Carrot cake everyone wants

Carrot cakeThis is just one of the recipes that appears in the bestselling book, ‘Moon Over Martinborough,’ from Random House New Zealand.

“Why won’t you share it?” I asked CJ. We were standing in the kitchen, looking at a carrot cake recipe written on the back of a long, white envelope.

“Because it’s too special,” he answered.

“But all the neighbors are asking for it.”

“Too bad,” CJ said. “If we share this recipe then everyone will make it, and it won’t be special anymore. Besides, it’s the only cake we know how to make! And we can’t serve store bought ever again. The locals will shoot us.”

It was true. The first time we’d invited our local friend Anna over for morning tea, she actually reprimanded us for not baking. “We don’t serve store bought out here in the country,” she said. It took us a moment before we realized she wasn’t joking.

The recipe on the back of the long, white envelope CJ and I were looking at wasn’t just any carrot cake recipe.

It was an unbelievably rich, two-layer carrot cake – moist to the point of impossibility, graced with just the right touch of cinnamon, and covered in snowdrifts of heavenly cream cheese frosting.

Like all good recipes, it has a story.

Eggs for carrot cakeChicago days

Years ago, when CJ and I were in our 20s and first dating in Chicago, CJ’s friend Dave made this amazing carrot cake all the time. It was Dave’s mother’s recipe back in Iowa.

Every time CJ’s circle of friends gathered together – at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and summer dinners – Dave brought his carrot cake. Years later, when CJ and I moved to Japan, CJ asked Dave for the recipe. With out hesitation Dave wrote it down, from memory, on the back of a nearby envelope.

Not long after that, Dave suddenly died of a heart attack. He was only 50 years old.

Global nomads

CJ and I wandered the globe together for years – from Yamagata to Tokyo to Wellington. Our worldly goods were scattered to the wind, and Dave’s carrot cake recipe became lost in the sands of time. It was gone.

Grated carrots for carrot cakeThen, after we moved out to Martinborough and learned that our neighbors here view store-bought baked goods with a level of disdain normally reserved for large toxic waste dumps, I asked my mom to send me an old, barely-used cookbook that I’d stashed away in her Michigan basement.

When the cookbook arrived, out fell that long, white envelope.

“Dave’s carrot cake recipe!” I yelled out to CJ.

It was like something out of a time machine. CJ almost started crying – half out of love for Dave, and half, I’m sure, out of eagerness to sink this teeth into that cake again.

“We’re saved!” he said. “It’s so easy to make, even we can do it!”

The baking begins

Since I have celiac disease and have to stick to a gluten free diet, I experimented with converting the recipe. To my delight, I discovered that the carrots keep the cake so moist that this cake is just as amazing even when gluten free.

I immediately started baking a gluten free version of Dave’s carrot cake like there was no tomorrow. For morning teas, for dinners, for barbeques. Everyone absolutely loved it.

Carrot cake batterBut then things got out of hand.

The more people who tasted it, the more people there were who desperately, even urgently, wanted the recipe. When I said no, people insisted. It was exhausting. They hounded me. They tugged at my sleeves like addicts begging for crack.

“Pleease,” they said. “Pleease give us the recipe.”

I tried reasoning with CJ. “Come on,” I said. “Just let me share it with people. Dave would have shared it. After all, he shared it with you.”

“Nope,” CJ said. “Not sharing.”

It was around then that our neighbors started ganging up on me.

Recipe warfare

When our neighbor Kiwi Bronwyn inevitably asked for the carrot cake recipe, she was a bit surprised when I explained that I couldn’t give it to her. But she let it go.

Shortly after that, however, I asked our neighbor across the road, Aussie Bronwyn, for one of her recipes.

“I’m sorry,” Aussie Bronwyn said with a wry smile. “I understand you won’t give Kiwi Bronwyn your carrot cake recipe. When you give her that recipe, I’ll give you mine.”

I couldn’t believe it. I’d been blacklisted. “That’s not fair!” I whined. “It’s CJ’s fault! Punish him!”

