There are a few cake recipes that show up often around my family gatherings. There was the pineapple upside-down cake for my uncle's birthday, the Mocha Almond cake for my own, the bunny cake for Easter (chocolate cake rectangle with two cake rounds cut into the shape of a face with ears, and bunny hind legs, jelly bean eyes and licorice whiskers, egg white icing and coconut for fur), and for my father's birthday, the carrot cake.
I never did like the pineapple upside-down cake, and I have since gotten over the mocha cake and the bunny cake. But the carrot cake--the carrot cake--that recipe is epic.
This is the kind of carrot cake that should be served in winter. It is dense and spicy, full of nuts and raisins, and whole wheat flour. We always had it this week of January because this is my father's birthday week, and every year, as if it were new and never done before, he asks my mother to make him his favorite.
Presentation is in fact everything in my family, but in a different way than one might assume. The presentation is in the shape. Therefore, carrot cake is always, always rectangular. (Mocha cake is a circular layer cake. Corn bread must be baked in the round cast iron skillet.) We bake and serve the carrot cake in a pyrex rectangle, She also always makes a cream cheese icing--heavy on the cheese, very light on the sweet.
Maybe carrot cake is especially special because it is also the only cake (that I can remember) my family made from scratch. There was no substitute. When my dad asked for carrot cake for his birthday, he meant, again, the carrot cake.
This recipe has family gatherings in mind. If you want a little smaller a cake, cut measurements in half and bake in a 8x8 square cake pan. Also notable is the lack of eggs or milk, so if you are looking for something vegan, simply use oil in place of the butter, and opt for a powdering of sugar instead of the cream cheese icing. Voila!
For the Cake:
3 1/2 cups grated carrots
2 2/3 cups water
2 2/3 sugar
2 cups raisins
1/2 cup unsalted butter
4 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg
4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or a mixture of whole wheat flour and all-purpose)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped nuts
Place carrots, sugar, water, raisins, butter and spices in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer five minutes. Cool completely. Meanwhile, sift flour, baking powder, soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Add the dry ingredients and nuts to the carrot mixture. Stir until just blended. Pour into a well-buttered and floured rectangular cake pan (you can line it with parchment if you have an anxious disposition, it it the sure way). Bake at 375 degrees for about fifty minutes or until a tooth pick/skewer pricked into the center comes out clean. Turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
For the Icing:
1 8 ounce block softened cream cheese
up to 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Beat cream cheese until fluffy and smooth. Add half the powdered sugar and the vanilla and beat to incorporate. Taste. If you like it, then stop. If you like a sweeter icing, add more sugar by the heaping tablespoonful until you reach the desired sweetness. Ice the cake. Decorate with toasted walnuts.
Eat and enjoy enormously.