As a kid, the last cake you wanted was carrot cake.
Well… maybe right behind fruit cake.
As an adult I’ve liked carrot cake fine. But it wasn’t until I had a slice of AMAZING carrot cake from a little cafe called Fragments in Paris that I realized just how good it could be.
I found the idea of browning butter for carrot cake especially compelling. Since nuts are a common fixture and a clear complement to carrot cake, the idea of adding more sweet nutty flavor in the form of browned butter just made sense. Plus by browning the butter you only have to use your mixer for the icing.
Not to mention the brown butter helps make the cake super rich and moist. That plus the brown sugar, applesauce, and carrots (of course!).
Some warm spices in the batter and then another extra dash of cinnamon in the cream cheese frosting really round everything out.
Plus, slicing the two cake layers in half for a four layer cake isn’t just impressive to look at. It means MORE FROSTING!
Perfect Brown Butter Carrot Cake Recipe Tips
How to Brown Butter for Cake
A skillet works better than a saucepan for browning butter because there’s more surface area for the brown bits to develop.
In a medium skillet set over medium heat, melt the butter. Swirling the pan occasionally, continue to cook the butter. It should become foamy with audible cracking and popping noises. Once the crackling stops, continue to swirl the pan until the butter develops a nutty aroma and brown bits start to form at the bottom. Once the bits are amber in color, about 2 to 3 minutes after the popping stops, remove from heat and pour into a mixing bowl. Let cool completely.
What are the best cake baking pans?
Never use dark colored nonstick cake pans. They conduct heat too aggressively and often lead to hard dry edges and undercooked or sunken centers.
My favorite cake pans are the Fat Daddio’s pans.
How to *properly* prepare carrots for carrot cake:
Shred fresh carrots, no pre-shredded packaged ones. Freshly grated carrots are more flavorful and moist! Better yet, buy your carrots at the farmer’s market. They’re SO much sweeter!
3 cups freshly shredded carrots equals about 4 medium carrots, but definitely buy extra just in case. Don’t grate your carrots too finely, you want to have carrot ‘confetti’ in your cake so the bigger holes on your box grate would work better. You can also use your food processor’s grating attachment to make it quicker and easier.
Nuts in carrot cake?
I added pecans or walnuts as an option for this carrot cake since that’s fairly traditional. You can totally leave them out if you prefer. They add crunch, but also a bit of savory flavor to contrast the sweetness.
Applesauce in carrot cake?
This isn’t here as a healthy addition, necessarily. But it does allow us to get away with using a little less butter. No, it actually helps provide tender moisture and a nice sweet fruity flavor to complement the carrots. You don’t really taste ‘apples’ – just freshness.
How to Make Cream Cheese Frosting
Arguably the best part of carrot cake!
For the best and creamiest frosting, be sure your cream cheese and butter are at room temperature. Beat them together until completely smooth, scraping down your bowl often, until there’s no lumps. Even if you have a paddle attachment that scrapes the sides as it goes, I would still recommend scraping down the paddle and especially the bottom of the bowl to ensure no lumps.
Don’t skip sifting the powdered sugar! It’s a pain but you’ll regret it if you don’t.
How to assemble brown butter carrot cake:
In this recipe we take 2 cake layers and cut them in half for a total of 4 layers. Because if carrot cake is one thing, it’s a vehicle for cream cheese frosting. Now you can totally skip this step (and you likely won’t need all the frosting), but that’s no fun 🙂
To cut each cake layer, use a cake leveler or serrated knife. A cake leveler makes your layers absolutely perfect. If you bake cakes often, consider investing in one!
How to decorate carrot cake:
The cream cheese frosting is a little looser than your classic buttercream, so you won’t be able to do intricate detailed designs. I personally prefer a more basic or even ‘naked’ look for carrot cake anyways.
A border of chopped nuts on top of the cake makes a simple yet elegant final garnish.
If you want to have a little fun, check out my article on how to make decorative edible carrots.
How can I make carrot cake ahead of time?
Wrap uncut unfrosted cooled cake layers completely in several layers of plastic wrap. Place inside a freezer bag. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge. Don’t defrost at room temperature or you will end up with mushy sticky cake.
How do I store carrot cake?
Cover with a cake keeper and store at room temperature for up to 6 hours then refrigerate for up to 3 days.
This recipe was the selection for the March 2020 baking challenge! Check out the entries below, then click here to find out what the current month’s challenge recipe is!