Not 10 seconds after I hit “publish” on Tuesday’s fall-toush salad, pretty much out of the clear blue sky, wherever it might be hiding, I simultaneously began craving carrot cake, feeling vaguely annoyed that we didn’t have any around (because I haven’t made it in six years, maybe?) and more pressingly for the breadth of this site, why I didn’t have what I’d consider a go-to recipe for the kind of hearty, craggy thud of a carrot cake loaf I want more of in my life. Sure, there’s a carrot cake cupcake/layer cake in the archives, but it’s a featherweight, for swirls of cream cheese frosting and birthday candle. I wanted breakfast/afternoon snack carrot cake, the kind that comes in thick slices and toasts well with salted butter. In my mind, they’re different. And my mind, as you can gather, ponders these things a lot.
So, I conferred with my husband — I don’t want to shock you, but I am not always the motivated, enthusiastic person and quite often just a little “yeah, please make it!” from the spouse or kid will trigger me into putting vague cooking notions into action — and he thought it was a great idea but he requested “none of that raisin/nuts/pineapple stuff in it.” Except, uh, he didn’t say “stuff.” Now, I know this might crush those of you who love a busy, cluttered carrot cake most of all, but I don’t think you’ll miss them here.
Because this here tastes to me like an October farmer’s market haul, with 3/4 pound fresh, grated carrots and fresh-pressed apple cider in here, olive oil replacing the usual butter (it’s dairy-free) and just the right amount of cinnamon/nutmeg/clove fall fragrance. It yields one towering, bronzed crown of a loaf with a deeply moist crumb (especially on day 2) and restrained sweetness. It’s weighty and moist, and will fill every millimeter of your loaf pan.
Whatever you do, do not make yourself a teeny tiny batch of (definitely not dairy-free) cream cheese frosting as a schmear. It’s best not to see how it melts right into a warm slice, lacing it with sweet tanginess or how this would indulge those that eat carrot cake mostly for the icing but only want to dabble in it at breakfast time. Just don’t, okay? I was better off not knowing.
One year ago: Apple Slab Pie
Two years ago: Apple Mosaic Tart with Salted Caramel
Three years ago: Cumin Seed Roasted Cauliflower with Yogurt and Pomegranate
Four years ago: Spiced Applesauce Cake
Five years ago: Jalapeno Cheddar Scones and Apple Cider Doughnuts
Six years ago: Acorn Squash Quesadillas with Tomatillo Salsa and My Family’s Noodle Kugel
Seven years ago: Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Eight years ago: Winter Squash Soup with Gruyere Croutons (that I think needs to be dinner tonight)
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Dark Chocolate Coconut Macaroons and Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms
1.5 Years Ago: Ramp Pizza
2.5 Years Ago: Classic Ice Cream Sandwiches
3.5 Years Ago: Blackberry and Coconut Macaroon Tart and Heavenly Chocolate Cake Roll
Carrot Cake with Cider and Olive Oil
Updated recipe [10/24/14]: In response to comments that the cake was coming out too wet/not baking through, I’ve made some adjustments. I’ve dropped the apple cider from the original 1 1/4 cups to 1 cup and the carrots (which I believe were the weighty culprit, as I was greedy to stuff this cake with almost an excess of them) from 2 cups to 1 1/2. My most recent loaf baked up wonderfully. I’m so sorry that some of you got off on the wrong foot with this cake. I hope this cures it, and gives this cake a chance to be your favorite again.
2 1/3 cups (290 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon (5 grams) table or fine sea salt
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder (I prefer aluminum-free)
1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground or a bunch of gratings of whole nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup (120 ml) olive oil
3/4 cup (145 grams) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup cider (235 ml, see buying suggestions below)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups packed coarsely grated carrots from about 9 ounces (2 to 2 1/2 meaty/large or 4 to 5 slim; about 255 grams) whole carrots
Olive oil or nonstick cooking spray for baking pan
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9×5-inch loaf pan* with olive oil or a nonstick cooking spray. If yours is old and you’re nervous about the cake sticking, it cannot hurt to line yours with a fitted rectangle of parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. In a medium bowl, whisk together olive oil, brown sugar, eggs, cider and vanilla. Stir grated carrots into wet ingredients until evenly coated, then stir wet ingredients into dry just until no floury bits remain.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 60 to 70 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center comes out batter-free. Let cool in loaf pan for 20 to 30 minutes, then remove from pan and cool the rest of the way on a rack. Loaf should keep at room temperature for a few days, and longer in the fridge. It’s even more moist on the second day.
Whatever you do, definitely avoid making a cream cheese frosting-like spread whipped together from 4 ounces of softened cream cheese, 2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extra and 6 tablespoons powdered sugar, some of which can be replaced with honey or maple syrup but will make for a softer spread. It will unquestionably compromise this cake’s dairy-free status. It might be dangerously good.
- Apple cider: The cider I used here (sometimes called sweet or “soft” cider) is different from both apple juice and the hard, or alcoholic, fermented apple cider. It’s a fresh, unfiltered (it has sediment), raw apple juice — the juice literally pressed from fresh apples. The farmer’s market bottles are usually unpasteurized and must be refrigerated because they’re perishable. In the Northeast, I usually find it at farm stands and some grocery stores. I was convinced you couldn’t find this anywhere in the UK until I went there last year and a very dedicated shopper found a product called “cloudy” apple juice that was sold pasteurized but tasted remarkably like what we call apple cider, and from which we successfully made these heavenly caramels. Regardless of all this, I think a regular apple juice would work just fine here, it just has a less complex flavor.
- Whole wheat variation: This cake is so dense and moist, I think it would be easy to start with a 1/3 to 1/2 swap of whole wheat or white whole wheat flour without compromising a whole lot. Plus, then it’s totally perfect for breakfast, right?
- *Loaf pan vs. cake size: As I mentioned in the post, this loaf, once baked, uses the whole cake pan. My loaf pan is exactly 9×5-inches (top measurements, base is tapered in/smaller) and holds 6 1/4 cups liquid (to the brim). If yours is even a little smaller, I highly encourage baking a little of the batter off as muffins, rather than risk overflow. If you’re nervous, you can also use a foil-lined pan underneath the loaf pan to catch any messes.