I know what you are thinking: There could hardly be anything more mundane than carrot cake. But trust me: once you've made it with carrots you've grown in your own garden, carrots that have been storing themselves in the ground and getting sweeter all winter long just waiting for you to think of something to do with them--once you have some of those carrots to work with your carrot cake will rise to something special indeed.
Plus, my wife does not make ordinary things. Her baked goods invariably are extraordinary. This particular carrot cake is infused with the flavor of ginger and topped with an orange-cream cheese frosting. We liked the first one so much (meaning it lasted until maybe the next day) that she made it again and cut it into these cheery little morsels to serve at our recent chilaquiles brunch. It wasn't long before the only thing left on the buffet were a few crumbs.
Here's the recipe as found in The New Best Recipe, from the editors of Cook's Illustrated:
For the cake:
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound carrots, peeled
1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 1/2 cups canola oil
Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13 by 9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and spray the paper as well.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
Shred the carrots using the shredding attachment in a food processor(there should be about 3 cups). Add carrots and crystallized ginger to bowl with dry ingredients and set aside. Wipe out food processor and fit with metal blade. Process granulated and brown sugars with eggs and orange zest until frothy and thoroughly combined, about 20 seconds. With machine running, add oil through feed tube in a steady stream. Process until the mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 20 seconds longer. (Note: these steps could also be done using an ordinary box grater, a mixing bowl with a whisk and some elbow grease.) Scrape the mixture into a large bowl. Stir in the carrots and dry ingredients and mix until everything is fully incorporated. Pour mix into prepared baking pan and bake until a toothpick or skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan from front to back halfway through the baking time. Cool the cake to room temperature in the pan on a wire rack, at least 2 hours.
For the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened but still cool
5 tabelspoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) confectioners' sugar
When the cake is cool, process the cream cheese, butter, orange juice and orange zest in a clean food procewssor until combined, about 5 seconds, scraping down the workbowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the confections' sugar and process until smooth, about 10 seconds.
Run a paring knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, peel off the parchment and invert the cake onto a serving platter or cake stand. Using an offset spatula, spread the frosting evenly over the surface of the cake. Cut into squares and serve.