Baked Sunday Mornings: Classic Carrot Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

I like carrot cake well enough, but to me it serves primarily as a delivery device for cream cheese frosting. That's why I tend to make carrot cake only when someone specifically requests it (like here or here). I would not have bothered trying this week's Baked Sunday Mornings recipe, "Classic Carrot Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting," if I wasn't dedicated to baking my way through the entire Baked Elements cookbook.

Matt and Renato refer to this as a "classic" carrot cake, although the recipe calls for both oil and melted butter, which seems a little non-traditional to me. But other than that, the recipe is straightforward: beat eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and dark brown sugar until pale; add oil and cooled melted butter, followed by vanilla; fold in the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, and cloves); and incorporate shredded carrots, toasted coconut, and walnuts.

The recipe recommends finely shredding the carrots using a Microplane, and I was curious how using such fine pieces of carrot would affect the final texture of the cake. But the night before I made this cake I had some savory baking projects that required more than a pound and a half of grated cheese, and I had grated it all by hand using a Microplane. It took a long time, and I just couldn't bear the thought of grating one more thing with a Microplane, much less an entire pound of carrots. So I went the lazy route, and put the carrots through the food processor shredding disk. It only took 30 seconds, but I ended up with coarse shreds.
Your pour the batter in a parchment-lined 9-inch by 13-inch cake pan and bake. The recipe says the cake should be done in 35-40 minutes, when a toothpick inserted into the center will come out with a few moist crumbs. When I checked the cake at 35 minutes, the top was only lightly colored and I didn't need to test it with a toothpick to see if it was done -- as I pulled the pan out, the center was jiggling. A lot. I slid the cake back in the oven and checked it ten minutes later, but the center was still jiggly. So I kept checking the cake at five minute intervals, and finally -- after a total of 60 minutes in the oven -- it looked like it was done.

Even before I cooled and frosted the cake, I was unhappy with it. The center of the cake was sunken, which is something that can happen when you take the cake out of the oven too early, disturbing the baking process and allowing the cake to fall before the structure is fully set. Given that I had pulled the cake out of the oven numerous times during baking, I had a sinking feeling the sunken cake was a sign of cake failure.

After the cake was cool, I turned it out of the pan and spread on the frosting (softened butter, softened cream cheese, powdered sugar, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla). You can't really see it in the photo above, but the frosting was a light tan color because of the cinnamon. Then I tried to slice the cake. It was sticky and dense and did not cut cleanly.

I really did not like the first piece of cake I tried. The flavor of the cake was fine but it was greasy and heavy. Most of all, I was disappointed in the frosting. I thought that the cinnamon muted the distinctive tang of the cream cheese that is precisely what makes cream cheese frosting so good. I was going to compost the entire remainder of the cake, but I was in a rush to leave the house and didn't have time to scrape all of the frosting off before sticking the cake in the compost bin. So I shoved the entire cake in the fridge and left.

The next morning I tried another piece of cake and it tasted a lot better. The chilling firmed up the cake texture and I actually enjoyed eating it. I still think the frosting would be better without cinnamon. But I would be interested in trying this cake again. I think it has great potential; with a soft and fluffy texture, this cake could be fantastic.

Recipe: "Classic Carrot Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting" from Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, recipe available here at Baked Sunday Mornings.

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Sheri said…
Oh no! That seems really weird. Mine took a little longer than I expected, given that in my oven, I usually end up pulling things out earlier than the expected bake time. Even though the skewer kept coming out clean, the middle on top looked pale and raw. So I ended up cooking it for 45 min. I wonder if something was up with your oven temp?

I liked the cake, but I agree - not exactly classic. But I still think it's a better version than many others I've made.
Louise said…
I just compared the recipe to a carrot sheet cake I've baked occasionally for the last 30 years. Very similar except mine uses a small can of mandarin oranges and no walnuts. The walnuts are on the frosting, no cinnamon there. Mine bakes at 350 for 45 to 55 minutes.
SandraM said…
Glad to hear it was better the next morning. Breakfast cake can never be bad. :)
Unknown said…
i baked it as cupcakes and the first batch i baked also sunk in the middle even though a toothpick inserted came out clean to tell me they were done. i left the next batches in a little longer and they didn't sink. i thought the cake was nice and light compared to some other carrot cakes i've made/eaten in the past. overall this is just not my favourite treat, but it seemed appropriate for spring!
Anonymous said…
Whatever happened to yours happened to mine as well. I baked mine as a 3-layer 6-inch cake, and all three layers sunk in the middle, plus they took forever to bake. My cakes were SUPER greasy, and I had to blot a ton of oil onto paper towels. The only thing I could think of is that I ground the walnuts too finely and they gave off a lot of oil, but it seems like an excessive amount. It looks like several of us had longer baking time than usual. Anyway, I'm glad you liked it better the second day. I ate mine the next day too, and it had firmed up as well. I agree, it wasn't perfect, but this cake has A LOT of potential!
Bourbonnatrix said…
Sorry this wasn't a success for you! :( Hope the next recipe works out better for you! I applaud your determination!
Chelly said…
This was not my favorite carrot cake but unlike you I loved the frosting!
Susan said…
John thought the cake tasted better the next day, too. Sorry you didn't enjoy this one but we loved it.