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How-To

Carrot Cake Perfected

Great texture, a subtle balance of spices, and satiny icing add up to a refined version of a familiar classic

Fine Cooking Issue 63
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Throughout my career as a pastry chef, I’ve made carrot cake in just about every kind of setting, from four-star restaurants to neighborhood pubs. I’ve made carrot cupcakes for kids’ birthday parties and even carrot wedding cakes. People never seem to tire of it. I think it’s because carrot cake—moist, sweet, and substantial—is nothing if not comforting.  

I’ve been fine-tuning my recipe for 22 years, and there are some key details that set it apart. The cake starts with a creamy emulsion. You’re essentially making a sweet mayonnaise with the sugars, eggs, and oils, which you then fold into the dry ingredients. That creamy emulsion ensures an even distribution of the ingredients, which in turn gives you an incredibly moist cake. And instead of raisins, which tend to sink to the bottom of the cake pan, I use dried currants, which are smaller and more apt to disperse evenly. A balanced blend of spices and an especially satiny icing make this my all-time best version of carrot cake.

Many recipes call for grated carrots, but here they’re ground very finely in a food processor to the consistency of couscous, which makes for more even distribution and gives the cake its fine texture.
A balanced blend of spices lends warmth and subtle homey flavor, with no one spice dominating. Other carrot cakes can be top-heavy with cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves. Walnut oil adds another layer of rich, nutty flavor.
Velvety frosting adds tang and richness. Butter and cream cheese that are completely softened (but not so soft that they turn greasy) and just enough sugar ensure that the frosting has especially satiny texture.
A spatula creates a textured surface on the top of the cake.

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