Aussie Bronwyn was unmoved.

The third Bronwyn

A few weeks later, our friend Anna invited us over for dinner. I said we’d bring carrot cake for dessert. “Okay,” she said. “As long as it’s not store bought.”

Carrot cake poured and ready to bakeThe night of the dinner everyone at Anna’s raved about the cake.

“You’ve come a long way, boys,” Anna said.

Then, the next day I received a surprise email. It was from a friend of Anna’s, another woman named Bronwyn. This Bronwyn is a musician.

It turns out that Musician Bronwyn had stopped by Anna’s for morning tea, and Anna had served some of the leftover carrot cake that CJ and I had left behind. You guessed it – Musician Bronwyn wanted the recipe.

The next time I saw Anna, she told me how upset Musician Bronwyn had been when I emailed back explaining that I couldn’t share the recipe.

“This has got to stop.” I told CJ. “It’s completely out of control. I’m being bullied by a band of belligerent Bronwyns!”

Still, CJ refused to share the recipe.

Then, at long last, something pushed him over the edge.

A real chef

For a bit of cultural education, CJ and I went to Hamilton to see the national agricultural show, Fieldays. While there we went to see New Zealand chef and TV presenter, Al Brown, do a cooking demonstration.

Up on stage, Al started talking about giving away recipes.

“I don’t understand why people are so miserly when it comes to recipes. Why don’t people give them away? Recipes are like love letters from people you care about. They were meant to be shared.”

Carrot cakeI nudged CJ in the side so hard that he nearly fell off his chair.

When Al’s cooking demonstration was over, CJ said, “Okay, okay. Share the damn recipe. I give in.”

Finally.

So now I’m sharing Dave’s carrot cake recipe not only with the neighbors, but with the entire world.

And it’s not a moment too soon. Any longer and I’m afraid CJ and I would have ended up with an angry mob of carrot cake loving locals at our door, yelling and brandishing pitchforks.

How about you? Do you have any recipe you refuse to share?

Dave’s carrot cake

Cake

2 cups flour (For gluten free, replace flour with gluten free baking mix. I use Bakels.)
2 cups sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 & 1/2 cups cooking oil (I use canola.)
4 eggs
3 cups carrots, finely grated
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Sift dry ingredients together. Add oil, stirring constantly.
Add remaining ingredients and mix.
Place in two round springform pans. Bake at 350 °F / 175 °C for 45 minutes.

Frosting

1 package cream cheese (8 oz / 250 g)
1/2 cup butter
2 tsp vanilla
1 pound of icing sugar! (16 0z = 453 g)

Blend.

__________

Check out the bestselling book from Random House New Zealand for more great recipes and stories about life on the olive farm: ‘Moon over Martinborough: How an American city boy became a Kiwi farmer’ .

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69 thoughts on “Carrot cake everyone wants

  1. RevAllyson

    This sounds so scrumptious! One of our former roomies had a gluten sensitivity so I learned to cook with less processed flours, like spelt, and that did the trick. I have found a true joy in cooking with spelt, and baking and everything else. Not all gluten issue people can have it, though.

    As for recipes I won’t share, I don’t have any. I will share just about any recipe. For me, sharing one of my precious recipes is like sharing a hug from my grandmother. :)

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Alas, spelt does have less gluten than wheat but it still has some. So you’re right it’s no good for hard core celiac types like myself.

      Glad to hear you’re Pro Share when it comes to recipes!

  2. wanderingseniors

    I’ll be trying this one! My grandmother gave me a pie recipe after many years of begging, but admonished me to never, ever give it to anyone else. She had gotten it from a lady at church and had promised her she’d never share it since it was an old family recipe. I made it for special dinners and was always asked for the recipe, but I never gave it out. About 15 years after my grandmother died, and after many more requests, I decided to share the recipe. I fully expected something horrible to happen for having done so, but (of course) nothing did. Since then, I’ve shared it with anyone who asks (all my recipes are freely given upon request) and it’s very satisfying to make someone happy simply by giving them the recipe. There’s a twist to the recipe saga: About 5 years ago I was looking through some old magazines and in one of the ads was a photo of my grandmother’s pie! Turns out the recipe was developed by a company (I think it was Jello) to get people to buy their product (pudding)! Old family recipe indeed… haha

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Love the pie recipe story! Thank goodness for Jello. Where would all those ‘old family recipes’ be without it?

