Get the Recipe
My mother is one of the loveliest, kindest, most generous people you will ever meet. With a ready and Colgate ad-perfect smile, friends and strangers flock to her. Often we'll be delayed while running an errand because she somehow got caught up in conversation with the woman working the register. Fifteen minutes later, Mom has solved this woman's personal issues and filled her day with sunshine.
But this charmer has a dark side. Ask her for her carrot cake recipe and she'll reply with a short and decisive "No." It's too bad, really, because—scout's honor—it is the best carrot cake in the world.
This carrot cake has been made at least once a month in my house for as long as I can remember. But despite the frequency of its appearance on the cake stand, it remains special and the ultimate favorite. My siblings demand it on special occasions and guests' conversations will come to a standstill as they eat a slice in reverent silence.
In Mom's defense, from time to time she does bake the cake for sale, and, since she's so giving in all other aspects, I decided the recipe must remain shrouded in mystery.
My editor suggested I make a carrot cake for this column. I had expected the request to come and balked, worried that I would have to concoct a new recipe that would match The One That Shall Not Be Shared and that it wouldn't measure up. I wanted to at least mimic, if not match, Mom's cherished carrot cake and think I've made a success of it.
My translation is dense and dark with a nutty base provided by brown butter and toasted pecans. I pulse carrots in the food processor (as opposed to grating them as most recipes do) so that they blend seamlessly into the batter. To add nuance and warmth, I stir allspice, cinnamon, and ginger into the butter while it's still warm; they bloom and intensify the fragrance. This spiced butter is then chilled until firm and then beaten with brown sugar and orange zest for brightness. The icing is classic cream cheese with additions of golden honey and citrus zest.
Next time I visit, I'll have to bake my carrot cake for Mom and get her stamp of approval, or at least an honorable mention.