Grandma's Carrot Cake
My mother made this delicious cake for our birthdays pretty much every year when I was a kid. The decadent cream cheese frosting is a MUST--don't even think about trying to make this cake without it! I've included my grandmother's additional notes at the end of this recipe.
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup canola oil (I know, I never ever use canola oil...I've never tried olive oil in this cake, though)
1/4 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour (cake flour will turn out the lightest results, but you can use regular, or even a blend of whole wheat)
3/4 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots (about 5-6 medium carrots)
2/3 cups walnuts, finely chopped or ground
2 round cake pans (9-inch diameter)
For the Cream Cheese Frosting
4 oz. cream cheese (room temperature)
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter (room temperature)
3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2-4 Tbsp. cream or half-and-half, added one Tbsp. at a time
In a large mixing bowl, blend the sugar and canola oil until thoroughly combined and smooth. Mix in vanilla. Beat the eggs until the whites and yolks are combined, then add to the sugar mixture and mix in well. Place the dry ingredients in a sifter, and sift into the sugar mixture, a little at a time, stirring gently after each addition until the dry ingredients are all mixed in and no streaks of flour remain.
Peel and grate the carrots and stir into the cake batter. Check the walnuts for shell fragments, and finely chop or grind. To get the walnuts to the right consistency, you can either grind them in a hand-cranked nut grinder or pulse in a food processor a few times. Mix the walnuts into the batter.
Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease the pans with some butter, and then sprinkle a little flour on the bottom of each cake pan. Holding the pan over the sink, gently shake it so the flour gets evenly distributed to coat the bottom and sides of the cake pan. If there's excess flour stuck to the bottom of the pan, just turn it over and gently tap on the back of the pan to release the extra flour.
At this point, get the cream cheese and butter out of the refrigerator, and leave on the counter to allow to come to room temperature.
Pour the cake batter into the cake pans, dividing it equally between the two, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, plus or minus a few cake crumbs (not gooey--if the cake's center isn't done, the toothpick will come out fairly sticky when you do this test). When done, allow the cakes to cool fully on a wire rack before frosting: if you try to frost warm cakes, they will just crumble everywhere and won't look all that nice, although it will of course still taste delicious.
To Make the Frosting:
Once the cream cheese and butter come up to room temperature, blend them in a medium-sized mixing bowl until creamy and smooth. Add the vanilla, and then add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until no more sugar can be absorbed by the cream/butter mixture. For me, this is usually about 3 cups. Add the cream or half-and-half, 1 Tbsp. at a time, until the frosting is a beautifully silky texture and has a nice shiny gloss to it. You want it moist enough to spread but not runny. If you add too much cream and then find that the frosting is too runny and not "spreadable," you can either add a little more powdered sugar, or chill it in the fridge for a few minutes until it's easier to work with.
To frost the cake, first put one of the layers on the plate/platter/stand you intend to serve your sweet creation on later. Then frost just the top of that layer. Place the second layer on top of the first and continue to frost the top of that layer, and then frost all the way around the sides of the cake as well. Refrigerate until ready to serve, and then store the leftovers in the fridge.
Grandma Bess's original recipe called for 1 cup golden raisins, which she wrote, "I omitted these." She calls for baking the cake in a greased and floured 9 x 13 glass pan, then she said: "Either leave in the pan or cut in half and ice & stack as a layer cake. Good luck!"
My mother has added apple to this cake recipe as well, if she doesn't have enough carrots: you can use a whole apple, peeled and grated, in place of some of the carrots. Mom says not to over-bake the cake, and to lower the oven temperature to 325° F if you're using a dark-colored cake pan.