      1. wanderingseniors

        Happy to oblige. Here you go:

        Yummy Yummy Pie

        Ingredients:

        Crust
        1 cup flour
        1 cup pecans, chopped
        1 stick butter, softened

        1st layer
        1 (8-oz) pkg. cream cheese, softened
        1 cup powdered sugar
        1 cup Cool Whip

        2nd layer
        1 small package Jello instant vanilla pudding
        1 small package Jello instant chocolate pudding
        2 cups milk

        Directions:
        Preheat oven to 350. Mix crust ingredients, spread on bottom of an 8×12 baking dish. Bake for 25 minutes. Cool thoroughly. Mix the ingredients for the 1st layer, and spoon on top of crust. Mix the ingredients for the 2nd layer, and spoon on top of 1st layer. Top with Cool Whip. Refrigerate until served.

        Enjoy!

  3. AareneX

    The mom of a former boyfriend used to make these AMAZING oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies. When we broke up, I mourned the cookies as much as the guy.

    That was in high school.

    Now we are all grownups, survivors of the same small town, and the former boyfriend AND his wife AND his mom are all facebook friends…so one day, when I had a craving for the best oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in the world, Ron’s wife sent me the recipe (from memory). It really is the best. I share it here (and would love for a gluten-free person to adjust it and tell me how!)

    3/4 cup white sugar
    3/4 cup brown sugar
    1 cup butter (NOT margarine)
    2 eggs
    1 tsp salt
    1 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp vanilla
    1.5 cups flour
    2 cups oatmeal (whole rolled oats, not instant)
    1 cup chocolate chips

    combine butter and sugars, beat until fluffy. add eggs, salt, baking soda and vanilla and beat a bit more. Stir in flour. Stir in oatmeal and chocolate chips. Measure out by spoonfuls onto cookie sheet; bake for about 12 minutes at 350 degrees. Share with friends.

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Your story makes me thing these cookies must be GOOD for you to still crave them after so many years. Unfortunately for me oats are in the ‘no good for celiacs’ category too, as they get contaminated with gluten in processing. (They’re often processed on the same machines as wheat.) But CJ LOVES oatmeal cookies so I may have to try the recipe out for him…

      1. Kate

        Try using LSA instead of oats, really lovely texture and flavour. I make a great ginger slice for my celiac daughter with LSA instead of oats and it’s better than the original. Am happy to share if anyone wants the recipe!!

  4. elizabethm

    Sounds truly wonderful! I shall have a go this week and so delighted to find it is gluten free. we have some guests in the holiday cottage and the wife is a coeliac. I am always baking but was embarrassed to find that I was a bit stumped! you have saved me.

  5. Gecko

    I’m not a fan of carrot cake at all, but a banana cake is a whole different story!
    I must say I’m feeling a tad sorry for CJ at having to share the recipe …… I have never forgotten him not being able to paint the roof beams white……… haha :)

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Oh no! Don’t bring that up! He’s still trying to push the white ceiling thing!

      Let’s just remember that Poor CJ got his way on two very significant things:
      1) getting a pet pig
      2) planting lots of agapanthus weeds!

      But guess what – it turns out his pet pig, Old Lady Lucy, is an agapanthus eating pig! Maybe she’s not so bad after all…

  6. Marion

    Jared, I can’t believe you’ve taken no notice of my excellent ‘sugar is poison’ lecture…and although my husband assures me home baking is OK, I’m not sure 1lb icing sugar falls under that category! No wonder people are craving more and more of it, it is closer to crack cocaine than they think.
    On the plus side, at least the carrots still have their fibre attached, and friends tell me this constitutes at least one portion of fruit and veg.
    Here is the link to the sugar video again in case anyone else wants to watch it, (I recommend moderation – rare home baking and gourmet chocolates of course).

    http://www.uctv.tv/search-details.aspx?showID=16717

    We’ll have to have sugar-free carrot cake bake-off next time we see you.

