In the past two and a half years, I have made this magnificent recipe for Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting exactly twice. The first time was when I was two weeks postpartum, in a state of incomprehensible exhaustion and its resulting delirium, and could often be found sobbing uncontrollably, vocally questioning why I had decided to have a child. The second time I made this carrot cake was on a recent Sunday following a Little C tantrum so epically demonic, it left me nearly sobbing uncontrollably and certainly questioning why I decided to have a child. You see the connection, yes?
If this unassuming-but-completely-perfect Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting recipe were actually my own, I think I would have to rename it Shauna's Coping Carrot Cake and enter it in numerous baking contests, simply to spread the gospel of its balming properties. Between now and the day Little C moves outmyhouse, this cake may save me from the asylum. It is my saving grace, my touchstone. You need this cake in your life.
So like most great toddler tantrums do, this one actually began with me doing my child a huge, wonderful flippin' favor. We had just arrived at the drugstore when Little C's sparkling brown eyes fell on a small Cinderella doll of reasonable price, and when she asked for it in her tiny voice, even remembering to say please, I agreed. How dear of her to ask so sweetly! How polite! Well.
Fifteen seconds later, my darling little womb fruit also saw a toy cell phone (of which we currently house roughly 12) and when I rejected her request, I think I saw her eyes actually turn red and shoot fire. The scuffed linoleum of the Walgreens floor suddenly began to split open, a great fiery chasm appearing right down that weird aisle that has both tampons and adult diapers, reminding all women of the ticking clock that is their estrogen levels. Dread filled every cell of my messy ponytailed, yoga pants-wearing Mom Body. I had to get out of there, and FAST.
As the screech of a thousand possessed, razor-clawed vultures emitted from my child's mouth and drew fearful stares from fellow customers, it became clear that whatever demon was setting up camp in her wee torso was immobilizing her. I was left with no choice but to throw her onto my back like a vermin-infested potato sack and leave my purchase of Tylenol 8 Hour (oh, the irony) for another time. (Although I'd like to think that if I'd accidentally shoplifted it in the fury, the Walgreens people would have told me it was on the house.) As for the Cinderella doll that had been merely a gateway to Armageddon, I made the game time decision that "Huh, maybe I shouldn't reward this type of behavior?" and chucked the offending doll head-first into one of those Lucite bins where they keep all the purse-sized hand sanitizers on the way out.
After narrowly missing getting kicked in the face nearly half a dozen times while securing the tiny, convulsing beast into her carseat, I drove the excruciating 10 minutes home, the windows open to prevent her otherworldly-pitched screams from reverberating throughout the entire vehicle. The sheer volume! The, the intensity, people! In an attempt to reject every natural reaction to such psychotic injustice (read: completely flip out, scream back at toddler, drive off the side of the road), I channeled the Dalai Lama or Jesus or Cesar Millan or whoever, and called upon them all to help me endure the relentless insanity that was unfolding in the backseat.
Upon swinging the car violently into the driveway, I hauled the still-screaming child up the stairs to her very confused father who only got a psychotic mumbled answer of "F@#*&cinderelladolltoycellphone" when he shouted over the din to find out what had happened. Fifteen minutes later, Little C had passed out in her bed Sybil-style, and I was making this carrot cake. Welcome to my world.
And about this carrot cake, anyway. Awesomely enough, it comes together with an ease that oh-so-few things ever do. Your food processor will be your best friend here--you'll grate the carrots, create an emulsion of your wet ingredients in it, and later, after a quick clean-out of the bowl, pull a dreamy cream cheese frosting together in it. It's a simply beautiful, quietly spiced, perfectly textured iced sheet cake. Everything plays well with each other here--even the cream cheese frosting, which can so often overwhelm a cake with its richness, just lays calmly in a soft slick atop the cake. I just can't say enough about it. Especially right now as I sit rubbing my temples, enjoying a hunk in the depths of my dark, quiet closet in lieu of a large glass of bourbon with a straw. I am so tired, you guys.
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Baking Illustrated
This recipe is great halved and baked in an 8x8-inch pan if you don't need to feed a crowd or stress.
Because they are akin to toddler currency and I always have them on hand, I used baby carrots for this recipe.
Be sure your cream cheese and butter are completely at room temperature before making the icing to get the best consistency.
For the cake:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon (I love Vietnamese cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grate nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound (about 6 to 7 medium) carrots, peeled (or an equal amount of baby carrots)
1 1 /2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
For the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon sour cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar, plus a little extra for adjusting the consistency of the icing
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13-inch baking pan with cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt.
Fit a food processor with the shredding disk, and shred the carrots into it. Dump the carrots into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Wipe out the bowl of the food processor with a paper towel--don't worry about getting it perfectly clean.
Pace the bowl back on the processor, and place in it the sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla. run the processor to blend throughly, about 20 seconds. With the processor running, pour in the oil in a steady stream. Blend 20 seconds more.
Stir together the shredded carrots and flour until evenly mixed, and make a well in the center. Pour in the wet ingredients and stir well with a rubber spatula until the batter is evenly mixed and no lumps of dry ingredients remain. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Set the pan on a wire rack and let the cake cool completely, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
When the cake is cool, make the icing. In the clean bowl of a food processor, place the cream cheese, butter, sour cream and vanilla. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the bowl as necessary. Dump in the confectioners' sugar and process again just until smooth, about 10-15 seconds. Be careful not to overwork the icing, as it will start to break down if blended for too long.
Generously ice the cake, cut into squares and serve. Tightly cover and refrigerate any leftovers.