Oh have I got a cake for you!
Carrot cake is an all-time favorite in my house and it’s about time I made it as a layer cake. If you have missed carrot cake you need this in your life – it’s a carrot cake lovers dream!
I usually make it as a quick and easy sheet cake but thought with my teenage son turning 16 (he LOVES carrot cake) last week why not make it fancy, shmancy for his birthday with layers and completely studded with pecans. My birthday boy was over-the-moon happy. He’s still a boy to me even though he’s nearly a head taller. I’ll admit this cake needs a good chunk of time but no need to reserve it at once – I never do. I made the frosting a couple of days prior, baked and chilled the cake the day before his birthday and assembled the cake the morning of his birthday while he was sleeping (until noon!) then hid it away in our garage fridge and managed to get a few photos before we dug in. And what better for Easter OR Passover? Actually, any day is a good day for carrot cake. No?
My original carrot cake (posted ages ago, see here if you like) contains grains and was more about sweetened carrots than anything else. Here I wanted to create a grain free carrot cake with more spice, black currants, less refined sugar, and give it an overall richness from using a combination of oil and shortening and some coconut cream given the change in flours.
And TONS of grated carrots that melts in your mouth. That said, I will humbly say this the BEST CARROT CAKE EVER. Cue the confetti!
Seriously, the perfect blend of moisture, spice, carrot to currants ratio nestled in a velvety sweet “cream cheese” frosting hinted with maple, vanilla, and orange, studded with pecans and some coconut chips on top just because — yes, all the dreamy carrot cake love and kisses in every bite.
Since carrot cake isn’t the same without a cream cheese frosting I went ahead with store-bought non-dairy, soy-free cream cheese like in my original recipe because a heavy nut-based frosting doesn’t have much appeal around here. As you probably know: non-dairy cream cheese doesn’t taste very much like actual cream cheese and you either love or hate the taste, but with the help of maple, vanilla, and orange flavors, and a heaping of powdered sugar it creates a frosting worth sharing (and no gummy texture either). It’s the next best thing without the aftertaste its known for. I tried lemon extract to see if the slight tang of real cream cheese would come through but it had an artificial taste to it. The orange extract brings out the vanilla and takes out any of the non-dairy cream cheese aftertastes. I can’t really describe how, but it does.
Don’t let the list of ingredients intimidate you — it comes together quickly and easily and doesn’t ask for any fancy frosting techniques (an added bonus in life) that will hold its moisture even when made ahead. I am SO pleased with this cake. Day after cake was just as delicious. Oh, and I’ve listed a long list of notes below with alternatives and explanations, if needed, realizing we don’t all have the same dietary needs but we do have the same need for cake right? Silly of me to ask, of course, we do.
With all the changes it took a little experimenting and a few flops but nevertheless it was worth it. Specifically, I first used softened dates and chia eggs for sweetness and egg substitute, which was a big fail – it came dense and flat. Round two: replaced dates and chia egg with banana (for anyone concerned it may taste like a banana cake – no detection of banana here!) and used coconut sugar – dense yet fell apart when sliced, the spices were lacking flavor and the carrots were bland. Round three: increased spices while still keeping the coconut sugar – didn’t help, the cake was still bland and crumbly. I don’t know about you guys but I want a carrot cake that tastes like carrot cake (!).
These are my true confessions.
I was about to give up but then round four was my knight in shining armor or shall I say shining cake pans (hehe). YESSSS. We have cake success that passes the flavor, texture, and slicing test! It came down to subbing half of the coconut sugar for unbleached cane sugar, adding a banana, and tweaking the spices a little more (less cinnamon, more ginger and a touch of allspice) gave it a true carrot cake flavor to celebrate spring. Enjoy!
I inverted the cake then turned it upright so the layers look even…the notes below will explain.
Not sure why the photos have the frosting appear grainy to my eye but it is velvety smooth in person. Pics don’t do much justice to it. 🙂
Quick frosting hack: parchment paper around the edge of the cake helps keep the cake stand mess-free.
Studding the cake got messy. Be sure to do it on a table, away from the edge or there will be pecans all over the floor. Trust me. 🙂
- 192 grams (1½ cups) chestnut flour
- 62 grams (1/2 cup) coconut flour
- 145 grams (1 cup) arrowroot starch
- 74 grams (1/2 cups) flaxseed meal
- 2¾ teaspoons aluminum-free baking soda
- ½ tablespoon cream of tartar
- ¾ teaspoon tapioca (or arrowroot) starch
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup canned coconut cream (not canned coconut milk)
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 6 ounces palm shortening, room temperature
- ½ cup avocado oil
- 171 grams (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) coconut sugar
- 225 grams (1 cup) cane sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1½ teaspoons pure orange extract
- ⅔ cup pure maple syrup
- 3 cups carrots (about 7 medium carrots), peeled and grated
- 2 bananas, mashed
- ½ cup dried currants (or raisins)
- about 2 cups pecan pieces for garnish
- coconut chips for garnish
- Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 4 oz (1/2 cup) palm shortening, softened to room temperature
- 16 oz non-dairy, soy-free cream cheese like Daiya, softened to room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon orange extract
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 3 cups powdered sugar (Wholesome Organics is made with tapioca starch)
- For the cake:
- Makes a 9-inch two layer cake OR a 9x13 sheet cake OR 36 cupcakes for this recipe. Use paper lining cups if making cupcakes as they will stick to the cupcake pan.
