Monday, September 3, 2012

Browned Butter Carrot Cake with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Buttercream

Carrot Cake was a favorite of mine as a kid - I remember requesting carrot cake for quite a few birthdays - so I was excited when a friend of mine, Gina, requested carrot cake for her 30th birthday party.

I'm also thrilled to share that I'm taking baby steps towards my own baking business, and have three orders coming up this weekend!  This is something I've wanted for so long, and I'm finally working at building up a client base.  This is something I'll only be able to do for local customers, in the Denver metro area.

As much as I love carrot cake, I've never posted a recipe for it on my blog, so I'd say it's about time I baked one.  Last Thanksgiving, I made a four-layer pumpkin cake with lots of fall spices that my dad declared "the best cake he'd ever tasted", so I tweaked that recipe to replace the pumpkin with lots of grated carrots and applesauce, which, along with buttermilk and brown sugar, gave the cake such a moist, dense richness.

I'm a purist when it comes to carrot cake.  I've never cared for it when it's full of raisins, apples, pineapple, or whatever else is sometimes added.  I think all those elements distract from the pure sweetness of such a humble vegetable, so mine is full of that wonderful carrot flavor, enhanced with cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

If you've never baked with browned butter, you really should try it.  Browned butter is just butter that's been melted and then cooked for a few minutes to evaporate a bit of the water and brown the solids to a golden brown.

Added to cakes, browned butter gives the cake such a nutty, rich flavor, and this was truly one of the best carrot cakes I've ever tasted.  I wish you could see the three beautiful layers inside, but I didn't get a chance to take a picture after cutting it at the party.

For many people, I think eating carrot cake is simply a vehicle for the cream cheese frosting.  For a twist on the classic, I added salted caramel to mine, which you may not even know is there if I didn't tell you, but it added a subtle richness to the creamy frosting.

And for a classic finish, I pressed lightly toasted, chopped pecans against the sides of the cake.  The crunch of the pecans with the sweet frosting and spiced cake was a delicious contrast.  And instead of piping a carrot on type, I topped mine with a pretty orange rose.

Happy birthday, Gina!

Browned Butter Carrot Cake with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Buttercream
printable recipe

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 cups finely grated carrots (5-8 carrots, depending on their size)
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup salted caramel, room temperature
  • 5-6 cups powdered sugar
  • 5 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped, toasted pecans

To make the cake: 

Preheat the oven to 350.  Prepare three 8-inch cake pans by spraying the bottoms with non-stick spray, lining with a circle of parchment paper, and then spraying the parchment paper with non-stick spray.  Set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter (for the cake) over medium heat.  Cook the butter, swirling occasionally, until it turns a nutty golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.  In another larger bowl, whisk together the grated carrots, applesauce, brown sugar, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla.  Gradually whisk in the flour mixture until combined.  Add the brown butter and whisk until incorporated.  Divide the batter between the cake pans.

Bake a toothpick comes out clean, about 25-28 minutes.  Set the pans on wire racks and cool completely in the pans.

To make the frosting: 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the butter, cream cheese and caramel.  Beat on medium low for 1-2 minutes until well combined.

In a separate bowl, combine 5 cups of the powdered sugar with the meringue powder.  Add to the mixing bowl, a cup at a time, mixing on low to combine.  Add the vanilla.  Increase speed to medium and beat for 2-3 minutes until smooth and creamy, adding the last cup of powdered sugar, if needed, to reach the desired consistency.

To assemble the cake: 

Remove the cooled cakes from the pans and carefully peel off the parchment paper.  Level the tops of the cakes with a sharp knife or cake leveler. 

Place one layer of cake on a cake plate.  Top with just enough frosting to spread it about 1/4 inch thick.  Add the second layer of cake, and spread with a 1/4 inch layer of frosting.  Top with the third layer of cake, bottom side up so you have a smooth, crumb-free surface for the top.  Apply a thin crumb coat of frosting all over the top and sides of the cake, then refrigerate for 20 minutes.

When the crumb coat has set, finish frosting the cake, swirling as desired (note, this frosting is not the right consistency for piping flowers or other designs, as it will not hold its shape well; for the rose in the center, I made a small amount of stiff buttercream).  Press the chopped pecans against the sides of the cake.

Refrigerate the cake until ready to serve, but let it come to room temperature for about an hour before serving;  refrigerate any leftovers.  The cake will stay moist and fresh for days, if refrigerated and covered.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen