If I was feeling stingy, this is one of those recipes I would hide. Well, at least, I would hide the part about the cream cheese frosting. But I'm not that mean. If you're smart enough to love cream cheese frosting, then you deserve this. I won't hold back. But let's start with the cake first.
When I first married my husband, his favorite cake was carrot. It may be chocolate now, I'm not sure, but that's for another day. So I started experimenting, and I quickly discovered that all carrot cakes are made with oil. Gross. Have you ever tasted oil? Not the kind for your car, of course, just the canola or corn kind you'd use in baking a cake? Did you like it? Me neither. Now, have you tasted butter? I thought so. So I decided (rather quickly) to substitute butter. The resulting cake, of course, would be quite different. Instead of a tender, fluffier cake, you get a dense, moist cake with a bit of caramely taste on the crusty edge. Pair that with a mellow cream cheese frosting and you're just about in heaven. Eat too much of it, clog all of your arteries, and you really will be in heaven. That's why it's important to share.
For this cake, you're going to need two 9" x 3" pans. I suppose you could use three 9" x 2" pans; that should work, as well, but since I haven't done it, you'll have to watch it closely to know when it's done. Of course, I prefer my pans with removable bottoms, but do as you like. Also, these cakes have a strong tendency to fall if not completely baked through. This means the center of the cake has to be strong enough to bounce back when touched before removing it from the oven. If you want to do a half batch, you'll need two 6" x 3" pans.
The other tidbit I learned (from my husband, who learned it from participating in cub scout cake decorating contests in his youth) is that it's easier to frost a cake if it's frozen. In fact, it is much, much easier, and since I like eating this cake chilled, it works out quite well. The frosting is soft when prepared but firms up as you frost it because of the cooling temperature. Frost the cake frozen, then serve it about an hour later. It should be just right.
When you grate your carrots, grate them on the finest grater side of a box grater or, if you have it handy, the smallest grater on your food processor. (By the way, it's amazing how fast you can grate carrots with a food processor - it probably took one minute to do enough for one and a half batches.)
The toasted pecans are optional, in case you're allergic to pecans, but otherwise add them. They make the cake!
1 lb. unsalted butter, room temperature
3 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla
4 c. all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
2 t. baking soda
1 T. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
3 cups finely grated carrots
1 cup toasted pecan halves
First prepare your pans. Spray them with Pam (I'd just say "non-stick" spray, but let's face it: Pam is definitely superior), then line the bottom and sides with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 325°.
In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Mix in the eggs thoroughly, one at a time, and add the vanilla.
Separately, combine the dry ingredients. Whisk them together to sift the flour, mix the ingredients, and lighten them. On low speed, mix the flour into the butter mixture little by little, until fully incorporated, but do not overmix.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the carrots and pecans. Divide between the two prepared pans. In case you think something is wrong, I should warn you that this is a very thick cake batter recipe. You haven't left out any ingredients, nor have I.
Bake for approximately 64 minutes. This is exactly how long mine took, but your oven might be ever so slightly different. The center of the cake should spring back when lightly touched. Note: do not open the oven door several times during baking, as this cake is sensitive and will punish you for your impatience.
Remove the cake to a cooling rack. After 10 or 15 minutes, remove it from the cake pans. Let it cool nearly to room temperature, then return it to the pans and place in the freezer. Freeze until very cold, then frost with cream cheese frosting (see below). Serve.
3 8-oz. packages Philadelphia cream cheese (or local creamery brand, if it's very good), room temperature
18 T. unsalted butter, room temperature (that's 2 sticks plus 2 T.)
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar (not powdered!)
1 T. vanilla
Place all ingredients in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium until coming together, then on high for one minute.
Makes a generous amount for a 2-layer cake, but will probably be just right for a 3-layer.