Caramel Carrot Cake
This is a big moment. Drumroll, please.
Behold: the first layer cake recipe to ever step foot on this blog.
I KNOW, it might be shocking. But if you've followed me from the beginning -- or if you know me in person -- you probably know that I am awfully intimidated (and honestly totally terrified) of layer cakes. Traumatized is also probably an appropriate word to throw in there, too. And oddly enough, some may argue layer cakes to be easier than pie.
I've had few success stories with layer cake, and granted I've only attempted five layer cakes in my baking career (and only 2 successful) -- but each time, it's absolutely horrifying. What if I over-beat the cake batter? What if I overfill the cake pans? What if I don't grease the cake pans as much as I should and the cake doesn't un-mold?
What if the cake breaks in half when I move it onto the cake stand?
What if the frosting doesn't hold up and falls down the cake?
What if my frosting layers aren't even?
What do I put on top of the cake because I sure as heck don't want to pipe????
Wait, do I have to pipe?
WHAT IF I PUT IN ALL THIS WORK TO MAKE THE CAKES AND THEN FROST THE CAKE AND IT ENDS UP TASTING AWFUL?
And here is when I channel my inner Julia Child and remember that one time she said, "you've got to have a 'what-the-hell' attitude." (I don't recall the rest of the quote but I don't think any of us need to because that's the most important part of it.)
So for my dad's 70th birthday, I decided to do away with the anxiety of botching a layer cake; instead, I would attempt to make the best damn carrot cake Dad had ever had.
And I actually did it.
In fact, it very may well be the best damn carrot cake I've ever had. And I'm not just saying that. The beauty of carrot cake is in the carrots -- imagine that?! -- and their ability to keep the cake deliciously moist without tasting like you're biting into a salad. It's a remarkable thing, especially considering the three cups of grated carrots in this cake. HAND-grated, might I add, since a food processor has somehow fallen to the bottom of my kitchen priorities list (most likely because I have zero counter space, and obviously all the cookbooks must stay). But that's a different story.
This isn't your average carrot cake. It's filled and frosted with a cream cheese frosting that has just a bit of cinnamon in there, and in between the frosting layers sit some very lovely swirls of homemade salted caramel. And of course, I had to top off the cake with another layer of caramel dripping down the sides. It's dang, dang good, and it was the perfect cake for a special celebration with the whole family; but honestly, you don't need an excuse to make carrot cake. This does require some prepare-ahead planning, and I highly recommend making your caramel sauce the night before the cake so it has time to properly cool. I would also highly recommend layering on the caramel shortly before you present the cake -- if it sits for too long, even refrigerated, the caramel will begin to drip down the cake and seep into the frosting (which is still totally delicious, but it's not as easy on the eyes).
So plan some spare time for a little bakescapade and make. this. cake.
It will not disappoint!
Caramel Carrot Cake
Caramel (make 1 day ahead)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 grind black pepper
pinch of ground cloves
1 pound finely-grated fresh carrots
1 cup pecan chips
3 (8 oz.) bricks cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 cups powdered sugar (or more if needed to thicken)
1/4 cup pecan chips, for topping
One day before you bake the cakes, make your caramel sauce: In a small pot, gently heat the cream, butter, and salt until the butter has melted and the salt has completely dissolved.
Remove from heat and add the vanilla. In a larger pot, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Heat over a medium high flame, swirling the pot occasionally to distribute the heat evenly.
Continue to boil the sugar mixture until the bubbles begin to get smaller and it becomes amber-colored.
Being careful not to burn your hands, reduce the heat to low, and pour in the warm cream mixture, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. It will bubble and steam very rapidly, so watch your hands but do not stop whisking. Immediately transfer the hot mixture to a heat-safe jar and cool completely at room temperature, preferably overnight.
Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350°F.
Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans. Or alternately, you can use two 9-inch round baking pans. In the bowl of a large stand mixer, mix together oil, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until combined and smooth. Add in the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla, and mix until smooth.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining dry ingredients (flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, baking powder, nutmeg, cloves, pepper) until combined.
Add the dry ingredient mixture to the mixing bowl, and beat on medium-speed until just combined, scraping down the pan at least once to be sure that everything is well mixed. Then fold in the grated carrots by hand, and stir until combined. Fold in the pecan chips.
Pour the batter evenly into the prepared cake pans. Then bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean.
Remove pans and let them cool on a wire rack until the cakes reach room temperature.
Use a serrated knife or a cake leveler to level off the domed tops of the cakes so that they are level and even. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you make the frosting.
Make the frosting: Using an electric mixer, cream together cream cheese and butter on medium speed for 1 minute or until smooth with no lumps remaining. Add in vanilla extract, cinnamon and salt, and continue mixing until combined.
Lower speed to medium-low and gradually add in powdered sugar. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until combined. If frosting is too thick, you can add in a teaspoon or two of water or milk. If it is too thin, you can add in more powdered sugar.
Make sure your caramel sauce is thick but pourable - it will most likely need 10-15 seconds in the microwave to warm up after solidifying overnight. Layer the cakes with the cream cheese frosting, then using a spoon (or small round piping tip, whatever works for you), drizzle enough caramel sauce over the cream cheese frosting to have an even swirl, being sure to reach the edges. Repeat with remaining layers, then frost the outside of the cake as desired.
Using a spoon, hold your caramel sauce 1 inch before the edge of the cake, allowing caramel to drip down the sides. Pour remaining caramel over the top of the cake to smooth the top. Top with 1/4 cup pecan chips. Allow the cake to chill in the fridge for 15-20 minutes so the caramel can set. Serve that day or store, covered, for up to 4 days.