Friday Faves – Proceed with Caution does a Carrot Cake Comparison
TGIF everyone! I am so glad the weekend has arrived. This was a rough work week for me and I’m looking forward to some resting and relaxation this weekend. But before we can get excited about this weekend, let’s talk about this week’s featured blogger on Friday Favs. Stefany from Proceed with Caution has put together an awesome comparison post for you guys. I “met” Stefany online a few years ago. Probably before either of us had ever thought about starting a food blog. She posts a lot of clean eating recipes and makes cupcakes to honor the cast of Glee when it’s in season – how fun is that?!?
Hello! I’m Stefany from Proceed with Caution I started my food blog over four years ago, with very little kitchen experience. I was very cautious when attempting anything in the kitchen for fear of ruining a perfectly good meal, so that’s where I got my name. Four years later, I still tread lightly because I love to try new recipes and techniques. In the summer of 2009, I decided to make a change in my life and switch to a clean eating lifestyle. Since then, my blog has focused on healthy recipes with the occasional treat thrown in. It’s a balance that I’ve been really happy with, and hope that readers enjoy.
I’ve always been a huge fan of sweets. Ice cream, cookies, bars, pies, confections, cake… especially cake… I love it all. My favorite kind of cake is, by far, carrot cake. I’m not quite sure what makes it so special to me, maybe that I can pretend it’s not as bad for my waistline since it contains a vegetable, or that it’s never as boring as plain white or chocolate (or even marble, for that matter) cake. I love the spices and nuts, and more complex flavor profile. In recent memory, I’ve made two carrot cake recipes, but a new baking book made it’s way into my home and I started to wonder, out of the three, which is the best? (By the way, in any such comparison post, “the best” really only means “my favorite,” as I am but one person!)
I saw before me the beginnings of a cake comparison challenge: three recipes, from my three favorite baking books. The timing was perfect, as I am planning on making a carrot cake for my son’s first birthday, which is fast approaching! I decided to throw in a forth recipe for fun, when I saw one of the bag of Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour. Since I would inevitably make a wwpf substitution to my favorite carrot cake recipe, I figured I would throw in one recipe that’s already designed for that kind of flour. That brings me to these four recipes:
Bill’s Big Carrot Cake, Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan (DG)
Carrot Cake, Baking Illustrated (BI)
Classic Carrot Cake, Flour, Joanne Chang (JC)
Carrot Cake, Bob’s Red Mill (BRM)
On a snowy day in October, I settled in for a day of baking with my son as my sous chef. Of course the most laborious part of making carrot cake is preparing the carrots. I make it as easy as possible. I start with baby carrots, give them a rough chop (because my poor excuse for a food processor can’t handle the whole ones), and toss in the food processor. A few pulses later, I have perfectly grated carrots. As an added bonus, Baking Illustrated’s recipe instructs me to do it this way, and then continues to start the cake batter using the food processor. Since I obviously didn’t need 4 large carrot cakes in my house at one time (or the expense of all those ingredients), I cut each recipe down to make about 6 cupcakes. One might argue that carrot cake in cupcake form is not the same as in cake form, but I had to go with the easiest way to do the comparison. Each cupcake liner was filled with about 1/4 cup of batter (using a cookie scoop for measuring).
Of the four recipes, BRM was by far the easiest to prepare. Throw the wet ingredients in a bowl (and the spices, which is weird), toss in the dry ingredients (no need to mix them together in a separate bowl first!), stir, and load up your pan. I got the fewest number of cupcakes from this recipe (5). Later, you’ll see why I think the reason is that the 1/4 cup of this batter was too much for the pan. As I’ve already mentioned, BI tries to make prep easy by processing wet ingredients in the food processor, then adding to the bowl of dry ingredients. Both DG and JC call for dragging out the stand mixer. I love my stand mixer, but for something this simple, it seems like overkill. Score one for BRM in this category.
At the outset, I was concerned the cupcakes would be hard to tell apart, so I carefully selected different cupcake liners for each recipe. That was completely unneccesary as they were all very different once baked. The BRM cupcakes rose up and then completely deflated, leaving a very goofy appearance. Since these were the favorite so far, I was a little sad that I couldn’t get an accurate read on the BRM cupcakes, thanks to some serious user error. The BI cupcakes looked like perfection – beautiful golden color and perfectly domed tops. JC and DG were both flat topped. If I were baking cakes, the flat top would be preferred, but in cupcake form, I love the domes from BI. BI gets a win here.
Taste and texture:
The BRM cupcakes had fantastic flavor, despite the baking woes. They had an earthy, nutty flavor and were warm with spice. I could easily pick out the flavor that whole wheat flour brings to baked goods, and since it bake with it so often these days, these were my preferred cupcake. They were on the drier side, but when I later reviewed the recipe, I saw that omitted crushed pineapple in the interest of aligning all the recipes. That was probably an important ingredient in keeping the cake moist (if you are counting, that’s baking fail #2… oops). I had a hard time with the difference in flavor between BI and DG. Both were well spiced, sweet, and moist. The top of the DG cupcake was crunchy, while BI’s remained soft. I definitely preferred the soft top. The JC version was had the best moisture content of all the cupcakes, but something seemed off. The spice seemed lackluster. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what else was missing. It just seemed bland. I started to wonder if I’d done something wrong with that recipe, and I think it deserves another chance, somewhere in the distant future when fatigue from a day of baking has passed. While I personally prefer the earthy flavor of the BRM cupcake, I think either BI or DG would provide an equally appealing choice to non-whole-wheat-obsessed folk.
