Recipe, introduction and photos by Yahshimabet Sellassie, Founder & CEO of Yahshi Bakes.
When the beloved Toni Morrison passed away, I was devastated. She changed my life with her radical truth-telling. As I sat in the Grand Lake Theater watching her documentary, “The Pieces I Am,” I knew I had to do something to honor her life, and spread some joy.
For me, this looked like perfecting one of her favorites, carrot cake. Her friends raved about her carrot cake, saying, “no one could make it quite like her.” Toni Morrison said one of her secrets was using an abundance of carrots, and it truly makes all the difference!
This cake is made with a variety of warming spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, and cloves. All of these spices create a flavor profile similar to chai, while enhancing the natural sweetness of the carrots, and bringing out the notes of caramel in the brown butter cream cheese frosting.
As you make this cake, may you be reminded of the sweetness in life, and that it’s never without sacrifice. Thank you Toni Morrison for your timeless storytelling.
Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
2 sticks (227 g) brown butter, cooled1 pound (908 g) cream cheese, at room temperature2 teaspoons vanilla extract3 1/2 cups or 1 pound (454 g) powdered sugarPinch of salt
2 ½ cups (325 g) all purpose flour 1 tablespoon (10 g) ground Vietnamese cinnamon 1 tablespoon (16 g) baking powder 1 teaspoon (4 g) baking soda ½ teaspoon kosher salt 2 teaspoons (6 g) ground ginger 1 teaspoons (2 g) ground cardamom ½ teaspoon (1 g) ground nutmeg ¼ teaspoon ground cloves 1 pound (454 g) carrots 1 cup (240 g) sour cream or buttermilk 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger 1 ½ cups (300 g) dark brown sugar 4 large eggs (room temperature) 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 cup (220 g) sunflower oil (or another neutral oil) ¾ cup (125 g) raisins (optional) 1 cup (125 g) toasted pecans or walnuts (optional)
Handheld electric mixer or a stand mixer3x 8” cake pansOffset spatula or butterknifeCake turntable
Make the frosting:
Begin by browning the butter. If you’ve never browned butter before, here’s an in-depth description. In a medium-sized pot, melt the butter over medium heat, and stir continuously using a whisk or silicone spatula. Cook until foamy, fragrant, and brown milk solids are visible at the bottom of the pan, this will take about 5-8 minutes. Once you begin to smell a change in the butter, and it’s visibly golden brown, turn it off. You don’t want the butter to burn; you just want it to get a toasty, nutty flavor.
Once the butter has browned, transfer it to another bowl. Allow it to chill in the fridge until solidified. Whisk until smooth, and transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl and the handheld mixer.
Combine the brown butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed until smooth. It’s important that the brown butter and cream cheese are both at room temperature to ensure that everything combines smoothly.
Add a pinch of salt, and the vanilla extract. Beat on medium until combined.
Add the powdered sugar, and pulse on low until just incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high, and beat for 1 minute until fluffy, and smooth.
Make the cake:
Begin by preheating the oven to 350℉. Prepare the cake pans by lightly greasing them with sunflower oil, or butter, and a parchment circle. If you don’t have parchment circles, just trace the cake pans with a pencil, cut them out, and flip it over so the pencil side is down. The parchment paper prevents the cake from sticking to the bottom of the pan; don’t skip this step!
If you’re adding pecans or walnuts to the cake, toast them on a parchment-lined baking sheet until fragrant, about 6-10 minutes depending on your oven. Once cool, finely chop and set aside.
To make the cake batter, begin by peeling the carrots, and grating them with the large holes on a box grater. Add the carrots to a bowl with the sour cream and finely grated ginger. Mix with a spatula and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with an electric mixer, add the eggs and brown sugar. Mix on medium-high speed for 5-8 minutes or until thick, pale, and fluffy. The eggs should increase in volume; the color should change from dark brown to light brown; and the texture should look less grainy. When the eggs fall, they should ribbon and create a line that quickly disappears.
While the eggs are mixing (if using a stand mixer) combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Whisk until fully combined, and no clumps of flour or spices remain.
Once the eggs are fluffy, slowly stream in the oil at medium speed. You want to add it gradually to prevent the eggs from deflating, and to allow the mixture to emulsify.
Next, alternate one-third of the dry ingredients with half of the wet ingredients, starting and ending with dry. Scrape down the sides as needed. Once the batter comes together, add the raisins and pecans.
Portion the batter evenly into the prepared cake pans. About 600 grams of batter goes into each cake pan.
Bake at 350 on the upper third rack for 22-25 minutes or until risen, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Allow the cakes to cool for about 8 minutes before running an offset spatula or butter knife around the sides of the pans. Invert the cakes onto a cooling rack, and allow them to cool completely before assembling.
If you don’t plan on assembling the cake on the same day, wrap the cooled layers in plastic wrap, and set them aside until you’re ready to use.
To assemble the cake, use a large plate, or cake stand. Smear a small amount of frosting onto the surface, and place the first layer of cake down. Portion about 2 cups of frosting in the center of the cake. Spread evenly with an offset spatula, and layer with more cake, and frosting, if you would like to add toasted pecans, please do!
Set aside a small portion of the frosting in a separate bowl to avoid getting crumbs into the final coat. Crumb coat the cake by applying a thin layer of frosting all around the cake, and smoothing until it’s even. Place in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes, or in the freezer for 15. You’re ready to apply the final coat of frosting when the frosting doesn’t stick to your fingers.
Frost the cake as desired, and optionally garnish with toasted pecans and fresh flowers. Enjoy!
Note: This cake is best enjoyed within 3-4 days of being made, and loves to be shared.
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