Decorated or not, served as a cake or as a cupcake, this is a great recipe with just the frosting! A traditional family recipe, I had to stop making it — or at least not use the frosting — due to my late husband’s diabetes until I found a wonderful sugar free substitute in January of 2012 for powdered (confectioners) sugar.
Although not traditional, you may use an additional 1/2 to 1 cup chopped walnuts in the cake batter itself if desired. They should be very finely chopped so that they don’t just sink to the bottom.
It also helps when you are ready to add finely chopped nuts to any cake (particularly light, fluffy cakes rather than heavy, dense cakes):
First boil some water, put the nuts in a wire mesh strainer, hold it over the sink and pour the boiling hot water over the walnuts, then toss a bit to get rid of any excess water trapped between them. Allow to drain for five minutes or so. When they are well drained, pour and spread them out single layer onto a cutting board and very lightly dust them with about one to two teaspoons of cake flour (use a light weight cake flour; not all purpose). To dust them, shake a dry fine mesh strainer, held about six inches above them while slowly adding the flour — by sprinkling the flour into the mesh strainer a little at a time — or you can put the flour into a powdered sugar shaker. Let them sit for 30 to 60 seconds then toss them a bit. Fold into already fully prepared cake batter.
However, you really only need to chop nuts (or fruit) up finely enough to avoid any issues with them sinking.
Our Traditional Family Carrot Cake
4 large eggs, whole, lightly beaten
1-1/2 cups sugar or granulated sucralose (Splenda)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2-1/2 cups cake flour
2 to 2-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup finely grated carrots (sawdust consistency)
1 cup finely shredded carrots
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar (or see bottom of page for sugar free substitute)
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
Orange and green natural food coloring, optional (if making own, juice carrots and either parsley or spinach)
5 walnut halves, optional (see below)
Long carrot shavings, optional (see below)
In a large bowl, combine the eggs, sugar and oil.
In another bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nutmeg until well and evenly mixed. Sifting is optional but recommended.
Beat the finely grated carrots into the egg mixture. Add the flour mixture and beat until incorporated and smooth.
Gently stir or fold in the shredded carrots a little at a time until evenly distributed throughout the batter.
Pour into two greased and floured 9-in. round baking pans.
Bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
For frosting, in another large bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar or substitute. Add enough milk to achieve desired spreading consistency 1 tsp at a time.
Reserve 1/2 cup plus 4 Tbsp. frosting for decorating the cake with carrots if desired — 12 small for each slice plus one larger one in the top center.
Spread frosting between layers and over top and sides of cake, being sure to apply a thin crumb coat first.
If desired, use finely crushed/chopped walnuts to coat bottom outer half of cake after it has been frosted.
If decorating the cake, color 1/4 cup reserved frosting orange and 1/4 cup green. Pipe twelve carrots on top of cake with a round pastry tip, so each slice will have a carrot. Using a leaf pastry tip and the green frosting, pipe the leaf at the top of each carrot. Make a larger carrot with the remaining colored frostings in the center.
Store cake or left over cake, covered, in the refrigerator.
Non-traditional options for decorative twists:
Traditionally, the center of a carrot cake is left un-decorated, or simply has a slightly larger carrot piped in the middle — and may or may not have small uncolored frosting stars or shells surrounding the top outer edge and the bottom may or may or not be given a rope or shell border.
If you wish to do any piping other than the 12 carrots and a center carrot, you may need to make additional frosting.
I usually double frosting recipe because I like to put decorative borders of various sorts on the cake along with a larger than usual carrot on top in the center or a make circular wreath formed with several small ones.
Unless, like me, you have household members continually coming in swiping spoonful tastes of frosting, there will be some left over when doubling the recipe.
It will keep refrigerated for up to five days in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature and stir or whip well before using.
It can also be frozen and later thawed — but sometimes the sugar crystallizes and other times not — depending upon how long it is kept. It is best if used if frozen within four to six weeks at most. However, I have had some that was still good eight months later — and other times it had to thrown out after only ten weeks. After thawing, if needed, add a teaspoon of milk at a time to thin and whip well before using.
If enough frosting remains, pipe another equally sized or a larger carrot in the center of the cake, or sprinkle with a light loose dusting of finely chopped walnuts, or arrange a star pattern with 5 walnut halves, or leave the center un-decorated as is traditional, or pipe celebratory words such as “Happy Easter” or “Happy Birthday”.
If using walnut halves for a center star, may optionally pipe an appropriately sized uncolored or orange frosting star, rose, or rosette in the center of it.
Another option is to shave some very long, very thin threads of carrots to spiral into a loose cinnamon roll shapes or into tighter rose shapes then decorate the center with very best looking spiral or rose. If roses won’t hold their shape, caramelize a bit of sugar to use for hidden spots of sugar glue which can be applied with a toothpick and held together until the sugar hardens.
Carrot leaf may be replaced by instead piping three thin lines with the writing tip — all touching at the base and side by side touching part way up — with the two outer blade tips curling over and down like slightly drooping blades of grass and the center one going straight up. This is a very good alternative option for any who haven’t quite yet mastered the leaf.
If you are new to cake decorating and don’t know how to pipe, simply coat the side of the cake (bottom half) in the crushed/chopped walnuts and use walnut halves to create a border at the very bottom as well using them to decorate the top.
I’m pretty sure in this day and age that there are probably many piping and cake decorating tips and demonstration videos available for free online. Most communities also offer cake decorating classes at various venues and colleges although there is usually a fee involved.
I was taught cake decorating by an aunt as a child. I first learned the techniques on paper then practiced on upside down cake pans.
It is best to practice your piping first before attempting to actually decorate a cake.
First, learn the techniques piping on top of parchment or waxed paper. To keep the paper from sliding around a bit of frosting can be placed underneath each corner to stick it to a large flat (no sides) baking pan.
Once you have learned the technique, turn a cake pan upside down and practice decorating it as though it were an actual cake.
When you are happy with the results, you are ready to move on to decorating the real thing! Start with doing cakes for everyday use at home before moving on to attempting those for special occasions.
Tip: If still new to decorating, pipe your carrots on parchment or waxed paper and freeze for an hour or two, then quickly peel off the paper and place on the cake. If not quick, it can start to melt and soften with the heat of your fingers — just quickly dip your fingers in a bowl of iced water, quickly dry, and continue. Then, if some do not turn out like you want, you have the option of a do over! This is much easier than trying to scrape off any mistakes from the cake itself!
To form a circular wreath in the center, get a round object and use it to make a faint impression forming a template circle in the frosting to follow for a nice even circle (you can erase all traces left behind in between the carrots by dipping a non-serrated dinner knife, a tiny spoon, or finger in warm water then tapping or shaking off excess water and then using to smooth it over with). Or — form a circle of fanned out carrots with the smaller ends of the carrots touching tip to tip on a dot marked in the center.
Sugar Free Confectioners Sugar
1 cup granulated Splenda (or other sugar substitute that measures cup for cup)
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup powdered milk
yield: 1- 3/4 cup sugar free powdered sugar
Blend or food process to powdered sugar consistency (the finer and more powdery the better) and store in airtight container.