choose. 

1 Tbsp olive oil, for brushing the parchment
1/2 cup raw unsalted pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the rack in the centre of the oven. Line a rimmed baking sheet with
parchment paper and brush the parchment evenly with the olive oil.
2. Stir together the pumpkin seeds, maple syrup, cardamom and salt. Pour this mixture onto the
prepared baking sheet (it won’t spread to the sides and it will be a funky, uneven shape) and bake
for 15 minutes, rotating the sheet 180 degrees at the 8-minute mark. The brittle should be bubbling
and golden. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let it cool completely on a wire rack.
3. Break the brittle into pieces and store it in an airtight container at room temperature
for up to 2 weeks. Makes 1 1/2 cups. 

Note: You can also bake this cake using 8-inch cake pans—and bonus, you’ll have some batter left over for cupcakes, which will take 20–22 minutes to bake.

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