I have a love-hate relationship with carrot cake. I love my mother’s and hate all others.
Actually, I feel disloyal for even thinking that anyone but Mom can bake a good carrot cake. But since— however unlikely—it is possible, I occasionally try carrot cakes at restaurants and from the grocer. So far, Mom’s is unmatched.
My latest temptation resulted in a small ultimate carrot cake in my grocery cart. The doubts lingering in the back of my mind were justified: My local grocer’s offering is not as tasty as the carrot cake I’ve enjoyed at my mother’s table.
My love affair with this popular dessert began years ago. Its hint of cinnamon, chewy coconut, crunchy walnuts, sweet pineapple, and moist golden raisins are all tastes and textures that I love. Plus, it can be fun to fool myself into thinking carrot cake has some nutritional value. It doesn’t, of course, but the rationalization can be reassuring when eating that first or–heaven forbid–second slice.
For me, carrot cake is a dessert for all seasons. The fact that carrots are a traditional side dish at Easter dinner makes me think about carrot cake in the spring. My thoughts turn to carrot cake when summer days are long, weather is warm, and I have lots of free time. Large quantities of nuts in harvest-season produce departments put me in mind of carrot cake. And overindulgence is mandatory during the winter holidays.
My grocer’s carrot cake was topped with cream cheese icing garnished with chopped walnuts. It did not disappoint, but it was not even close to my ideal of ultimate. Oh, it had the requisite spices, raisins, and walnuts.
But the pineapple and coconut, which yield a flavorful and moist cake, were missing. I threw in the towel (albeit a kitchen towel) in disgust.
Disappointed yet again, I decided that the next time I craved carrot cake, I’d bake one myself. The urge occurred sooner than expected. There must have been a need to wipe out the bad memory of the so-called ultimate cake. With Mom’s recipe in hand, I added the necessary ingredients to my grocery list.
Mom’s recipe is easy to follow: Just mix the wet ingredients—which, oddly, include sugar—with the dry ingredients and add the coconut, pineapple, raisins, and nuts. I add golden raisins to the batter, even though my mother’s recipe does not call for raisins. Then I rename it CPR cake in homage to the carrots, pineapple, and raisins as well as a quirky sense of humor. Find the CPR cake recipe here.
For this latest cake, I added walnuts, saving the pecans for a caramel pecan filling for a layer cake. Like me, you’ll probably end up with more chopped nuts and/or shredded carrots than your recipe calls for. You may wish to save these extras to decorate cupcakes or a layer cake.
Mom’s recipe produced enough batter to make a single 4″ layer cake in addition to the two dozen cupcakes I’d planned! This unexpected discovery meant I could make a small layer cake for dinner guests and use the remaining batter for cupcakes, which could be stored in the freezer. A cupcake would be a nice addition to my brown bag lunches, which typically don’t include a dessert component.
For the icing, I used organic cream cheese and added vanilla. Either or both of these ingredients made this the best cream cheese icing I had ever had. Generally, I find cream cheese icing to be OK. Not bad, not good. This batch was different. I could have eaten every bit of it.
I must admit that Mom—never a fan of too much icing—may have adjusted the amounts downward. Or my enthusiastic sampling could be the reason the batch barely coated each of the 24 cupcakes and the little layer cake.
Some of the best things in life are the simple things. But not carrot cake. More is better.