A couple weeks ago, I found myself at a vegan restaurant pondering my dessert options. They had it all: a vegan soufflé, pie, a chocolate blackout cake, a sundae, and more. And the thing I wanted most of all was the carrot cake.
It was probably the most humble, rustic dessert on the menu. And that’s why I wanted it so much. Restaurant food impresses and inspires me, but at the end of the day it’s home cooking—or food that evokes home cooking—that I really want to eat.
I’ve been hesitant to put a carrot cake recipe on the blog. It’s such an iconic dessert, and the few conversations I’ve had about it suggest that people have very strong opinions about the right way to do carrot cake: texture, sweetness, concentration of carrots vs. raisins vs. nuts, optimal choice of frosting, etc.
In the end, I didn’t quite attempt a classic carrot cake. Inspired by the first week of truly crisp, baking-worthy fall weather (which wasn’t this week, for the record: it’s been a swamp in NYC!), I decided to merge two of my favorite sweets, carrot cake and pumpkin bread. This pumpkin spice carrot cake is the very, very happy result.
I can’t speak from a place of definitive carrot cake expertise, because hey, we all like what we like. But this is my kind of carrot cake: dense, packed with juicy carrots, a little crunch from the walnuts, but not so many of them that they get in the way of a proper cake-like texture. The pumpkin adds plenty of moisture, which allowed me to use a bit less oil than most traditional recipes call for. And the spices—a mix of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves—make it especially perfect for fall.
The cloves in this recipe are courtesy of the wonderful folks at Nuts.com—pretty much my go-to destination for restocking the pantry. For a long time I thought about Nuts.com as being a storefront for nuts, legumes, and grains, but I didn’t think to rely on the site for spices or condiments.
Now I know that the site has a huge selection of the best-quality herbs and spices, so it’s perfect for stocking up (especially for those spices I use all the time). The cloves in this recipe have a deep, distinctive flavor, and even a little pinch made the cake so much richer.
Is this the most elegantly frosted cake ever? No. I didn’t even frost the sides, because I typically make a giant mess when I try to do that, and I was eager for a slice of this cake to be in my belly quickly. But if you ask me, carrot cake was meant to be homey and rustic.
The frosting, by the way, is a nod to traditional carrot cake recipes, and it really is amazingly authentic. I loved cream cheese frosting as a kid, and licking the spatula after I made this batch brought me back in time. It’s rich, though, so if you prefer something lighter and less sweet, you can try my creamy cashew frosting instead!
As October-friendly as this recipe is, it would make a wonderful birthday cake or anytime cake (snack cake, dessert cake, tea cake, etc.) at any time of year. I hope you’ll find it as comforting and satisfying as I have. See you soon, for another weekend roundup.
This post is sponsored by Nuts.com. All opinions are my own, and I love this family-owned and operated business! Thanks for your support.