Rachel Allen’s take on the classic Carrot Cake hits many of the right notes in terms of taste and texture. The icing on top adds a bright spot of orangey-cream cheese flavor, but it’s even better served with a glass of Mexican Chocolate Cold Brew!
Perhaps it should be acknowledged as a universal fact that you cannot go wrong with a classic carrot cake. There are a lot of good carrot cake recipes out there. I have tried a handful of recipes already and most of them have been delicious, so I continue to try new recipes out without bias. Eventually I’ll figure out my favorite recipe, won’t I?
Finding “the best” of something is always such a task since it’s such a subjective thing, but whenever I come across something regarded as “the best” I can’t resist but challenge it. Well, ‘challenge’ is such a strong word. I suppose ‘test it out’ is more appropriate. That’s how my story with this Rachel Allen Carrot Cake began anyway. It was on a list of “Best Carrot Cake Recipes”. And since I do like Rachel Allen as a food personality as well, I saw no harm in trying her recipe out.
The power of the carrot cake is pretty amazing. Even people who hate vegetables cannot resist a bite. I’ve always marveled at how cakes like this, or the pumpkin cake, or the zucchini cake for that matter, manage to incorporate vegetables into a dessert so effortlessly. It made me wonder how the idea came around.
After a search on the web, there doesn’t appear to be a specific record as to the origin of carrot cakes, but it is widely believed to have evolved from the carrot pudding that was enjoyed during Medieval Britain. It was a time when sugar and other sweeteners were either scarce or too expensive, so some genius thought to use naturally sweet carrots as a substitute.
We’ll likely never know who invented the carrot cake, but one thing is for sure, it’s definitely made the world a better place. And whoever came up with the brilliant idea of pairing carrot cake with a cream cheese frosting also deserves some sort of medal. I think the carrot cake is among the top three things the cream cheese frosting was created for. They just fit in so well!
One of the things I love the most about this Rachel Allen recipe is actually the cream cheese frosting. The addition of orange in the frosting makes it taste so bright. It’s a taste that makes you smile. To me, the frosting makes up for the lack of pineapple in the carrot cake itself. It seems that the traditional British way of making carrot cake does not involve pineapple. I personally prefer carrot cakes with that sweet pineapple flavor, which is why I cannot help but place this Rachel Allen Carrot Cake behind my current favorite carrot cake recipe from Style Sweet CA.
But the fact remains that this is indeed a very good carrot cake. The cake itself has a lovely moist crumb. (By the way, I don’t understand why some people have an issue with this word. I think it’s a pretty good descriptor. I can’t really think of anything else to perfectly describe this moist cake. Moist. Moist. Moist.) The add-on’s provide varying textures to the cake, giving you crunchy from the nuts and chewy from the raisins. The frosting on top ties everything together with its creamy, luxurious mouthfeel.
And because I’m super extra, I prepped a special cold brew concoction to serve with this cake. I purposefully researched about something inspired by Mexican hot chocolate and found a recipe from Mokabees that have you adding cocoa powder, cinnamon, and chili powder into the coffee grounds before brewing. To be honest, I didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but in my head I kind of imagined the flavors and they made sense to me. I was just scared that the spices might be too much, but the only way to know for sure was to try it.
Amazingly enough, this Mexican Chocolate Cold Brew turned out really well! It’s a new favorite of mine because it kind of jolts you to life! The spices are bold, but not enough to overwhelm the senses. I might have added a touch too much chili powder because my coffee kicked me in throat at the end of each sip (lol), so I adjusted the quantity of chili in the recipe box below. Overall, I’d say the chocolate and cinnamon flavors are still more dominant, with the coffee taste lying underneath of course. The drink is lightly sweetened already so I don’t add sweeteners when I serve it— just ice, some water, and milk. I have more specific instructions below.