  7. Kathy Reller

    Hi Jared,

    I love the unwritten rule about “no store-bought” that the Kiwis have!! We need that here. I’m a total “baked goods snob.” I have no shame in saying that.

    I sent your recipe to a lady who bakes for all my events. I don’t bake, but I do make jewelry and we do trade. Needless to say, we have a lovely relationship!

    I can’t wait to try it.

    Much love and hello to CJ,
    Kathy

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Hi Kathy! It’s our country neighbors who are down on store bought. There are plenty of manufactured baked goods on the store shelves though – so someone’s buying them. I think jewelry for cake is an excellent deal! Hope you get to taste the Carrot Cake Everyone Wants.

  8. Domestic Executive

    Oh heck, I can feel a Carrot Cake war coming on. I already have my perfect Carrot cake and have experimented with others. None fit the mark quite the same but I’m keen to try this one now! Will tell you how it goes! BTW – fabulous full moon this week, hope it’s been over Martinborough!!

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Oh, I had a Carrot Cake War with our friend Leelee and we decided in the end that the two recipes were so different that each one received a ‘best in class’ award. Let me know how ours goes. Maybe you can post your recipe on your blog and we’ll both judge? :-)

  9. Sir Ronald Bradnam

    “I don’t understand why people are so miserly when it comes to recipes. Why don’t people give them away? Recipes are like love letters from people you care about. They were meant to be shared.”

    Tell that to cononel sanders I think he would disagree.

  10. Joseph

    We lived in a section of Florida where the store bought was so bad that we had no choice but to bake. The difference was that the neighbors couldn’t tell the difference!

  11. Karren Haller

    Thank you for visiting my blog today I appreciate it.
    Just stopping by to check out the carrot cake recipe, my very favorite next to oatmeal cake. Only problem is if I make it, I want to eat it, in the middle of the night. And I will try your recipe thank you for sharing.

  12. Miriam Meister

    Jared: You are a legend. That cake has always made my heart sing. Thanks for sharing! I’m sure that your generosity will be repaid in spades at some stage.

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      That heart singing feeling? It’s just the sugar coursing through your veins. :-) Hope you enjoy the recipe.

  13. Avalon

    My heart gave out at the 1lb of icing sugar :) I wonder if it would work with ground almonds instead of flour or GF bake mix (I cant use either). Hubby loves carrot cake, so I may try it out for him and see if it works.

    I share loads of recipes – but then I have never had one that had such meaning attacked to it. Ive got a good GF chocolate cake recipe if you want it :)

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      What is there about ‘good GF chocolate cake recipe’ that I could possibly NOT want?! Yes please! I’m at mail[at]moonovermartinborough.com

      Sorry to hear you can’t have GF bake mix OR wheat flour. Do you know Nigella Lawson’s amazing almond-based chocolate orange cake? You boil a whole orange for two hours, which is strangely fun. I’ve got the recipe if you want it.

  14. Jan

    Can’t wait to make the carrot cake. I will be making it vegan by replacing the egss and cream cheese. Can’t wait for Sunday when I will have time to bake.

  15. Cyndee

    Compliments on having such a nice blog. I’ll come back to it again! MY carrot cake recipe, which everyone who tries it asks for, is almost EXACTLY the same, except that it also has a half a cup of well-drained crushed pineapple. I have since “doctored” the recipe by adding some nutmeg, mace, allspice and ginger. Last year, I even added some powdered cardom. Nothing can hurt this recipe! :) I live in Germany now, where THEIR carrot cakes are very dry, and need lots of whipped cream or ice cream (or coffee) to get them down. Different strokes….. Best wishes, Cyndee

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Funny the recipes are almost the same. You can’t mess with perfection. I LOVE cardamom and I’ll definitely have to try that…

  16. Steve

    Tried the recipe. It works like a dream! A word for the weak at heart/health conscious…..We made a single layer cake so there was enough frosting for TWO carrot cakes (with a really thick layer of frosting) only on the top. So we had to make ANOTHER carrot cake to use up the frosting :-)

  17. Diane

    While visiting from the states, I’m submitting my request for this tasty cake with lots of frosting! Pleeeese.

