Taste Canada: Maple Carrot Cake from Canada's Favourite Recipes

Excerpted from Canada's Favourite Recipes (Whitecap Books) by Elizabeth Baird and Rose Murray Photos by Tracey Kusiewicz.

Maple Carrot Cake with Maple-Butter Icing
Makes 16 servings

Maple-Carrot-Cake-300.jpgMonda Rosenberg, food consultant, cookbook author and former food editor of Chatelaine and the Toronto Star: My first encounter with carrot cake was less than stellar. Growing up in small-town Brockville, Ontario, I was totally food obsessed (yes, even at that stage), so the excitement of an upcoming birthday party was inevitably focused on the cake. Would it be white or chocolate or, on very rare occasions, marble? Then came the wondering whether I would be lucky enough to get a shiny quarter in my wedge or just a dull penny.

I remember the thrill of getting an invitation to the new-girl-in-town's party. (She had just moved from the States.) But when the cake was brought out, my heart sank. It did not even have a chocolate icing, just some white filling between the layers. And the layers looked like Christmas cake. How weird at a kid's party in the spring.

Finally someone got up the nerve to ask what kind of cake it was. When I heard "carrot," I was sure I had not heard correctly. Who would put carrots in a cake? That is what you had with roast beef. I stared at my wedge for a long time. I knew I had to try it. If I didn't, my new friend would think I was ungrateful and my mother would be on the warpath. Surprise: it wasn't as bad as I had feared!

Oh, how times and tastes have changed. The natural moistness that carrots impart to this spiced cake have sent it soaring to the top of the Canadian--and my personal--hit parade list. Here's my current fave. It's a truly Canadian version, laced with maple syrup and encased in a decadent maple-butter cream.

1 cup (250 mL) butter, softened
1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla
2 1⁄2 cups (625 mL) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp (15 mL) baking powder
1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1⁄2 tsp (2 mL) cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp (2 mL) nutmeg
3⁄4 cup (175 mL) amber or dark maple syrup
1⁄2 cup (125 mL) milk
4 cups (1 L) grated carrots

1 1⁄2 cups (375 mL) butter, softened
3⁄4 cup (175 mL) amber or dark maple syrup
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
3 to 3 1⁄2 cups (750 to 825 mL) icing sugar

Grease two 9-inch (2 L) round cake pans; line the bottoms with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, using a mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Gradually beat in the sugar; beat on medium until fluffy, 3 minutes. On low speed, beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla. (The mixture may look curdled.)

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

On low speed, gradually add about a third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Beat just until combined; add the maple syrup. Beat in half of the remaining flour mixture, followed by the milk, then end with the flour mixture. Sprinkle the carrots over the batter and fold in with a spatula.

Divide the batter between the pans. Spread evenly to the sides of the pans. Tap the pans smartly on the counter 5 to 6 times to remove any air bubbles. Bake in the centre of a 350°f (180°c) oven until a tester inserted into the centre comes out clean, the centre of the cake springs back when lightly touched and the cake comes away from the sides of the pans, about 40 minutes.

Let cool in the pans on racks for 15 minutes; turn out onto racks to cool completely. (make-ahead: Wrap the layers and leave at room temperature overnight. Or double wrap and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw before icing.)

In a large bowl, using a mixer, beat the butter until creamy. On low speed, gradually beat in 1⁄4 cup (60 mL) of the maple syrup. Add the vanilla. Beating on low speed, add 1⁄2 cup (125 mL) of the icing sugar. Repeat, adding the maple syrup and icing sugar twice. Beat in enough of the remaining icing sugar, about 1⁄4 cup (60 mL) at a time, until the icing reaches spreading consistency. Stop and scrape down the beaters occasionally. If not firm enough to spread, refrigerate for a few minutes.

To assemble, with a long serrated knife, slice the layers in half horizontally. Place the top of one layer, dome-side down, on a flat cake plate. Tuck 4 strips of waxed paper, like a frame, under and around the cake to keep the plate clean.

Spread a generous 1⁄2 cup (125 mL) of the icing on the cut surface, leaving a narrow border of cake around the edge. Lay the bottom of the layer, cut-side down, on top. Ice in the same way, leaving a border. Add the bottom half of the second layer, cut-side down. Repeat spreading. Top with the final layer, cut-side down. Brush the side and top of the cake to remove any crumbs.

Smoothly spread a thin layer of icing over the side of the cake, then the top. Chill for 30 minutes to set this masking layer. Spread the remaining icing over the cake. Refrigerate several hours or overnight before serving. (make-ahead: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)