Every year, I take the opportunity that my birthday brings to make myself a cake. I generally have a pretty good idea going into it about what I want to achieve, and this year was all about creating a beautiful layered carrot cake.
Last year I brought you this passionfruit vanilla sponge layer cake which was ambitious for me. It just so happened that I made this cake around the time that my camera was in for repair so the photos are taken on my iPhone and I cringe a little when I look at them. I see this cake being rephotographed in the future…
I learnt a few things from making this cake:
- Layer cakes are so fun to make
- I think there is potential for the ‘naked cake’ style of decorating with minimal frosting, I just hadn’t worked it out yet.
- Classic cake flavours are beautiful and delicious and not every birthday cake has to be chocolate or with sprinkles.
So when I decided that this year would be all about the carrot cake, I decided to put into practice a few of these things that I learnt through last years baking project.
Firstly, this cake is a big 3 layers. My first ever 3 layer cake and definitely not my last. It is so fun to stack up the cakes and see that beautiful layered slice. You can easily do this as only a 2 layer, but the third just makes it a little more fun. Plus you don’t need to own 3 pans, I tell you in the recipe notes how you can reuse a single pan to bake all three layers. It obviously just takes a little more time to do.
Secondly, I have never been much of a full sized cake decorator. I love piping frosting on cupcakes but always struggled to get my full sized cakes looking beautiful. Enter the semi-naked style of frosting. This style is really popular at the moment and it’s rustic nature actually makes it perfect for those of us not super confident with getting that frosting perfect on the sides.
It is actually really easy to do. Add a little frosting to the side of your cake, I used a flat butter knife but a proper cake frosting knife would be ideal. Smooth the frosting evenly around the outside of the cake to make sure it is mostly covered but do not worry about getting it even or worry if you get crumbs in the frosting. It is all part of it.
Then holding the knife parallel to the side of the cake, run it evenly around the outside scraping off the excess frosting. Wipe knife clean as you go to remove any frosting build-up and you will be left with a thin layer of frosting on the sides with the beautiful cake showing through which accentuate the three layers.
The flavour and texture of carrot cake to me is one that is quite complex but also fairly unique. It is rich and spicy, but dense and moist. The added coconut just gives the flavours that extra boost taking it to special occasion carrot cake. All of the spices combine to give this cake a delicious but comforting taste which is balanced with the sweet bites of cream cheese frosting that glues the layers together.
This cake is best enjoyed at room temperature. You do need to refrigerate it first before slicing to make sure the cake actually stabilises (no one wants a cake to fall apart when slicing), but make sure to take it out an hour or 2 before you are going to serve it. If I was in a rush and it was just me sneaking a piece from the fridge, I would just pop it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds. Just enough to bring it back to soft, moist, rich cake without melting the icing as cake straight from the fridge can just be a little dry and less flavour intensive.
This is a big recipe, but its not a hard one. Mix wet ingredients, mix dry ingredients, combine and add carrot & coconut and bake. Oh and there is a key ingredient in here that I haven’t yet mentioned…crushed pineapple. Trust me. It doesn’t really make the cake taste like pineapple at all, rather it adds a beautiful amount of moisture keeping the cake lovely and soft.
All of the flavours in this cake just work, they perfectly complement each other. It is a bit of a twist on the classic carrot cake flavour but it is one that I think might just be my favourite birthday cake yet.
Another perfect excuse to make this cake? Easter. Easter = bunny = carrot. That’s my thought process, perfect right?!
Get baking, impress your friends and family with this fantastic looking layer cake because not only does it have stellar good looks, the punch of flavour that you get in each bite will get everyone’s attention. Even my husband who screwed up his nose a little in disgust when I said I was making carrot cake really enjoyed a slice of this! If that conversion doesn’t show that is really is a winner, I’m not sure what will! You’ll just need to taste it for yourself.
- 1 1/2 cups (300g) brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (100g) white sugar
- 1 cup coconut oil , melted
- 4 large eggs , room temperature
- 3/4 cup crushed pineapple
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 1/2 cups (312g) plain flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 cups (260g) grated carrots , (about 3 large)
- 1 cup shredded coconut
- 250 g cream cheese*
- 1/3 cup dairy-free spread**
- 3 cups icing sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- pinch salt (optional)
- Preheat oven to 180°C and spray 3 x 22 cm cake tins with non-stick spray.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, white sugar, eggs, oil, vanilla and crushed pineapple until combined. Set aside.
- In a separate large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg together. Pour wet mixture into the dry ingredients and mix together using a spatula. Add in carrot and coconut and fold through until just mixed through.
- Divide batter evenly into pans and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer when inserted comes out clean and the cake springs back when lightly touched. Allow cake to cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes to avoid sticking, before turning out. Pan can be used again to cook the remaining layers by following the notes at the end of this recipe if required.
- Using a stand mixer with a beater attachment or a handheld mixer, beat together cream cheese, dairy-free spread and vanilla, adding in icing sugar until everything comes together. Frosting should be a smooth and creamy consistency. Add a pinch of salt if the mixture is too sweet. Depending on the cream cheese and butter/dairy-free substitute you use, you may need to add in more icing sugar to gain the required consistency.
If your cakes are unlevel, use a knife to slice a thin layer off the top to ensure the surface is flat. Place a cake on cake stand or plate and cover the top with frosting. Do the same with the following 2 layers placing the final cake upside down to ensure the top is perfectly flat. Cover with remaining frosting. I frosted this cake in a semi-naked style meaning that I ran a butter knife around the edges to remove any excess frosting. I found this a great way to enjoy this cake as the frosting is quite rich and therefore the minimal frosting approach does not overpower the flavours of the cake itself.
- I topped my cake with toasted coconut flakes. Simply place about a cup of coconut flakes in the oven for 5 minutes or until golden. Keep an eye on them to make sure they do not burn. Sprinkle toasted coconut around the edge on top of the cake. Place the cake in the fridge to stabilise for at least an hour before slicing.
- Store cake in an airtight container on the bench for 1-2 days or in the fridge for up to 5 days. Cake is best enjoyed when it has come back to room temperature.
I used 3 pans for this layer cake however if you prefer you can do it with just 2 layers, simply increase the cook time by 5-10 minutes.
* I used Liddells lactose-free cream cheese which only comes in a spreadable form. You can use regular if you do not need the frosting to be lactose-free. If you use brick cream cheese and regular butter, you may need to add a tablespoon or 2 of milk to get the required consistency of the frosting. I had originally wanted to use Tofutti cream cheese substitute as it would have made this cake completely dairy-free however I could not find it at the supermarket. If you can, it will work perfectly as a dairy-free substitute to the recipe as written.
**I used Nuttelex Buttery which is my new favourite dairy-free butter substitute in frosting as it gives that ‘butter’ flavour without being greasy at all.
Tip! If you only have 1 pan, you can bake the cakes in batches. Leave the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Wash the pan in warm soapy water and rinse with cold. Spray with non-stick spray and you are ready to use it again. The remaining cake batter will be fine on the bench in between bakes, just do not leave it out longer than 3 hours.