Carrot Cake with Maple Pumpkin Seed Brittle and Brown Butter Cream Cheese Icing
From All the Sweet Things by Renée Kohlman

A note from Renée

That title is a rather large mouthful, is it not? Well, there’s lots happening here, from the moist and aromatic carrot cake to the sweet and crunchy brittle in the middle to the delicious brown butter cream cheese icing that smothers the whole deal. If you love regular cream cheese icing, this recipe will make you downright giddy. It’s smooth and creamy, with the lovely caramel nuttiness that brown butter is known for. The carrot cake is rather wonderful in its simplicity—no pineapple, raisins or nuts to be found here, just straight-up carrots. Feel free to make the cakes a couple of days ahead. They freeze well, too. The middle layer of crunchy brittle may feel like an extra step, but it’s one you want to take. As my friend Lindsay said while testing this cake, the brittle makes it. This is an impressive cake. Bring it out on your prettiest cake stand, slice it at the table and be prepared to take a bow. Serves 12-14 very lucky people.

Maple Pumpkin Seed Brittle (Makes about 1½ cups)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil, for brushing the parchment
  • ½ cup raw unsalted pumpkin seeds
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • ¼ tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the rack in the centre of the oven. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and brush the parchment evenly with the olive oil.

Stir together the pumpkin seeds, maple syrup, cardamom and salt. Pour this mixture onto the prepared baking sheet (it won’t spread to the sides and it will be a funky, uneven shape) and bake for 15 minutes, rotating the sheet 180 degrees at the 8-minute mark.

The brittle should be bubbling and golden. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let it cool completely on a wire rack.

Break the brittle into pieces and store it in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Carrot cake
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup canola or other cooking oil
  • ¾ cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3½ cups lightly packed grated carrots
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
Brown Butter cream cheese icing
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened and divided
  • 2 cups cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3–4 cups icing sugar
  • 1 cup crushed Maple Pumpkin Seed Brittle

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the rack in the centre of the oven. Grease the bottoms and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans with your preferred cooking oil and line the bottoms with parchment paper.

To make the carrot cake, whisk together the eggs, sugars, oil, buttermilk and vanilla in a large bowl. Stir in the grated carrots. In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Add the dry ingredients into the carrot mixture and stir until well combined. Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans.

Bake for 35–40 minutes, until the cakes are golden and spring back when touched lightly and a toothpick inserted in the centre of a cake comes out clean. Remove the pans from the oven and let the cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for about 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cakes and carefully remove them from their pans. Let the cakes cool completely on the rack. The carrot cakes can be made a day or two ahead of time. Wrap them well in plastic and refrigerate until ready to assemble.

To make the icing, melt 1/2 cup of the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. The butter will froth and bubble then turn golden. (You can give it a bit of a stir.) When it starts to brown and smell nutty, remove the pan from the heat. Pour the butter into a small dish and let it cool for 5 minutes. Place it in the refrigerator, uncovered, and chill for 15 minutes.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, place the chilled melted brown butter, remaining 1/2 cup butter and cream cheese. Beat the mixture on high speed until creamy and smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times. Beat in the vanilla and salt. With the machine running on low speed, add 1 cup of icing sugar and then increase the speed to high and beat it well. Add the remaining icing sugar in batches of 1 cup, 1 cup, 1/2 cup and then a final 1/2 cup if needed, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times. I use about 4 cups of icing sugar, but if it’s thick and creamy after 31/2 cups, stop then. If you feel like you need more icing sugar to make a thick and creamy icing, then by all means add more icing sugar.

To assemble the cake, smear a bit of icing on the bottom of a cake stand or platter. This will keep the cake in place as you decorate it. Set the bottom layer of cake on this smear of icing and then spread the cake layer generously with icing. Scatter the crushed maple brittle on top of the icing. Top with the second layer of cake. Using a large offset spatula, apply a thin layer of icing all around the cake. This is called “dirty icing” and it helps adhere those pesky crumbs to the cake. Chill the cake for 30 minutes.

Remove the cake from the refrigerator and apply the remaining icing with an offset spatula. Use the back of a spoon to create swirls, if you so desire. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes before serving. The cake will keep wrapped well in plastic in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Unfrosted carrot cakes can be wrapped well in plastic and frozen for up to 1 month.

*Recipes excerpted from All the Sweet Things by Renée Kohlman, 2017


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