- Please note: measure and set aside all the ingredients before beginning. There are many ingredients to this lovely carrot cake and each requiring minimal mixing time. Over-mixing of ingredients can affect cake results; it's best to prepare ingredients before beginning.
- Preheat oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease bottoms of two round 9-inch cake pans (to adhere parchment) and place a circle of parchment paper into each cake pan for easy removal later. Then grease papered bottom and sides.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk to combine chestnut flour, coconut flour, arrowroot starch, flaxseed meal, baking soda, cream of tartar, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg.
- Measure coconut cream, add apple cider vinegar directly into the cream. Do not stir. Set aside.
- In another bowl combine maple syrup, both extracts, and grated carrots (no need to mix together). Set aside.
- In a stand mixer set with a paddle attachment, combine (room temperature) palm shortening, avocado oil, coconut sugar, and cane sugar. Set on medium speed at first (to prevent flying sugar crystals) then raise speed to medium high. Mix for about 2 minutes, until creamy and fluffy looking.
- Add in maple/extract/carrot mixture and mix until just combined.
- Add in mashed banana.
- Lower speed to medium-low, add in a third of the coconut cream mixture and then a third of the flour/spice blend. Repeat with remaining coconut cream and flour blend and continue to mix until flour has incorporated into the batter.
- Add currants, continue to mix until blended.
- Turn off stand mixer and scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl to catch any unmixed batter. Divide batter into the two prepared cake pans.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes.
- If using glass or dark cake pans, check for doneness at 28-30 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean with few crumbs.
- Cool completely at room temperature, still in the cake pans then invert one onto a cake stand and remove the parchment liner.
- Refrigerate that layer, as is, and the other cake layer still in the pan. Keep chilled for at least an hour or up to overnight.
- When chilled, using prepared ‘cream cheese’ frosting, spread about a cup of frosting on the cake stand layer, then gently invert the second layer onto the first and remove parchment paper. Press down gently, into the frosting, just enough for the layers to stick together. You will notice one layer looks significantly larger in parameter than the other - to create even-looking layers: place a plate over the top layer and hold it while you lift up the cake and flip it over onto the plate. Then gently transfer the cake back onto the cake stand.
- Frost cake with a thin top coat using about 1 cup of frosting (save remaining for final frosting).
- Refrigerate for at least one hour before final frosting.
- Cut a parchment round into a 4-inch round. Place in the center of the cake.
- Grab handfuls of pecan pieces to gently release onto the sides of the cake and around the exposed top of the cake (this gets messy. working on a large table or counter helps.).
- When done, remove the parchment round and add coconut chips to the center.
- Gently press any loose pecan pieces into the cake.
- Chill for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days (uncovered) before serving.
- Note: the cake will stay very moist even uncovered for 2 days. It is a heavy cake, but rest assured, not a dense cake in the least.
- Serve slices chilled for best-tasting results and easier slicing.
- Slicing the cake at room temperature may not produce clean cake slices.
- For the frosting:
- In a stand mixer, set with a paddle attachment, cream palm shortening, non-dairy cream cheese, vanilla extract and orange extract at medium-high speed.
- About a minute later (after ingredients have fully incorporated) add maple syrup and continue to cream for a few minutes until it appears light and airy.
- Turn off mixer, pull away the mixing bowl from the unit and sift powdered sugar directly over the bowl (this, as opposed to adding in sifted powdered sugar while mixing, makes a super light and creamy “cream cheese” frosting.) then connect the bowl back to the unit and mix on medium speed until blended then raise speed up to very high for a minute. When done, scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl before using. The frosting spreads easily at room temperature.
- Make ahead: Can be made a week in advance when stored in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature for about an hour before using.
- Freezer friendly: Freeze any remaining frosting (if you prefer thinner frosting layers) for up to three months in an airtight freezer-safe container with an inch of room before sealing.
- For alternatives: this will make enough for 36 cupcakes and extra if making a sheet cake.
- OTHER NOTES:
- *Canned coconut cream is different than canned coconut milk in that it is made with four parts coconut meat and one part water. Canned coconut milk is one part coconut meat one part water, a much thinner consistency. If coconut cream is not available use coconut milk or other nut milk (not canned) with thickeners added to help hold the cake together.
- *We love a pecan studded cake, as you can see, but completely optional. Use as much, or as little pecan desired. I didn’t add pecans to the batter because it's egg-free, which would make the moist cake fall apart.
- For Passover: swap arrowroot starch for potato or tapioca starch. Use alcohol-free extracts. Parchment paper needs to be kosher for Passover certified, if strictly observed and precut to measure for pans or simply make a 9x13 inch cake, no paper needed. Flaxseed meal is not considered kosher for Passover, use chia seed meal or almond meal during the holiday.
- Easter-themed cake idea: swap pecans for shredded coconut flakes, and some to dye some green to mimic grass for the top center then add candy or chocolate eggs in the grassy ‘nest’.
- If using eggs: If eggs are tolerated or preferred: swap banana for 3 whole eggs. Add in when banana would be added.
- Currants and alternatives: similar looking to raisins but more tart than sweet and not as high of a glycemic index as grapes. Not to be mistaken for zante currants, which are really tiny grapes. Zante currants, Thompson or golden raisins can be used if black currants aren’t available. If using raisins, it’s best to pre-soak in hot water for ten minutes then drain before using in the recipe.
- Frosting Alternative: softened at room temperature refined coconut oil instead of palm shortening will yield similar results.
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