This carrot cake recipe is one to make when you have time to relax and enjoy the process of baking. There are several steps to prepare ahead of time before actually creating the cake batter. You'll need to make brown butter, which is not difficult but browning three sticks of butter takes a good amount of time to slowly bring it to color, adding a depth of nutty flavor. Additional nuttiness and texture come from toasted pecans, either purchased as toasted or toasting them yourself. And not to forget, grating the carrots, by hand with a box grater (recommended) or in the food processor. After doing all that, then you are ready to make the cake batter. But the reward and use of time is well worth it, resulting in an irresistible carrot cake.
My favorite carrot cake recipe is this one created by Ina Garten that I posted in an earlier post. I love the traditional flavors using crushed pineapple, dried currents and toasted walnuts, baked into individual small cakes. I was drawn to this new recipe, based on one from Martha Stewart, as I wanted to use brown butter in the cake batter. Ms. Stewart's original recipe does not use browned butter, but it uses butter, whereas most other carrot cake recipes I have seen use oil. I improvised her recipe increasing the spice level with more cinnamon, also adding dried ginger, and fresh orange zest.
Both recipes result in a moist cake that is a challenge to resist eating more than one piece. Share it with a crowd of friends and family.
Brown Butter Carrot Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), plus more for buttering the pan
1 cup toasted pecans**, chopped
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 1/2 cups grated carrots, (12 ounces of whole carrots)
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange zest
Makes one 9x13-inch sheet pan cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper across the long edges of the pan with 2-3 inches of overhang on the long edges. This will act as a sling to remove the cooled cake from the pan (pictured below). Butter the parchment paper on the bottom and sides of the pan. Dust the entire pan and parchment paper with flour, tapping out the excess flour. Set aside.
Working with a wide skillet, add the 3 sticks of butter to the pan placed over low heat. Melt the butter, continue heating the butter over low heat, stirring occasionally until the butter is lightly browned. This will take 25-30 minutes. Once lightly browned, set aside to cool.
Chop the toasted pecans into small bits. Set aside.
Measure out the flour, placing it into a medium mixing bowl along with the baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Whisk together, set aside.
Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, place the grated carrots, eggs, sugar, buttermilk, vanilla and orange zest into the bowl of the stand mixer. Set the mixing speed to medium-low to combine the ingredients. Turn off the mixer, add in the flour mixture, mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are just incorporated with the wet. Transfer the cooled browned butter and chopped pecans to the batter, mixing until combined. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the sides of the bowl and the bottom, stirring and folding to ensure the ingredients are well combined.
Transfer the cake batter to the prepared baking pan, smoothing the thick batter evenly out to the corners. Place into the preheated oven, center rack. Bake for 35-40 minutes until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean with just a few crumbs. The cake will be nicely browned. Remove the cake from the oven, allowing to cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Using the parchment paper sling, lift out the cake to cool on the rack for another 20-25 minutes.
Once fully cooled, ice the top of the cake with orange cream cheese frosting.
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons shortening
8 ounces Philadelphia cream cheese, room temperature*
1 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh grated orange zest
Working with a stand mixer or using an electric mixer, place the butter, shortening and cream cheese into a mixing bowl. Beat on medium-high speed to combine until fluffy. Add in the salt, vanilla and orange zest, mixing to combine. Gradually add in the confectioners' sugar, 1/2 cup at a time until the frosting is thick and creamy.
* I recommend using real Philadelphia brand cream cheese as the texture is superior for making cream cheese frosting compared to generic.
** To toast raw pecans: preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the pecans onto a sheet pan with sides, spreading the pecans into a single layer. Toast in the oven for 7-8 minutes. Remove from the oven, allowing the pecans to remain on the sheet pan to cool completely. Use when cooled, or store in an air-tight container for later use.