Carrot cakes are one of the easiest and most forgiving cakes you can possibly make. It’s the perfect cake for beginner bakers or very young bakers as the risk of making mistakes is very low. It’s an oil-based cake as well, so no creaming of butter and sugar needed. You just keep whisking and mixing until everything comes together. The only adjustment I made from the original was to cut down on the amount of sugar. Other than that, I kept true to Rachel Allen’s recipe.
The steps for this cake are very straightforward, you start with the eggs, oil, and the sugar, beating them together until very well blended and thick and caramel-like.
Once you’re sure the wet ingredients are very well combined, it’s time to add in the flour and leaveners. I like to use a spatula always for better control even thought there’s a smaller risk of over-mixing for carrot cakes. I generally stop mixing once all the dry ingredients have disappeared into the batter, but with this recipe, you’ll be fine with doing a few more strokes here and there.
The last thing you add are the carrots and the extra stuff. You can of course add some pineapple to this if you want. I used to hate adding raisins in my carrot cake, but I like them in there now. I also like pineapple in my carrot cake, but since Rachel’s more traditional British recipe does not call for it, I am just following her lead to see the difference.
Now you can bake this carrot cake in whatever pan you like: square, rectangle, round, or even using a loaf pan. Just take note that you’ll have to adjust the baking time depending on the structure of the pan. I used a square pan because it’s flatter, meaning the batter is thinner inside the pan and the baking time will be shorter, just around 45 to 55 minutes.
If you’re using a loaf pan, you will be pouring the batter into a pan that’s thinner but also significantly higher than a square pan. That means you’ll have to bake your carrot LOAF way longer so that the middle gets cooked through. Like with banana loaves, it’ll take an hour or so to bake the carrot loaf. It’s why I decided against using a loaf pan and opted for a squatter square pan instead.
Now, for the orange cream cheese icing. This icing is absolutely divine. I don’t know why I never thought to add orange zest to my cream cheese icing, but I’ll definitely be doing it now! Using an entire bar of cream cheese produces quite a lot of icing for a single layer cake, so it might be best to halve the icing recipe. (It’s definitely way too much for a loaf!) However, if you are a cream cheese icing fiend, feel free to use the entire bar. I totally understand. This kind of icing is also my fave!
What I love about this icing is that since we added a bit of butter in there too, it’s more stable without the need to add so much icing sugar to give it body. I managed to cut down on the sugar without sacrificing the texture of the icing.
I highly advise you not to scrimp on the orange zest. Zest the entire orange! Use a big orange so you get a lot of zest, because it brightens up this cream cheese icing so beautifully! You won’t regret the extra effort. I promise.
Plus, the specks of orange are super pretty when you spread them on top of the carrot cake like so. The icing matches the specks of carrots inside the cake. I love it!
Rachel Allen's Carrot Cake with Orange Cream-Cheese Icing
Makes one 9x5 loaf, or one 9x9 or 7x10 cake; Serves 8 to 10
For the carrot cake
- 2 eggs, at room temperature
- 140 mL between ½ to 2/3 cup vegetable oil
- 200 grams 1 cup light muscovado or light brown sugar*
- 180 grams 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- Pinch of salt
- 1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 300 grams about 2 medium shredded carrots
- 100 grams 2/3 cup raisins
- 75 grams about 2/3 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped (optional)
For the orange-cream cheese icing***
- 225 grams 1 bar cream cheese, softened at room temperature
- 50 grams 3½ Tablespoons salted or unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 180 grams about 1 cup confectioners' sugar, or more to taste**
- Zest of 1 orange****
Make the cake
- Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). For this recipe, you can use a 9x5-inch loaf pan, or a 9x9-inch square pan, or a 7x10-inch rectangular pan. Grease your pan of choice and line with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, and sugar until well blended and mixture becomes thick. Add in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix until well combined. Stir through the carrots, raisins, and nuts (if using). If the batter turns out quite liquid, it's okay.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 to 1.25 hours for the loaf pan, and 45 to 55 minutes for the square and rectangular pans, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. (Start checking at the 1 hour mark for the loaf, and at the 45 minute mark for the other pans.)
- Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Make sure the cake is completely cool before frosting.
