Because Baking is Creative: Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese-Lemon Zest Icing

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For the last seven years I've baked a carrot cake on March 18th for my husband, Nathan's birthday. (Even one year while living in Italy, where I went to four stores to find baking soda and used a calculator to convert each US recipe measurement into grams!) Every year I find a different recipe. This year I started my carrot-cake-recipe search early in March and I think I've found the one that I will return to every year (look for some of those trial recipes later, in the form of carrot cake cookie sandwiches). Yes. It's that good. And even better, the cream cheese icing has lemon zest in it! A heavenly complement to the carrots!

This cake is dense and moist, but not too heavy. The pureed pineapple (as opposed to canned pineapple that I usually use) is a wonderful addition. It's not super sweet. It's just right. Nathan loved it! (And continues to enjoy it for breakfast, lunch and dinner--there's still half a cake in the fridge, staring me in the face every time I open it. Ack!)

Note: I divided the icing recipe in half, and because I iced only the top and middle of the cake, I had a bit left over. I think 1/3 of the icing would be plenty.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese-Lemon Zest Icing
from Epicurious

For the cake:

1/3 cup dried shredded organic unsweetened coconut
About 1 pound organic farm-fresh carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch Lengths (3 cups)
1 cup chopped organic pineapple
1 1/2 cups organic all-purpose flour
1/2 cup organic whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cups organic cane sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/4 teaspoons organic ground cinnamon
Pinch of freshly grated organic nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dark-brown sugar
3/4 cup organic canola oil
1 tablespoon organic vanilla extract
3 organic eggs
Cream Cheese-Lemon Zest Frosting

Optional additions (add one or a combination of all three)
3/4 cup chopped toasted organic walnuts
1/2 cup organic golden raisins, plumped in warm water for 20 minutes and drained
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh organic ginger

Preparation
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 8-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper (to ensure that the cake will not stick), or place liners in 2 muffin pans for 24 cupcakes. Set aside.

Place the dried coconut in a cup of warm water to soften and set it aside for 15 minutes.

Place the carrots in a food processor and pulse on and off for 1 minute. Then add the pineapple and pulse until the carrots are cut into very small pieces and the pineapple is pureed, 1 to 2 minutes.

In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add the brown sugar and use a whisk to break up any lumps.

Drain the coconut and place it in a medium bowl. Add the oil, vanilla extract, eggs, and carrot-pineapple mixture, and whisk to combine.

Add the wet ingredients into the dry, mixing with a rubber spatula to incorporate but not overmix. When the batter is almost mixed, stir in the additions, if using. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

Bake for 55 minutes, or until the tops are a very golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. (It may look as if the cake is too well done, but it takes a while to bake because it's so dense.) For cupcakes, the baking time is 35 to 40 minutes.

Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Then invert them onto a wire rack and let them cool completely.

Fill and frost the cake with the Cream Cheese-Lemon Zest Frosting
Three 8-ounce packages organic cream cheese, softened
2 sticks (1 cup) organic unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon grated organic lemon zest
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh organic lemon juice
1 tablespoon organic vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups organic powdered sugar

Preparation
In a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until combined and airy, about 2 minutes. Mix in the lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla.

Sift the powdered sugar onto a piece of parchment or wax paper. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the sifted powdered sugar into the frosting (use both hands to bend the paper so the sugar pours slowly into the bowl).

Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. If the frosting seems too soft to spread, allow it to chill for 15 minutes in the refrigerator.

Anonymous –   – (March 20, 2010 at 5:37 AM)  

Our family loves Carrot Cake. I think Rebekah would enjoy this as we celebrate her A&M graduation in May - a tried and true recipe from you, a real Texas gal at heart, whereever you may live! - Claire Pickett

Recipe of the Month!  – (March 26, 2010 at 12:28 PM)  

mmm! I will be making this! Patrick and I looove carrot cake (we actually had it at our wedding).

Anonymous –   – (April 9, 2010 at 12:00 PM)  

thanks for the recipe, leslie! i am heading to the store to grab a few of these ingredients now.. will let you know how it turns out ;) rachel

Mariah Gale  – (May 27, 2011 at 10:05 AM)  

Just made this for my bf's birthday! It's absolutely delicious. Thanks for the recipe.

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