November 13, 2012

Walnut Carrot Cake

Walnut Carrot Cake

I've always disliked carrot cake.  In my experience, it is often too dense, the frosting is usually too sweet, and it almost always commits what I consider to be a major cake felony - it contains chunks of nuts and carrots right in the cake, which messes with the texture in an inexcusable way (this is totally my opinion - I know lots of people like this). 

I decided to create a carrot cake that I would like: light, moist, and free from chunks in the cake - all without losing the carroty-ness and nutty-ness that defines a good carrot cake.

Walnut Carrot Cake
Instead of grated carrot cake, I decided to use a smooth carrot puree in my cake.  This would eliminate any carrot chunks from the cake completely.  I started with the Golden Carrot Cake recipe from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle.  I knew that using a puree in place of grated carrots would introduce a lot more liquid to the recipe, so I decided to try it out using just one 6" round pan to start.

As expected, there was way too much liquid.  The cake never really cooked properly, sank once it came out of the oven, and was a horrible, inedible mess.  It took four more renditions of me tweaking the recipe before I was satisfied with the result.

My insane quest for carrot cake - as a flow chart.

Traditionally, carrot cake has a cream cheese frosting.  I decided to keep with tradition, but to give it a unique twist by making a light, whipped cream cheese frosting.

Although I didn't want any nuts in the cake, I did want to incorporate walnuts in some way.  I decided to sprinkle candied walnuts in between each cake layer.  For some reason, I don't mind nuts on top of the cake, just as long as they're not in the cake batter (I'm weird).

Finally, to decorate the cake, I decided to make some candied carrot flowers.  I carved out the flowers as shown in this video, and then simmered them in a sugar syrup for an hour.  They came out sweet, chewy, and deliciously carrot-y.

Walnut Carrot Cake

I achieved my goal - I created a carrot cake that I actually like a lot.  The cake had a warm, subtle, carrot and cinnamon flavor, and the frosting was light and didn't overpower the cake.  Both my husband and I agreed - the candied walnuts were really the best part.  They gave each bite a sweet, nutty crunch.

If you really enjoy the chunkiness of regular carrot cake, this might not be for you.  However, if you are interested in experiencing a different kind of carrot cake, give this a try.

Carrot Cake
Inspired by Tish Boyle's Golden Carrot Cake recipe (The Cake Book).  Makes 3 6" round cake layers.

7.5 ounces carrots (2-3 regular carrots), peeled and chopped*
¾ cup (6 ounces) water, plus more for boiling*
2 cups (228 grams) cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
2 eggs
¾ cup sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
*To save time, the carrots and water can be replaced with 10.5 ounces of baby food carrots (the thicker kind).

  1. Preheat your oven to 350° F.
  2. Line three 6" round cake pans with parchment paper.  Coat with a thin layer of oil and flour.
  3. To make the carrot puree, fill a small saucepan with about 4 cups water.  Add the chopped carrots and bring to a boil over high heat.  Continue to boil until the carrots are soft (about 10 minutes).  Drain.
  4. In a food processor or blender, combine the cooked carrots and the ¾ cup of water.  Blend until very smooth (the consistency of baby food).  Set aside.
  5. In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Set aside.
  6. Beat the eggs and sugar together on low speed until combined.  
  7. Add the vegetable oil, melted butter, and vanilla extract, and beat until combined.
  8. Add the dry ingredients in three batches and beat on low until well mixed, scraping the sides of the bowl after each batch.
  9. Add the carrot puree (or baby food) and beat on low until combined.
  10. Divide the batter evenly between the three cake pans.
  11. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  12. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Whipped Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
4 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract)
⅓ cup heavy whipping cream

  1. Beat the cream cheese and butter at medium speed with a whisk attachment until smooth (a minute or so).
  2. At low speed, add the powdered sugar.  Add the vanilla bean seeds or extract.  Beat until fully incorporated.
  3. While beating at medium-high speed, slowly add the whipping cream.  Whip for about 30 seconds.

Candied Walnuts

¾ cup walnuts, finely chopped
¼ cup sugar

  1. Heat the walnuts and sugar in a small frying pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  2. As soon as the sugar melts (about 5 minutes), stir to coat the walnuts with the sugar.
  3. Remove from heat when the walnuts start turning brown and allow to cool completely.

Candied Carrot Flowers

1 regular carrot, peeled
2 cups sugar
1 cup water

  1. Cut the carrot into flower shapes by cutting five evenly spaced nicks in the side of the carrot.  Slice the carrot at an angle so they are cupped in the middle.  See this video for a demonstration on how to cut the flowers.
  2. Bring the sugar and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan.
  3. Add the carrot flowers and continue to simmer for an hour.

  1. Level the top of each cake layer with a cake leveler or a sharp knife.
  2. Spread ⅓ of the frosting on a cake layer.  Sprinkle with ⅓ of the candied walnuts.
  3. Place the second layer on top of the first, and repeat step 2.
  4. Place your final layer on top, and repeat step 2.
  5. Top with candied carrot flowers if desired.


  1. My partner and I both like carrot cake already, but agreed this cake was freaking awesome too. The cake tasted great and the frosting was delicious and creamy.

  2. This looks so good. Don't think I can make it look that nice.


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