Brown Butter Carrot Cake
My Best Ever Carrot Cake...could also be yours.
While it is fun to try out new flavors and play around with buttercream designs, a great carrot cake recipe is one to make again and again. I recently remade my Best Ever Carrot Cake, and it was even better than I remembered. Forever moist, not too sweet, full of flavor - it’s the type of cake you start planning to make again even before the last bites are gone.
It’s hard to create a “best ever” recipe when people have so many personal opinions on what makes a cake great. Especially when it comes to raisins and cream cheese frosting, carrot cake can be downright polarizing. What I love about this particular carrot cake recipe is that it is infinitely adaptable, forgiving, and checks a lot of the boxes of a fantastic cake.
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I firmly believe raisins should be saved for oatmeal cookies and have no place interrupting my carrot cake experience. I do like the idea of subtle nutty flavors, but prefer it in the form of nut flour over nut pieces. But you do you.
Love nuts? Go ahead and fold them into the batter (try toasting them first!). Hate raisins? Skip ‘em all together.
Something that might be harder for carrot cake connoisseurs to get on board with is my decision to ice the cake in brown butter buttercream instead of cream cheese frosting. Shock horror, I know…
Dare I say a clear sign of a great carrot cake is one that doesn’t need to be masked in a heavy layer of cream cheese? Would it be accurate to claim that some people claim to like carrot cake but are really just after the cream cheese frosting? Don’t get me wrong, I do love cream cheese frosting. But also - browned butter. If you’ve tried it, then you know. It’s so good!
Browning the butter adds a slight nuttiness and a subtle butterscotch-like flavor. Use your good vanilla, and you’ll be licking the frosting from the spatula. Don’t overload the beautiful flavors of brown butter with an excessive amount of confectioner’s sugar. The frosting should be soft and spreadable. Since the cake is only two layers tall, I am not overly concerned with structure and am more comfortable with a softer frosting here than when stacking a cake sky high.
Leaving the sides exposed does make it slightly more vulnerable to drying out without its protective frosting, but this cake is insanely moist and I doubt it would ever last long enough to dry out. Dig right in and enjoy!
Another bonus? Brown butter buttercream does not need to be refrigerated. This carrot cake may be stored at room temperature, just waiting for you to slice yourself a sliver every time you pass through the kitchen.
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup walnut or almond flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon allspice
¾ cup neutral oil, like grapeseed or canola
1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup crushed pineapple or applesauce
3 cups shredded carrots
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans and set aside.
Whisk together the all-purpose flour, nut flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, stir together the oil, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. Add the eggs and whisk until fully combined and the batter begins to lighten in color.
Working in two batches, stir in the dry ingredients until incorporated. It is okay if a few streaks of flour remain visible.
Add the pineapple and shredded carrots. Fold until combined.
Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans. Allow cakes to completely cool before filling and frosting.
Brown Butter Buttercream
1 cup (227 g) + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 to 3 cups (260 to 390 g) confectioners’ sugar
1 to 3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Place ¾ cup (170 g) butter in a light-colored saucepan and melt over high heat. Once the butter begins to bubble, reduce the heat to medium-low.
Stirring every so often to keep the milk solids from burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan, continue to cook the butter until it turns an amber-colored brown and the milk solids have darkened. This will take 5 to 8 minutes. It is done when the brown butter smells nutty and toasty. Pour the brown butter into a heat-safe container.
Allow the butter to re-solidify on the counter or chill in the refrigerator until it solidifies but remains soft, about 1 hour. It should be the consistency of softened butter when ready to turn into frosting. Meanwhile, remove the remaining butter from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.
When ready, add the brown butter and remaining butter to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer). Mix on low speed until the butter is creamy. Stop the mixer and add in the confectioners' sugar. Mix on low speed until incorporated.
Add a tablespoon of milk and mix to combine. Bump up the mixer speed to medium-high speed and mix until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the vanilla and more milk, a tablespoon at a time, and mix until smooth. When done, it should be smooth and spreadable.
Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or serving plate. Pile on half of the buttercream and spread flat with an offset spatula. Place the second layer of cake on top. Ice the top of the cake with the remaining frosting. For a rustic finish, make swirls on top by drawing “C’s” and “S’s” with the tip of an offset spatula or the back of a spoon.
Serve and store at room temperature for up to two days. Keep any remaining leftovers after that point in the refrigerator for an additional day or two.
If you’d like the cake to be nut-free, substitute the walnut or almond flour with ⅓ cup all-purpose flour.
To create your own walnut flour, toast ¾ cups walnut pieces then grind them in a food processor. Be sure to stop processing before it turns into nut butter.
You may try substituting the pineapple with 1 cup of mashed banana or 1 cup of plain yogurt.
For the frosting, do not scrape any of the milk solids that may have stuck to the bottom. Some of the loose dark brown bits should make it into the bowl - these toasty bits have tons of flavor! If you suspect the milk solids burned while cooking, then use a fine-mesh sieve to strain out the brown butter.