The Richest Tasting Carrot Cake — Ever

Destined to be your ultimate carrot cake recipe.
Destined to be your ultimate carrot cake recipe.

This might very well be the most decadent carrot cake you’ll ever taste.

Picture moist cake with deep, lasting flavor from not just grated carrots, but roasted ones, too. Then, smothered with gobs and gobs of thick frosting made with a ton of browned butter and a load of cream cheese.

You’d expect no less from Nancy Silverton, right?

“Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting” is from her cookbook, “The Cookie That Changed My Life” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2023), of which I received a review copy.

Silverton, the baker extraordinaire who pioneered the artisan bread movement in Los Angeles, is the only chef to ever be awarded both the “Outstanding Chef” and “Outstanding Pastry Chef” awards from the James Beard Foundation. She is the co-owner of Osteria Mozza, Pizzeria Mozza, and Chi Spacca, all in Los Angeles.

She wrote the book with James Beard Award-sinning journalist, Carolynn Carreno.

The cookbook contains more than 100 recipes, all of them classics that Silverton has tweaked and refined over the years, to come up with the version she considers the most delicious and satisfying.

That means “Corn Muffins” that are subtly sweet and made with fresh corn kernels grated with a corn creamer tool that breaks them up, creaming them so they integrate into the batter better; “Yum Yum Coffee Cake” that has streusel both on the bottom of the cake and as a layer inside of it; “Chinese Restaurant Almond Cookies” that use baker’s ammonia as a leavening agent to impart a distinctive crunchy texture; and “Stone Fruit and Berry Crumble” that has eggs in the streusel topping so it bakes up crunchy hard in deep contrast to the squishy, jammy soft fruit.

I used dried mulberries rather than raisins.
I used dried mulberries rather than raisins.

Don’t be intimidated by the fact that the recipes in this book typically span several pages. But they are lengthy in the same way as the ones in the “Zuni Cafe Cookbook” (W.W. Norton, 2002) by the late-great Judy Rodgers — not necessarily complex and complicated, but extremely detailed.

Just know that you’ll also have to buy extra large eggs, because that’s what Silverton uses when she bakes. And if you have a digital scale, this is the time to bring it out. Although, Silverton offers Imperial measurements, they are secondary to the ones in grams.

This cake calls for 6 large carrots (about 1 1/4 pounds). I used Nantes carrots, which are especially sweet but were on the smaller side, so a scale came in especially handy to figure out how many I needed. You grate some of the carrots, and roast others whole. Because my carrots were smaller, the roasting time was less than specified, so I modified the time range in the recipe below in case your carrots are also skinnier. Once cool, the roasted carrots get pureed with zingy, fresh grated ginger.

The pureed carrots along with extra-virgin olive oil in the batter give this cake a very moist crumb. Toasted chopped walnuts and golden raisins are standard. I, however, swapped out the raisins for dried mulberries instead, just because I love their almost date- or fig-like flavor.

The cake after unmolding from the Bundt pan that was specified.
The cake after unmolding from the Bundt pan that was specified.

The frosting is made with butter browned in a pan on the stovetop, then refrigerated until hardened. Unmold the butter, add cut up pieces to your mixer bowl with a whopping 12 ounces of cream cheese and powdered sugar, and beat until smooth. Transfer contents to a piping bag to pipe the frosting all over the cake. For the final touch, sprinkle on more chopped walnuts moistened with a little more olive oil and seasoned with a little salt.

However, once all the frosting is applied -- and it's A LOT -- this is what the cake will look like.
However, once all the frosting is applied — and it’s A LOT — this is what the cake will look like.

Admittedly, this is where things get a little interesting.

Silverton uses a 6-cup Nordic Ware Heritage Bundt Pan for this recipe, which I did. And in the photo in the cookbook, the cake looks lovely with all of its dramatic curves from the Bundt pan coated in white frosting.

However, if you use all the frosting — which I did — there is no way those ridges will remain visible in any way, shape or form because this is A LOT of frosting. Instead, you’ll end up with a cake that more resembles a giant frosted doughnut. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it just won’t look like the photo in the book.

Super moist and rich tasting through and through.
Super moist and rich tasting through and through.

Yes, you could use less frosting. But when I mulled aloud about that possibility, my husband thought me daft. After all, the tangy, creamy frosting is one of the hallmarks we most love about carrot cake. And this one even has oodles of brown butter in it, making for the richest, nuttiest tasting cream cheese frosting imaginable.

Enjoy it for Mother’s Day or any day. This is a carrot cake for the ages, and a true frosting lover’s delight.

Wrapped well in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag, slices will keep well in the freezer, too.
Wrapped well in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag, slices will keep well in the freezer, too.

Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

(Makes one 8-inch Bundt cake)

Essential Equipment:

Cooking spray

6-cup Bunt pan (I used a Nordic Ware Heritage Bundt Pan)

Large disposable piping bag

Large star tip

For the frosting:

226 grams (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed

1 tablespoon pure vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

340 grams (12 ounces) cold cream cheese, cubed

270 grams (2 1/4 cups) powdered sugar

3/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt

For the cake:

100 grams (1 cup) walnut halves

6 large carrots (1 to 1 1/4 pounds)

107.5 grams (1/2 cup) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger (grated on a fine Microplane) including the ginger juices

200 grams (1 cup lightly packed) dark brown sugar

2 extra-large eggs

1 tablespoon pure vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt

140 grams (1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour

100 grams (2/3 cup) golden raisins (halved if very large) or dried mulberries

For the topping:

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt

To make the frosting, place the butter in a small saucepan or skillet with a light-colored bottom. Warm the butter over medium heat until it melts and begins to bubble, swirling the pan occasionally so the butter cooks evenly. Continue to cook the butter, swirling often, until the melted butter is caramel colored and the solids are the color of coffee grounds, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat. Working quickly so the butter doesn’t continue to brown, transfer the butter to a medium bowl. Stir in the vanilla and set aside to cool to room temperature. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least several hours, until solid.

To make the cake, adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 325°F. Coat the Bundt pan with cooking spray.

Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast them in the center rack of the oven until they’re lightly browned and fragrant, 10 to 12 minutes, shaking the baking sheet and rotating it front to back halfway through the toasting time so the walnuts brown evenly. Remove the walnuts from the oven and set aside to cool to room temperature. (If you think the nuts are on the verge of being overtoasted, transfer them to a plate so they don’t continue to cook from the residual heat of the pan). Coarsely chop the walnuts.

Increase the oven temperature to 350°F.

Rinse and dry the carrots. Trim both ends and discard the trimmings. Put 2 of the carrots on the baking sheet the walnuts were on, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and rub the oil into the carrots to coat them evenly. Roast the carrots on the center rack of the oven until they are tender when pierced with a fork, about 40 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the carrots, rotating the baking sheet front to back halfway through the roasting time. Remove the carrots from the oven and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Transfer the roasted carrots to a food processor and puree. Weigh out 87 grams (1/3 cup) of the puree and put it in a small bowl. (Reserve the remaining puree for another use.) Add the ginger (and juices) to the bowl with the puree and stir to combine.

Grate the remaining carrots on the large holes of a box grater (or the grating disc of a food processor). Weigh out 170 grams (or measure 2 cups) of the grated carrots and discard the rest (or reserve it for another use).

Combine the brown sugar and eggs in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk and beat on medium-high speed until the mixture has lightened in color, about 4 minutes. Stop the mixer, add the vanilla, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and beat on medium speed for about 15 seconds to distribute the additions. Add the flour and 107.5 grams (1/2 cup) oil alternately in three additions for the flour and two for the oil, starting and ending with the flour; mix on low speed until combined and stopping to scrape down the mixer after each addition. Add the pureed carrots and mix on medium-low speed to combine. Stop the mixer, remove the bowl and paddle from the stand, and clean them with the spatula. Add the grated carrots, raisins, and 2/3 cup of the walnuts and stir them in with the spatula, scraping the bowl from the bottom up to release any ingredients that may be stuck there. Set the remaining walnuts aside; you will sprinkle them over the cake.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out the top with an offset spatula. Place the Bundt pan on a baking sheet.

Place the baking sheet with the cake on it on the center rack of the oven and bake until it is golden brown, is beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes, rotating the baking sheet front to back halfway through the baking time so the cake bakes evenly. Remove the cake from the oven and set it aside to cool to room temperature.

While the cake is cooling to finish the frosting, if you don’t have another bowl for your stand mixer, wash the mixer bowl that you made the cake batter in and dry it thoroughly.

Remove the brown butter from the refrigerator and place the bowl in a large bowl of hot water to help release the butter. Dry off the bowl and invert it to release the butter onto a cutting board. (Alternatively, you may be able to wedge a knife under the butter and pop it out.) Cut the butter into roughly 1/2-inch cubes.

Put the butter in the clean stand mixer bowl. Fit the mixer with the paddle and beat on medium speed until the butter is smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the cream cheese and mix on medium speed until the butter and cream cheese are combined, creamy, and glossy, 1 to 2 minutes, stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed; do not mix longer than needed. Reduce the speed to medium-low, add the powdered sugar and salt, and mix until no lumps remain, 1 to 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl and paddle as needed.

Invert the cake onto a cake round or platter. Fit a large piping bag with a large star tip. Put the bag in a tall container or glass so the bag flops over the top of the container. (This makes it easier to fill the bag.) Spread the frosting into the bag and push it down toward the tip. Twist the top of the bag until it puts enough pressure on the frosting that it will squeeze out of the bottom of the bag. Holding the top of the bag with one hand, steer the tip with the other. Starting in the center hole, pope along the crevices of the cake from the center up and over the hump and back down to the outside edge. Continue frosting along the crevices, refilling the piping bag as needed, until you’ve frosted the entire cake. If you use all of the frosting, just be aware that any decorative ridges or crevices created from the Bundt mold will end up being obscured. You can use a small offset spatula to smooth out the frosting in any place, if you like.

To top the cake, place the reserved walnuts in a small bowl. Add the oil and salt and toss to coat the nuts. Sprinkle them over the cake. Transfer the cake to a serving platter. Store leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator. Allow to come to room temperature to enjoy.

Adapted from “The Cookie That Changed My Life” by Nancy Silverton with Carolynn Carreno

More Nancy Silverton Recipes to Enjoy: Polenta Cake with Brutti Ma Buoni Topping

And: Chai Chocolate Chip Cookies

And: Nancy’s Pizza Dough from Pizzeria Mozza

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