Ah, carrot cake, the red-headed step child of the dessert world. Filled with carrots, raisins, walnuts, spices and brown sugar, carrot cake comes off as a dessert for health nuts, one that's dense and heavy. But done right, carrot cake is a dream, never too sweet, slightly spiced, best when smothered in cream cheese frosting. It definitely deserves its own national holiday, which just happens to be today.
Carrot cake has been around since the Middle Ages, a time when sugar and other sweeteners were expensive and hard to come by. Vegetables with natural sweetness, such as carrots, were the perfect alternative. For the same reasons, carrots were used in cakes and puddings in England during World War II, and carrot cake became a restaurant staple in the '60s in the U.S. Today it shows up everywhere, even edging out chocolate or vanilla cake at weddings.
For the chunky classic, we go to some of L.A.'s cake masters. There are great renditions, all slightly different but every single one delicious, at Joan's on Third, Susiecakes, and at Buttercake Bakery, where the cake gets extra sweetness from pineapple. At Sweet Lady Jane, there's a rich caramel filling and toasted coconut on top. It's one of Porto's best flavors, Big Man Bakes downtown has carrot cake cupcakes, and there's a pretty healthful version at macrobiotic M Café. Vegans, try the one at Veggie Grill.
But one we recently fell hardest in love with is from Semi Sweet Bakery downtown. At this tiny storefront tucked between a dog parlor and a mezcal bar, pastry chef Sharlena Fong (who made the Nickle Diner's maple bacon donut famous) makes some of the best cakes in town. She serves individual little carrot cake squares daily: two layers of a moist cake with the perfect crumb, filled with golden raisins and slivers of carrot throughout. For those who think cake is just a vehicle for frosting, there's plenty of a not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting, and candied hazelnut praline sprinkled on top. Stop in for a slice, and don't forget to pick up some Ding-a-Lings. You can pretend it's chocolate or red velvet cake day, too.
Or, should you feel so inclined to celebrate the day in a DIY way, Fong was kind enough to share her recipe.
Semi Sweet Bakery's Carrot Cake
Recipe adapted from Sharlena Fong
For the cake:
1 ¾ cups light brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup safflower oil
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ tablespoon ginger powder
3 ½ cups of shredded carrots
1 cup golden raisins
½ tablespoon freshly grated ginger
For the frosting:
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 325°. Butter and parchment line two quarter sheet pans. In a large bowl, sift flour baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger powder together and set aside. Using a stand mixer, whisk eggs and brown sugar until light and fluffy. On low speed, slowly add vanilla and oil. Fold in the flour mix until combined, and then fold in the carrots, raisings and ginger.
Divide the batter into the two sheet pans.Bake for about 20 minutes, or until an insterted toothpick comes out clean. Set aside to cool.
Using a stand mixer, mix the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add in the vanilla, and then the powdered sugar. Mix until smooth.
Once the cake is cooled, remove from the pans and throw away the parchment. Spread half of the cream cheese frosting evenly on one of the cakes. Place the second cake on top of the frosting, and spread the remaining cream cheese frosting evenly on top. Top with toasted nuts if desired. Enjoy!
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