Despite some serious challenges, the dark horse recipe – BRM – is ultimately my favorite. I hope to try again and correct the problems I encountered, so I can finally confirm that it’s my personal favorite. If I’m baking for others, I’d go with either BI or DG, whichever suits my needs at the time (domed cupcakes vs flat cake, stand mixer vs food processor).
Source: Baking Illustrated, by Cooks Illustrated
If you like nuts in your cake, stir 1 1/2 cups toasted chopped pecans or walnuts into the batter along with the carrots. Raisins are also a good addition; 1 cup can be added along with the carrots. If you add both nuts and raisins, the cake will need an additional 10 to 12 minutes in the oven. Below are instructions for using a hand-held or standing mixer.
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 1 pound medium carrots (6 to 7 carrots), peeled
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (10 1/2 ounces)
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil, safflower oil, or canola oil
1. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 13 by 9-inch baking pan (or 2, 9″ round cake pans) with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom of pan with parchment and spray parchment.
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in large bowl; set aside.
3. In food processor fitted with large shredding disk (see below for mixer method), shred carrots (you should have about 3 cups); transfer carrots to bowl and set aside. Wipe out food processor workbowl and fit with metal blade. Process granulated and brown sugars and eggs until frothy and thoroughly combined, about 20 seconds. With machine running, add oil through feed tube in steady stream. Process until mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 20 seconds longer. Scrape mixture into medium bowl. Stir in carrots and dry ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain. Pour into prepared pan and bake until toothpick or skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking time. Cool cake to room temperature in pan on wire rack, about 2 hours.
4. Run paring knife around edge of cake to loosen from pan. Invert cake onto wire rack, peel off parchment, then invert again onto serving platter. Using icing spatula, spread frosting evenly over surface of cake. Cut into squares and serve. (Cover leftovers and refrigerate for up to 3 days.)
Bill’s Big Carrot Cake
Source: Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan
Yields 10 servings
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (addition)
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (addition)
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 3 cups grated carrots (about 9 carrots, you can grate them in food processor fitted w/ a shredding a blade or use a box grater)
- 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
- 1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened) (omitted)
- ½ cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden) or dried cranberries (omitted)
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup canola oil
- 4 large eggs
Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter three 9-x-2-inch round cake pans, flour the insides, and tap out the excess. Put the two pans on one baking sheet and one on another.
To make the cake:
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, coconut, and raisins.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the sugar and oil together on a medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one by one and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear. Gently mix the chunky ingredients. Divide the batter among the baking pans.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until a thin knife inserted into the centers comes out clean. The cakes will have just started to come away from the sides of the pans. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes and unmold them. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.
The cakes can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.
The cake will keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. It can also be frozen. Freeze it uncovered, then when it’s firm, wrap airtight and freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.
Classic Carrot Cake
Source: Flour by Joanne Chang
Makes one 8-inch, 2-layer cake
Or 12 cupcakes
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 3/4 cup canola oil
- 3 tablespoons buttermilk
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (omitted)
- 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg (addition)
- pinch of ground cloves (addition)
- 2 cups tightly packed shredded carrots
- 1/2 cup of raisins (omitted)
- 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour an 8 inch cake pan (or line a standard 12 cup muffin pan with paper liners)
2. Using a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment (or a handhelp mixer), beat together the eggs and brown sugar on medium high for three or four minutes or until mixture is light and thick. (This step will take about 8 to 10 minutes with a handheld mixer). In a small bowl or pitcher, whisk together the oil, buttermilk and vanilla. On low speed, slowly pour the oil mixture into the egg-sugar mixture. This should take about 30 seconds.
3. In a small bowl, shift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger. Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the egg-sugar mixture. When most the of the flour mixture has been incorporated, add the carrots, raisins, and walnuts and continue to fold until the bater is homogeneous. Pour the batter into prepared cake pan or muffin cups.
4. Bake the cake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes or the cupcakes for about 50 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and springs back when pressed in the middle with a fingertip. Let cool completely in the pan on wire rack.
5. Remove the cake from the pan an split it into two layers. Place the bottom layer, cut-side up, on a cake plate. Spoon about half the icing onto the layer and, using an off-set spatula, spread it evenly to the edges. Place the top layer, cut side down, on top and press to adhere. Spoon on about 1 cup of the frosting and spread it over the top and down the sides of the cake. This is the crumb coat, which will keep any loose crumbs from migrating to the surface of the finished cake. Spoon the remaining frosting on top of the cake, and spread it evenly across the top and sides.
7. The cake can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days. It is best served a little cooler than room temperature, so remove it from the fridge about 2 hours before serving.
Source: Bob’s Red Mill
- 1/2 cup Brown Sugar
- 1/2 cup White Sugar
- 1/2 cup Canola Oil
- 2 Eggs
- 1/2 tsp. Salt
- 1 tsp. Cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg (addition)
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (addition)
- 1 cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
- 1 cup Carrot, grated
- 1/4 cup Walnuts, chopped
- 3/4 tsp. Baking Soda
- 1 tsp. Baking Powder
- 8 oz. Pineapple, crushed and drained (omitted)
Mix together sugars, oil, eggs, salt and cinnamon. Add in the rest of the ingredients. Pour into a greased 9-inch round pan and bake at 350°F until toothpick comes out clean (about 40 minutes).