  18. Rere

    Loved the story, had me in fits of laughter and also how people think that I protect my recipes (when in reality because I don’t measure much, I honestly couldn’t sit down and write them out).

    Can’t wait to try this recipe and agree with Cyndee about the pineapple in carrot cake.

  19. Sarah

    So happy CJ finally saw the light!

    I have never baked carrot cake, but eaten plenty and adore it.

    I feel like baking as soon as the sun rises! Thank you Dave, CJ and Al Brown!

    P.S. I always share my recipes – but then I don’t have anything quite so special with such a story to share!

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Great! It’ll be the first Czech version! Let me know how it comes out…

  20. hinakura

    After many dinners, discussions and a little bit of begging (we locals don’t beg!!)the recipe was finally shared. Delicious cake, might even invite you both over for dinner to sample your own recipe! Kiwi Bronwyn.

  21. Diane

    Thank you! We came, we saw, we conquered…the carrot cake. Oh my goodness! It was soooo delicious. How did it go so fast? Was someone sneaking little slivers when you weren’t looking? :] …guilty

  22. fiona

    Love the sound of your cake- stupid question but do you mean granulated sugar or caster?

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      For the 2 cups sugar in the cake, I use granulated sugar. Enjoy!

  23. Paola Brett

    I empathise with CJ, that if a recipe is shared it isn’t so special anymore, but then love what Al Brown said about sharing recipes..! I made the Domestic Executive’s Ginger Crunch for colleagues in CHC and a number asked for the recipe and I couldn’t say no and it was lovely to share it. This one is noted, always wanted to try Carrot Cake. And as for “no bought cakes” I do love Nigella’s recipes for quick, easy and delightful treats to keep you in favour with the neighbours! :-)

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Yes I love Nigella’s choco-orange-almond cake, which is not only delicious, but luckily gluten free too!

  24. Ruby

    I’m in two minds about the recipe sharing thing – and I think in this case, it should have been kept a secret only to be revealed the first edition of Moon over Martinborough’s cookbook.
    A friend of mine in Otaki does the best carrot cake ever – I don’t particularly care for carrot cake, but I would happily grate my buttocks off with an industrial cheese grater for a piece of his carrot cake. He won’t share the recipe either and I think that is the most marvellous thing about it – it makes it very, very special.

  25. thegintree

    Hi there . I have just happened on the blog world and your delightful blog. To share recipes is to share life. For me there is no such thing as a secret recipe – food is for sharing. Maybe the real ‘secret’ ingredient is the love with which it is made and shared. I definitely want to make this delicious carrot cake. It will have to wait till my waistline shrinks first! I have no resistance to delicious baking and my family sadly don’t share my taste for it and so guess where it goes ( and it’s neither the freezer, the neighbours nor the dustbin!).
    PS I love Moore – Wilsons and the wonderful Wairarapa xxxx

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Don’t wait to bake! Bake it and share it with the neighbors! :-)

  26. Edwina Revell

    Looks like an awesome recipe…just wondering what size tins you used. Have to make a carrot cake for a big birthday this weekend….need to work out if I will need 1 or 2….
    BTW…..love sharing recipes….

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      I use two 9 inch round tins and stack them into a double layer cake. It’s a hefty, filling cake. You can also pour the entire thing into one big rectangular pan and make a single layer cake that’s better for finger eating. Enjoy!

  27. Gail Smith

    I was searching for a recipe for carrot cake when I came across your blog – I have just subscribed and am loving what I’ve read up to now :) We moved from the UK to New Zealand last year and are slowly settling in – I’m looking forward to getting a chance to catch up on your venture!