Make the icing
- In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter until creamy and smooth. Add in the vanilla extract, confectioners' sugar, and orange zest; mix to combine. The icing should be a thick, spreadable consistency.
- Transfer the icing onto the cooled cake, then use a spatula to spread the icing evenly over the top. Serve as is, or sprinkle with more chopped nuts and whatever decor you please.
**The original recipe uses up to 275 grams of confectioners' sugar but I thought it would be a tad too sweet for my taste. You can start with 180 grams and build up from there depending on your preference for the sweetness of the icing.
***Feel free to halve the amount of icing if you prefer a thinner layer on top of your cake.
****You can substitute the zest for 1/2 teaspoon orange extract, but only if you really have no choice. I highly recommend using actual zest for best flavor and fragrance. Adapted from <i>Bake</i> by Rachel Allen via Eat Little Bird blog
It’s actually much easier to make this using a normal vessel. Just dump all the ingredients in, add water, then mix. Leave it in the fridge overnight, at least, then give it a mix before straining out the grounds. Using the Hario, I had to wait for the water to drip before adding in the next portion!
I will admit I love this thing for how convenient it is to clean up afterwards. I don’t need to get another vessel to drain the cold brew concentrate into because there a basket in there already. You do have to be conscious about the ratios you use though. You should use enough water to submerge that basket where the beans are at least partially or halfway, otherwise what would be the point of the brew lol. I often do 1-1/4 cups of ground beans and 5 cups of water, and it’ll be filled all the way to the top. In this case, I only did 1 cup grounds and 4 cups water.
Whatever vessel you end up using, make sure to allow the beans and the spices to steep for at least 12 hours. I like 24 to make sure all that cinnamon and cocoa really get into the brew. When I took this out of the fridge, it smelled really warm and spiced and spicy. The cocoa does tend to separate, but it’s easy to get them infused back together with a little mixing.
Remember that the brew at this form is your Mexican Chocolate Cold Brew Concentrate, which means it will be very strong if you drink it straight. The cocoa makes the mixture a little thicker than your usual plain concentrate as well so you might want to play around with your milk or water ratios. You can serve 1 part concentrate with 1 part milk, but if you don’t like it too strong, you can make it 2 parts cold brew concentrate with 1 part milk and 1 part water to thin it out a bit.
I am personally happy with getting my water component from my ice, so I usually only add milk to my cold brew concentrate, but you can adjust this to your liking. I don’t like my coffee drinks thin. This drink is already lightly sweetened as well, but you can add more sweetener as you prefer. It’s an interesting cold brew concoction for sure and adds a bit more spice to the carrot cake. I hope you enjoy this combination as much as I did!
Mexican Chocolate Cold Brew Coffee
- 4 cups 960 mL water
- 1 cup approximately 85 grams coarsely ground coffee
- 2 tablespoons 15 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons 25 grams sugar, diluted in 1 Tablespoon hot water (or use 1 to 2 Tablespoons honey)
- 1 teaspoon 2.64 grams cinnamon
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon chili powder, according to taste*
- Sweetener, as needed
- Place coffee grounds inside a large jar or pitcher, then pour in the water. Stir to combine, then add in the rest of the ingredients. Stir to combine then loosely cover so gases can be released as the coffee brews. You can leave it to brew at cool room temperature or in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
- Once the brewing time is up, filter the grounds and pour the coffee into a clean container, or a pitcher with a lid. Store the cold brew concentrate in the fridge if not yet using. (If brewed at room temperature, it's best to chill the concentrate in the fridge for 2 hours before serving.)
- To serve, fill a serving glass with ice. Start with a 2:1:1 coffee-water-milk ratio. For example, pour in ½ cup of the coffee concentrate, followed by ¼ cup water, and ¼ cup milk. (You can also just use milk instead of water.) Stir well and taste. Add more coffee concentrate if you would like it stronger. (I like my coffee strong so I always end up adding more coffee to mine.) You can also adjust the sweetener.
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