When I was a kid, Easter was one of my favorite holidays. It basically revolves around candy, which was Priority Number One to Young Maria (and Adult Maria, if we’re being honest). But in addition to the candy, I really loved the Easter egg hunt and scavenger hunt my Nonna put together for me, my sisters, and my cousins.
The Easter egg hunt is pretty standard fare: brightly colored plastic eggs placed in inconspicuous and not-so-inconspicuous places around the backyard. Some in the crook of a tree, others behind the leaves of a potted geranium. I once found an egg that was intended for my cousin, Sabrina, and she threw a fit like I had mortally wronged her. Finding your own Easter eggs is no joke when you’re a kid.
The scavenger hunt was the really cool thing, though. My Nonna would give us all little slips of paper, kind of like what you’d find in a fortune cookie, with a short rhyme on it that would lead us to an Easter treat and another clue. I wish I was as clever as she was in coming up with the rhymes, but I can’t even think up a single example. But I understood them enough back then to figure out where my candy was, sometimes with the help of my older sister.
While that tradition ended as we all grew older and the rhymes were no longer challenging, my parents insisted on hiding Easter eggs well into my teen years. Sometimes my mom would forget where she had hidden eggs, and we would find one a month later. After they stopped hiding eggs, they still hid entire Easter baskets until I was in my early 20s. We rolled our eyes at them hanging onto this childhood tradition, but I’m really not complaining. It’s kind of boring to show up for Easter brunch and see my basket just sitting there on the table, filled with candy. I want my candy to play hard-to-get sometimes.
Now that my sister has kids and I’ve got one of my own on the way, I’m sure my days of receiving baskets brimming with candy have come to a close, but I revel in more adult sweet-things now. Carrot cake, for example.
Surprisingly, carrot cake is not an annual tradition for Easter in my family like it is for many, but I do enjoy carrot cake a whole heck of a lot. This recipe is by far the best one I’ve ever tried, and I’ve made it countless times since discovering it on Smitten Kitchen a few years ago. At one point I couldn’t remember if it was this one or the Martha Stewart recipe that I liked so well. I guessed wrong once and now have a permanently inked “NO!” in Martha’s Cupcakes cookbook. (The tops never dome; they spread into pancakes and run together.)
I made a few tweaks to the SK recipe, opting for pecans instead of walnuts and adding some coconut to the batter. Plain and simple cream cheese frosting works for me, although I’ve paired the cake with vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream before for my cream-cheese-hating husband. The cake stays moist for days and days and days. Don’t even bother trying another carrot cake recipe. This is it.
- Cake Magic
- 2 cups (240 grams) all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
- 1¼ cups (225 grams) vegetable or canola oil
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 3 cups (290 grams) shredded carrots (from about 4 large carrots)*
- 1 cup (105 grams) chopped pecans (optional)
- 1 cup (90 grams) unsweetened coconut flakes (optional)
- 16 ounces (450 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature
- ½ cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups (240 grams) confectioners' sugar, sifted
- 16 pecan halves, for decorating
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the sides and bottoms of two 8-inch round cake pans with Cake Magic. (Alternatively, grease with butter and flour.)
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together sugar and oil. Add eggs, one at a time, whisking until combined after each addition. Stir in flour mixture with a rubber spatula until there is just a little bit of dry flour showing. Add shredded carrots, pecans, and coconut and stir until thoroughly combined and evenly distributed.
- Divide batter equally between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then carefully turn the cakes out to cool completely on wire rack.
- Make the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add confectioners' sugar. When all the powdered sugar has been added, turn the speed up to medium and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and stir by hand a bit to make sure everything is fully incorporated.
- When the cake layers have cooled, level the cakes with a serrated knife if necessary. Place one cake layer on a serving plate. Spread a thick layer of frosting on top of the cake with an offset spatula. Place the other cake layer on top of the frosting, flat side up. Spread a crumb coat of frosting on the top and sides of the cake with an offset spatula, then chill the cake in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.
- Ice the cake with the remaining frosting. Place pecan halves around the top border of the cake. Allow the cake to chill for at least 30 minutes for the frosting to firm up a bit.
- *I highly recommend shredding your carrots by hand on a box grater. I love my food processor, but I'm never as satisfied with the texture of the final cake when I use it to shred the carrots. It takes more time to do it by hand, but it's worth it.
- **I know for a fact that this recipe makes great cupcakes, as well. Simply line muffin tins with 24 paper liners, fill each about ¾ full of batter, and bake for about 20-25 minutes (check with a toothpick). Pipe or spread frosting on the tops. I like to top my frosting with toasted, sweetened coconut flakes.