There's something really cool about getting your own, small, personalized cake. I'm not talking about cupcakes, although those are fine too. But your own small cake, on a dessert plate, maybe with a nice dollop of whipped cream or some glaze dribbling down the sides looking so prettily imperfect.
What a fun way to elevate the homely but honest carrot cake - one of my favorite cakes! - by turning it into a personal dessert. It's easily achieved with oversized muffin tins. Add an unexpected candied carrot curl (surprisingly tasty!) and candied pecan for that extra touch, and drizzle with thick, cinnamony and citrusy mascarpone frosting. The cake, icing, and even the candying are surprisingly easy, and can be done while the cake is baking or cooling. Your guests (or maybe just you!) will delight at having their own adorable little cake, and you'll have a showstopper you can be proud to serve for dessert!
Carrot Cake with Citrus Cream
For the cake:
3 cups fresh grated carrots (4 large or 6 medium)
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups canola oil
3/4 cup toasted chopped pecans
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and grease large, 1-cup muffin tins. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt together into a large bowl. I hate traditional sifters and just use a large-ish, fine-mesh strainer - much easier and faster.
With a whisk, beat your eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla together in a separate large bowl.
Stir the carrots into the egg mixture, then with a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture until almost combined. Stir in the nuts.
Pour into large muffin tins about halfway full - you don't want them too full, or they will puff over the top, and you want a nice, flat bottom. Bake for about 20-25 minutes for large cakes, until medium brown and done all the way through. The recipe makes extra batter: I just made 8 additional small cupcakes and baked them for 12 minutes. If you have another large muffin tin (I didn't) you could probably make about 4-5 more cakes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool down all the way, at least 1 hour.
Now, while those are baking, let's make our candied topping and creamy, poured frosting.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Handul of pecan halves
For the icing:
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream, plus more for thinning
1 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 TB orange juice
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 TB confectioner's sugar (or to taste)
For the candied curls, use a vegetable peeler and create small carrot peels - maybe 1/16" thin and a few inches long. In a small saucepan, mix the sugar and water and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Add in your carrot peels and simmer until they darken and become translucent, about 15 minutes. Remove and place on parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet. When cool enough to handle, but still warm and pliable, make little decorative shapes and curls, and set them aside. They should harden up a little; if not, place them in a low oven (about 200 degrees) and let them dry out for 15 minutes or so (a countertop toaster oven is great for this). If they stick to the paper, put them in the freezer for a few minutes and they'll pop right off. Use the rest of the sugar mixture in the bottom of the pan and cover your pecan halves with the caramel (use parchment or silicone like you did with the carrot curls).
To make the icing: Simply whip all ingredients together until thick and combined. Adjust lemon juice and sugar as you like. Now, thin back out with heavy cream a TB at a time until you achieve a thick, but pourable consistency. Pour over your cooled little cakes (I invert the cakes and pour over the bottoms), garnish with the candied carrot and a candied pecan.