Adapted from Ina Garten’s classic carrot cake, my version gets a quick upgrade with leftover sourdough discard and fragrant chai spice. I grate the carrots in advance, skip the walnuts and raisins, and bake the cake one day before serving (you can too!).
There’s nothing worse than following a recipe, trusting it blindly, only to watch it fail miserably when you take your first bite. Been there? Me too. Like most normal people, you just don’t have the time to test out several recipes before serving your guests. So, what does one do?
Ina Garten needs no introduction. Her recipes are meticulously tested and practically fool proof! Not to mention, her down-to-earth charm can sell you on just about anything (just watch a few episodes of Barefoot Contessa and see for yourself). I knew, without a doubt, her classic carrot cake recipe would be the perfect starting point for my sourdough version and an excellent addition to my collection of sourdough discard recipes.
How to Make Carrot Cake: A Few Basic Tips
This carrot cake recipe is pretty straight forward: combine the wet and dry ingredients, grate some carrots, mix everything together, and bake.
On the flip side, it’s messy. All carrot cakes are messy. You’ll never have enough counter space, grating carrots by hand is a royal pain, and all those pesky bowls and egg shells pile up faster than junk mail.
Here’s how to fix it-
TIP #1: Use a stand mixer. This isn’t rocket science obviously (and yes, you can still do it by hand). But when given the choice, an electric mixer is preferred to beat air into the eggs and sugar. Plus, the mixer does the rest of the work which leaves you free and clear to do other things, like check your phone.
TIP #2: Grate the carrots ahead of time. Per Ina’s recipe, shredded food processor carrots won’t work (if they’re too wet, the cake might fall). And those store-bought julienned ones that come in a bag? Won’t work either. Here’s my solution: grate your carrots ahead of time with a box grater and you’ll stress less on baking day.
TIP #3: Use a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Everyone has a rectangular baking pan at home. And the best part? It’s easy to transport wherever you go.
what makes this carrot cake special?
Look, Ina’s carrot cake on it’s own is absolutely fabulous. However, I couldn’t help but add a few of my favorite twists to her original recipe!
Made With Sourdough
Using leftover sourdough starter is perfect for carrot cake (this is the stuff you remove and discard before feeding your starter).
Flavor-wise, there’s so much going on in carrot cake it’s hard to tell that it’s made with sourdough in the first place. It’s not tangy at all.
So why even bother?
It’s a practical way to use up something you’d otherwise throw away, and it adds a wonderful, bouncy texture to the cake.
PS: If you don’t have a sourdough starter, you can make your own here.
Flavored with Chai Spice
Most carrot cakes are made with ground cinnamon only. To me, it’s not enough.
If you want to create the sourdough carrot cake of your dreams, try using chai spice instead.
Chai spice is a combination of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, allspice and sometimes, black pepper. It’s fantastic. And it makes this cake taste like its from a fancy bakery (I think it’s the allspice?). The chai spice also gives it that dark, rich, gingerbread color.
Now, I realize most people don’t have chai spice in the house. I use Spice Tree Organics, a local NY company, which you can order from online. Or, you might get lucky and find some in the store. Pumpkin spice would be another suitable substitution.
Ditch the add-ins (if you don’t like them)
Does the mere mention of raisins, walnuts, coconut flakes, and pineapple stress you out?
Personally, my kids hate raisins and walnuts, and canned or fresh pineapple is something I rarely have. Ditto with the coconut flakes.
I ditch the traditional add-ins so my kids don’t freak out and it tastes perfectly fine. What you do here is up to you and it will be delicious either way.
SO… CAN THIS Sourdough CARROT CAKE be Made in Advance?
Sure! And if you want my opinion, carrot cake tastes even better the next day.
Bake the cake and leave it unfrosted, covered at room temperature for one day.
See my sample schedule below to make carrot cake for Easter Sunday.
Friday Night: Wash, peel, and grate carrots after you get home from work (assuming you don’t have a wild party to go to). Cover and chill. Dig out your 9x 13 pan and line with parchment paper. Feed your sourdough starter. Go to bed. Or, stay up like me if you have a 7-month old that parties ALL NIGHT.
Saturday Morning: Bake the cake. Cool, cover, and leave out at room temperature. In the evening, remove the mascarpone and cream cheese to soften overnight. This is for the frosting. If you’re experiencing super hot weather, please do not do this. Just gently microwave it the next day (I don’t have a microwave).
Sunday Morning: Make the frosting. Ice cake. Decorate. Pat self on back.
I could go on and on about this cake!
Most notably, the texture is absolutely spot on. It’s unapologetically dense and not at all light and cake-y, like something out of a box.
Plus, it’s got the perfect amount of grated carrots, the chai spice takes it to the next level, and the creamy, dreamy mascarpone frosting is so good you’ll never buy that stuff in a can again.
Just lick the spoon and you’ll see.Print
2 cups (400 g) sugar
1 1/3 cups (320 ml) olive oil
3 extra-large eggs (70 g each), at room temperature
1/2 cup (120 g) leftover sourdough starter (see note)
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
2 cups (240 g) all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
2 tsp chai spice
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
3 cups (300 g) grated carrots, about 3 large ones
1 level tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2– 1 cup (75 g– 150 g) raisins (optional)
1/2– 1 cup (60 g -120 g) chopped walnuts (optional)
For the Frosting
8 oz (226 g) mascarpone cheese, softened
8 oz (226 g) cream cheese, softened
2 cups (250 g) powdered sugar, sifted
fat pinch of fine sea salt
For the Toppings
Pastel chocolate eggs (optional)
For the Cake
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (a hand held mixer works too), combine the sugar, oil, eggs, sourdough starter, and vanilla. Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes until light yellow and slightly thickened. This will give the cake a little lift.
In a separate bowl, sift together the 2 cups of flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture; mix on low speed.
Wash, peel, and grate the carrots with a box grater (this can be done 1 day in advance, covered and chilled until ready to use). Combine the carrots with 1 tablespoon of flour; mix well. This will prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the cake. Add the carrots to the batter and fold in with a rubber spatula. Pour into the prepared baking pan,
Bake the cake on the center rack for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted.
Cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a wire rack and cool completely before frosting and decorating with the pastel chocolate eggs.
For the Frosting
In a stand mixer, add the softened mascarpone and cream cheese. Sifted the powdered sugar directly over the bowl. Add the salt. Mix on medium-low speed until wonderfully light and creamy. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
For best results, use a 100% hydration starter, fed with equal parts flour and water by weight. Its batter-like texture is the perfect match for this carrot cake. If you’re using a thicker, low hydration starter the texture of the cake will be too dry.
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