Approximately 2 tablespoons milk (more or less, depending on desired consistency)
½cuppecans or walnuts, chopped (optional)
FOR THE CAKE:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.
Sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Add the oil and eggs, one at a time. Beat with an electric mixer until completely combined. Add carrots and vanilla extract; mix well. If using, fold in nuts, raisins, coconut, or drained pineapple.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Set on a wire rack to cool completely.
FOR THE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING:
Once the cake is completely cool, prepare the frosting. Cream together butter, cream cheese and vanilla. Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until completely blended. Add the milk, one tablespoon at a time, until the frosting reaches the desired consistency. I use about 2 tablespoons of milk total, but you may need slightly less or slightly more.
Spread the frosting on top of the cool cake. Garnish with chopped nuts, if desired.
Grease or spray the pan really well with non-stick spray so that the cake doesn't stick. I like to use a baking spray with flour in it.
Always use freshly grated carrots that you grate yourself at home. These will be very wet, which is a great way to keep your carrot cake moist. Do not use packaged pre-shredded carrots from the grocery store.
Use full-fat block-style cream cheese for the frosting. The cream cheese frosting will be thin and runny if you substitute with low fat cream cheese or cream cheese spread from a tub.
Optional Mix-Ins: My family prefers the cake batter to be smooth, without the addition of pineapple, nuts, or coconut, so I typically omit those extra ingredients (or just use a handful of chopped pecans). If you prefer, you can certainly add in chopped walnuts or pecans, an 8-ounce can of crushed pineapple (drained), a cup of raisins, or a handful of shredded coconut.
Sift the confectioners sugar to avoid any lumps in your frosting.
Garnish the cake withchopped pecans or sprinkle with shredded coconut.
Carrot Cake with butter instead of oil: A fat is necessary to keep cakes moist and tender. While butter is sometimes used as the fat in mild cakes (like yellow, white or pound cakes), a flavorless oil like canola or vegetable oil is best for carrot cakes. The carrot cake gets its flavor from the other ingredients -- like the carrots and spices. That said, if you prefer to use butter instead of oil, you can substitute with an equal amount of melted butter in this recipe.
Instead of baking the cake in a single 9 x 13-inch pan, you can make a layer cake by dividing the batter between two 9-inch or 8-inch round cake pans. Stack the layers on top of each other, with frosting in between. If making a layer cake, I recommend doubling the amount of frosting, since you'll need extra frosting for the sides and filling (and there's nothing worse than running out of icing)!
For a very impressive 4-layer cake, double all of the ingredients and divide the batter between 4 round cake pans.
Small Carrot Cake Recipe: Cut all of the ingredients in half and bake this cake in an 8-inch square pan. You'll need to decrease the baking time by a few minutes, too.
Carrot Cake Cupcakes: Use the batter to prepare about 24 cupcakes. Bake standard-size cupcakes at 350°F for about 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
If you love the stronger flavor of toasted nuts, you can toast the pecans or walnuts in a dry skillet on the stovetop just until fragrant. Let them cool completely, and then use in the recipe as instructed.