i love birthdays and birthday cakes. to me, everyone should get a homemade birthday cake every year. birthday cakes don’t have to be fancy or even multi layered (see this), but something that looks homemade and is, most importantly, very tasty. for this person’s big day, i made a carrot cake. most carrot cakes are made using the muffin method or dump and stir method, but i wanted something with a lighter, tighter crumb. i accomplished this by creaming soft butter and sugar together instead of using oil for the batter and by grating the carrots very, very, very finely by hand instead of with a food processor (this alone shows your love and devotion).
the resulting cake was lighter than your standard carrot cake and using butter instead of oil helped bring in a little more flavor. however, to me, the best part about carrot cake is the cream cheese frosting. i used neufchatel cheese instead of cream cheese to save a few calories and you couldn’t tell any difference. you could also flavor the cream cheese frosting with a little maple syrup, but i like the classic tart flavor to cut through the richness of the cake. all in all, baking a birthday cake isn’t too much work or time but tastes much, much sweeter.
2 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp cardamon (optional)
1 tsp ground ginger
2.5 sticks (1 1/2 cups) butter, at room temp
1 3/4 cup sugar (i used turbinado or sugar in the raw and it was fine)
4 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
3 cups finely grated carrots (this took maybe 8 or 9 smallish carrots for me)
up to 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
preheat oven to 350 and butter 2 9 inch round cake pans. cut a circle of parchment or wax paper to fit the pans and butter and flour those too.
combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. in a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy (this took me about 6-8 minutes). gradually add the eggs, one at a time, until well combined. add about a 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat until it is just absorbed; add 1/4 cup of the milk and beat until just absorbed. repeat with the remaining flour mixture and milk, ending with the flour. fold in the carrots, nuts, and raisins, if using, and divide evenly into the two prepared cake pans. bake for about 40 minutes or until the cakes are done. cool on racks completely before frosting.
cream cheese frosting
2 8 oz packages of softened cream cheese or neufchatel cheese
1 stick softened butter
2 1/4 cup shifted confectioners’ sugar
tiny pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla
2-3 tsp lemon juice
beat together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. gradually add the confectioner’s sugar and beat until smooth. add the pinch of salt, vanilla, and lemon juice and beat again until smooth. it helps to let this frosting set up a little bit in the fridge before you start assembly.
trim the cake layers if they are a bit uneven with a long serrated knife. on the cake plate, place on layer top facing up. spread a generous layer of the cream cheese frosting. place the second layer top side facing down, resulting in a flat bottom facing up. put the remaining frosting on top of the cake and frost the cake generously, making sure not to get too many crumbs into the frosting. i coated the sides of my cake with some finely chopped toasted walnuts but you could leave it plain or pipe some frosting carrots on top if that is your sort of thing. add candles, light, make a wish, and enjoy.