Of all the family recipes that have been handed down to me through the years, there are two I cherish most. One is The Turtle Soup, which I wrote about last February, and the other is this Carrot Cake. Both are nostalgic nods to my childhood. Both flood my thoughts with warm memories of Sunday suppers, birthday dinners and holiday gatherings (especially Easter) shared with my mom’s large and loving family. Both remind me of Grandma Kirn, my great-grandmother, who started these wonderful food traditions and of Papa, my maternal grandfather, as well as my mom, who have carried them forward. And both are the best representations of these dishes. Yes, I’m partial and proud of it. For it’s that partiality that keeps these sentimental flavors front and center.
I believe that Grandma’s Carrot Cake is the only scratch cake recipe in our family. To some that may seem unbelievable. But remember, I was not born into a family of bakers. Now Mimi, my mom’s mom, did make a mean German Chocolate Cake. Although I think she combined a box cake mix with homemade frosting. I need to check on that one and get back with you. Anyway, Grandma’s Carrot Cake has always been my family’s special occasion confection. And back in the day, it took several hours to prepare. That’s because neither my grandparents nor my mom had any electric gadgets to help them along. The carrots were shredded with a box grater and the pecans were chopped with a “vintage” (my mom’s going to love that word) nut grinder. Actually, the nut thingamajig was fun to use especially since mom’s was missing the top and random nuts would occasionally fly across the kitchen. These days, I can whip up one of these cakes in no time thanks to my handy dandy shredder/slicer KitchenAid mixer attachment and my nifty mini-food processor. What can I say? I’m living in the day.
As the photo of this deliciously moist and subtely spiced cake shows, I chose to frost only the layers. Note to family: I know this is not how Grandma did it. She frosted (or as she said, “iced”) the entire cake. But I, on the other hand, prefer this more rustic presentation. You are free to decorate it either way. Hope you like it!
Carrot Cake Recipe
Vegetable shortening, for pans
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups canola oil
4 large eggs
2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for pans
3 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups grated carrots (from a little over a pound of whole carrots)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Pecan and Cream Cheese Frosting, see recipe
Place rack in center of oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Grease 3 9-inch cake pans with vegetable shortening. Dust with flour, tapping out excess; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment, combine sugar and oil; beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until just blended. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture; beat until just incorporated. Fold in grated carrots and chopped pecans. Evenly divide batter among prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool completely in pans on wire racks. To assemble, remove one cake from pan and place on serving platter. Spread one-third of frosting on top. Repeat with second and third layers. If you want to frost the entire cake, spread 3 heaping tablespoons of frosting between layers and cover top and sides of cake with remaining frosting. Cover and refrigerate any leftovers. Makes 10-12 servings.
Pecan and Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans
In the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter on low speed until just blended. Gradually add the sifted powdered sugar; beat until smooth. Add vanilla and chopped pecans and beat until incorporated. Makes about 2 cups.