A couple weeks ago, I found myself at a vegan restaurant pondering my dessert options. They had it all: a vegan soufflé, pie, a chocolate blackout cake, a sundae, and more. And the thing I wanted most of all was the carrot cake.
It was probably the most humble, rustic dessert on the menu. And that’s why I wanted it so much. Restaurant food impresses and inspires me, but at the end of the day it’s home cooking—or food that evokes home cooking—that I really want to eat.
I’ve been hesitant to put a carrot cake recipe on the blog. It’s such an iconic dessert, and the few conversations I’ve had about it suggest that people have very strong opinions about the right way to do carrot cake: texture, sweetness, concentration of carrots vs. raisins vs. nuts, optimal choice of frosting, etc.
In the end, I didn’t quite attempt a classic carrot cake. Inspired by the first week of truly crisp, baking-worthy fall weather (which wasn’t this week, for the record: it’s been a swamp in NYC!), I decided to merge two of my favorite sweets, carrot cake and pumpkin bread. This pumpkin spice carrot cake is the very, very happy result.
I can’t speak from a place of definitive carrot cake expertise, because hey, we all like what we like. But this is my kind of carrot cake: dense, packed with juicy carrots, a little crunch from the walnuts, but not so many of them that they get in the way of a proper cake-like texture. The pumpkin adds plenty of moisture, which allowed me to use a bit less oil than most traditional recipes call for. And the spices—a mix of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves—make it especially perfect for fall.
The cloves in this recipe are courtesy of the wonderful folks at Nuts.com—pretty much my go-to destination for restocking the pantry. For a long time I thought about Nuts.com as being a storefront for nuts, legumes, and grains, but I didn’t think to rely on the site for spices or condiments.
Now I know that the site has a huge selection of the best-quality herbs and spices, so it’s perfect for stocking up (especially for those spices I use all the time). The cloves in this recipe have a deep, distinctive flavor, and even a little pinch made the cake so much richer.
For the cake:
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour or whole wheat pastry flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 3/4 cup non-dairy milk
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 1/2 cup neutral vegetable oil such as grapeseed, safflower, or refined avocado
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups grated carrots
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans optional
- 1/2 cup raisins
For the frosting:
- 8 ounces vegan cream cheese of choice Toffuti is my favorite, at room temperature
- 6 tablespoons vegan butter at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 1/2-3 cups confectioners’ sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Oil two round, 8 or 9-inch, springform cake pans and line the bottoms with a circle of parchment.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.
- In a medium sized mixing bowl, briskly whisk together the non-dairy milk and apple cider vinegar. Stir in the pumpkin, oil, and the two sugars. Mix till the ingredients are combined.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold them together till they’re evenly combined (a few lumps is fine). Fold in the carrots, nuts, and raisins. The batter will be quite thick. Divide the batter into the two cake pans and transfer them to the oven. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the tops are firm and a toothpick comes out clean. Release the cakes from the pans and allow them to cool completely.
- To make the frosting, place the cream cheese and butter in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (alternately, you can use a handheld mixer). Beat the butter and cream cheese together till smooth. Add the vanilla, then add the confectioners’ sugar, a half cup at a time. When the frosting has a thick, spreadable consistency, transfer it to an airtight container. Allow it to cool in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- To assemble the cake, top one round with 3/4-1 cup frosting, spreading the frosting evenly. Top this layer with the other round of cake, and frost the top layer with another 3/4-1 cup frosting. Cut and serve right away, or keep the cake chilled till serving (the frosting gets soft when it’s left out).
Is this the most elegantly frosted cake ever? No. I didn’t even frost the sides, because I typically make a giant mess when I try to do that, and I was eager for a slice of this cake to be in my belly quickly. But if you ask me, carrot cake was meant to be homey and rustic.
The frosting, by the way, is a nod to traditional carrot cake recipes, and it really is amazingly authentic. I loved cream cheese frosting as a kid, and licking the spatula after I made this batch brought me back in time. It’s rich, though, so if you prefer something lighter and less sweet, you can try my creamy cashew frosting instead!
As October-friendly as this recipe is, it would make a wonderful birthday cake or anytime cake (snack cake, dessert cake, tea cake, etc.) at any time of year. I hope you’ll find it as comforting and satisfying as I have. See you soon, for another weekend roundup.
This post is sponsored by Nuts.com. All opinions are my own, and I love this family-owned and operated business! Thanks for your support.