Of all of the frostings in the world, I think that cream cheese might be my favorite. And it's a big reason why I like carrot cake, because carrot cake always comes with cream cheese frosting. Or so I thought. Yossy Arefi's recipe for "My Best Carrot Cake' in Snacking Cakes doesn't include a cream cheese frosting, or any type of frosting at all. She does suggest lightly sweetened whipped cream flavored with either honey or crème fraîche as an accompaniment, but never mentions cream cheese. And this cake has some other unusual features, like the inclusion of cardamom, whole wheat flour, and dates. I had to give it a try.
One decision I made up front was that I was going to substitute macadamia nuts for the pecans in the recipe (which are both mixed into the batter and sprinkled on top of the cake before baking). A few years ago a blog reader from Hawaii shared with me the genius idea of using macadamia nuts in carrot cake and I absolutely love the combination. Otherwise, I made the recipe as written.
I whisked eggs with sugar and lemon zest until pale and foamy; added canola oil, freshly ground cardamom, cinnamon, grated nutmeg, and kosher salt; mixed in whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and baking soda; and folded in grated carrots, chopped pitted dates, and macadamia nuts. I poured the batter into a parchment-lined 9-inch pan, scattered Maldon salt and more macadamias on top, and baked the cake until golden.
After I plated a a slice of cake, I noticed that it was oily to the touch. In fact, it left behind a small orange-tinted oil imprint on the plate. This cake was so interesting -- I really liked the addition of cardamom, and I absolutely loved the sweet, sticky pieces of dates. I am indifferent about raisins in carrot cake, and I would support a universal substitution of dates for raisins in carrot cake going forward. While I was happy to have macadamia nuts in the cake instead of pecans, I do wish I had cut the macadamias a little smaller, because the large pieces and whole nuts were a little distracting.
I liked this cake a lot. However, I really really missed having some cream cheese frosting to go along with it. Perhaps I'm just so used to the carrot cake-cream cheese frosting combination that I'm conditioned to expect it, but I really do think that some tangy cream cheese would be the perfect pairing with the warm spices in the cake. I felt that the cake was missing something without it.
When it comes to carrot cake, my favorite recipe is probably either Smitten Kitchen's Carrot Graham Layer Cake or Sally McKenney's Favorite Carrot Cake. But if I didn't want to go to the trouble of making a layer cake, I might just bake this one again and slap some cream cheese frosting on it!
Recipe: "My Best Carrot Cake" from Snacking Cakes by Yossy Arefi.