    Can’t wait to try this! Can I use wholemeal flour? What about the sugar – is it brown or white sugar? What size rectangular pan shall I use? Also, (last one, honestly!) would icing sugar and a little orange juice/lemon juice frosting on the top work? (the cream cheese frosting may be a little too much for me!).

    Lotsa love x

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Hi Gail – Welcome to NZ! To answer your questions…

      Flour: I haven’t tried using wholemeal flour but I guess if you did you’d need more baking soda and powder to make it rise, as wholemeal flour is so heavy.

      Sugar: The sugar I use is white sugar, but I’ve heard from some people on twitter that they’ve used brown in this recipe.

      Pans: I use two 8-inch round springform pans and stack the cakes.

      Frosting: Honestly, anything but cream cheese frosting on a carrot cake is absolute sacrilege! I shudder at the very thought. But if you’re feeling especially sacrilegious then I suppose you could give another frosting a go… But it ain’t carrot cake! :-)

      Good luck baking!

  28. Eda

    I just discovered your blog, which is awesome by the way, and wanted to share. A friend gave me a carrot cake recipe very similar to yours, but it did call for brown sugar and included a cup of raisins (yellow are better than brown) and a cup of crushed pineapple. Heavenly indeed. And I agree about the cream cheese frosting. Using anything else would be like stirring your coffee with a pitchfork. I look forward to reading more about your adventures.

    I’m also expat American, long-term Tokyo resident. Given your history, there might be something of interest to you in my blog.

    All the best.

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Welcome Eda! I’ve never once tried this recipe with brown sugar, as I think it would somehow be sacrilege to vary one bit from a dear old friend’s special recipe. I just can’t do it!

      1. Eda

        Totally understandable, but I do highly recommend the pineapple. It will take you to levels of moistness that have been heretofore unimaginable.

  29. Sandra

    WOW! Just visited and read your wonderful blog and I must say everyone is truly amazing. Love your stories. I have a baking business (on the side, apart from the job I’ve been laid off from for the last 7 months, now ) here in the USA and I have been looking for a great Carrot Cake recipe. Well, I think I’ve found it. Can’t wait to try it. Really, really enjoyed your blog and stories. BTW, I have a dear friend who makes the best homemade wheat rolls. . . .tender, light and just mmm mmm good. She gave it to me but swore me to secrecy. I haven’t given it away but i do make them during the holidays. The jury’s out for me on whether to share or not to share a recipe. I guess it just depends. For me, I do have a fantastic gourmet cake that I created for my “bakery”. Haven’t given it away yet. Maybe in time. Didn’t mean to be so long-winded, but had to add my “two-cents” worth. Can’t wait for your book to come out. Sounds like a very interesting read! Happy Baking!

    P.S. I think I’ll try making a mascarpone cheese icing for the carrot cake! (Yeah, I know you won’t use anything but Cream Cheese, but I’ll take my chances. . . lol)

  30. inukshuk

    Wow, that’s a terrific story ! I will definitely be trying this recipe – haven’t tried carrot cake before.

    Actually, generally I’m a newbie in the baking department, so let me ask this : is there a reason you’re using cooking oil and not melted butter ? I’ve always used butter in the (few) recipes I’ve tried !

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      It’s already a very rich cake, and all that butter might tip it over the edge. :-)

      Melted butter doesn’t behave the same as oil in a batter. Also, because oil is liquid at room temperature and butter isn’t, I think it might change the consistency of the cake.

      But it’s a very good recipe for beginners because it’s so darn easy. Good luck!

      BTW I found a bunch of of ‘Melted Butter Cake’ recipes over here: http://www.yummly.com/recipes/melted-butter-cake

      1. inukshuk

        Okay, I guess I’ll stick to the “best recipe ever” – why bother changing anything, right ?
        Thanks for the link as well, plenty of decadent mouth-watering ideas there, too ! :)

  31. Nudchi

    It was my first carrot cake using your amazing recipe. It’s the best carrot cake I’ve ever had. Even my hubby went crazy about the cake. Thank you so much for sharing! You’re awesome :)

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