I have never made carrot cake before. But when one of my taste testers raved about my vanilla cream cheese frosting saying that he could just imagine this on a carrot cupcake, I was duly challenged. I already spied a recipe I wanted to try months ago. The French Laundry’s pastry chef, Claire Clark recently came out with her own book Indulge. Miniature versions of the carrot cake in her book were actually served on the lawns of Buckingham Palace back when she was a caterer in England. Her recipe uses dark brown sugar, whole-wheat flour as well as desiccated coconut. (Upon conferring with Helen this is actually the unsweetened coconut you find in Health Food stores).
Carrot Cake (made into cupcakes)
From "Indulge" by Claire Clark
250g/9oz whole meal flour (whole wheat flour)
25g/1oz baking powder
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp finely ground nutmeg
125g/4 ½ oz. desiccated coconut
5 medium eggs
250g/9oz muscovado sugar (I used dark brown sugar)
185ml/6 ½ fl oz vegetable oil or canola oil
500g/ 1lb 2oz grated carrots
125g/4 ½ oz California raisins
For the cream cheese frosting
125/4 ½ oz cream cheese
375g/13 oz icing sugar, sifted
250 g/9oz unsalted butter softened
a capful of vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 10 inch deep , round springform cake tin and line base with baking parchment. (I used two 12-cup muffin pans)
Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg together, and then stir in the coconut so it does not clump together. Using an electric mixer, whisk the eggs, sugar and oil together until mixture becomes pale and has doubled in volume. Gently fold in the dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix and lose volume. Finally fold in the carrots and raisins. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the center of the oven for about 40 minutes (25 minutes for cupcakes), until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Leave to cool in tin.
Meanwhile, to make the frosting, simply beat all the ingredients together until pale and fluffy.
Frost cake when ready.
The first thing I noticed with most recipes for carrot cakes was that they don’t explain how grated your carrots should be or how the degree of grating will affect the end-product. I grated the carrots in the food processor and had pretty long strips. I foolishly believed that those were going to dissolve during cooking. So imagine my consternation when I pulled out two trays of carrot cupcakes that have distinct orange strands in them. I bit into one and tasted raw carrot. In fact when I pulled the cake apart, a length of carrot linked them! Wayward carrot strands aside, the crumb looked promising. Nice texture, not too dense and pretty moist. It did need more sweetness added to it though ( a rare occasion since I constantly cut down sugar in recipes). I surmised that because my carrots did not cook enough they did not sweeten the cupcake the way they were supposed to. Twenty-four cupcakes down the garbage bin.
On my next attempt I added ½ cup of white sugar to the entire recipe. I also ran the carrots longer in the food processor to eliminate long strands. The batter appeared runnier than the first batch and looked more orange because of the extra grinding of the carrots. This time the cupcake was perfect – at least in my opinion. I also want to point out that the cleanest method of filling the cupcake liners is to use a pastry bag.
For the frosting, I added white chocolate to the cream cheese frosting recipe. Can I say, Wow! The white chocolate enables you to reduce the amount of powdered sugar and butter but the best part is the luxurious mouthfeel that it imparts. Think rich and smooth cheesecake!
I only had a fourth of the coconut left to use for my second attempt, which might explain why I could not discern any coconut flavor in the cupcake. I omitted the California raisins but I might bring myself to try this out next time.