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The Carrot Cake Off

April 7, 2014

Pretty much every baker in the United States has a carrot cake recipe.  Each one is convinced that hers/his is the absolute best. Clearly, this can’t be true because mine is actually the best.  It wasn’t always the best, but I’ve finessed and finessed it and now I’d put it up against anyone’s carrot cake recipe, even Joan, the queen of cakes.  (My sister-in-law, Donna is going to have a nervous breakdown over this because my recipe is a variation on her recipe and she’s convinced hers is the best.) 

(OK, she’s convinced because she won a Blue Ribbon at the Canfield fair, the second biggest fair in the country.   She says a panel of judges from Home Economics Departments of Kent State and Youngstown State Universities awarded it.) I had to add this because she wrote a comment informing me of this and is now demanding a competition.  (Good God, what have I started?) 

 Anyway, Joan is a friend of mine who is one of the most competitive humans on the face of the earth.  I love her in spite of it, but it’s true. At one get together we had a carrot cake-off.  She brought hers, I brought mine.  It was like those gun-slinger movies where the two shooters face off and only one is left standing.  Sadly, I went down over stinking pecans.  I was grinding mine down like meal, she left hers in big chunks and it turns out that people like chunks better (me included).  But other than that they were neck and neck.

Laughing outside, mocking my cake decorating inside, but I love her anyway.

Laughing at my cake decorating, but I love her anyway.

I always loved Donna’s recipe and made it for a while, but somewhere along the line, I decided that 1 1/2 cups of oil was too much (because God forbid this cake with cream cheese frosting should be fattening or anything) so I substituted a can of crushed pineapple for 3/4 of a cup of oil.  I liked the flavor of the pineapple and just kept it in. Then, after the cake-off, I realized that the pecans had to be in larger pieces, so I’m sorry Donna, your cake recipe was really good, but I’ve moved on.

I just made it for my daughter’s 18th birthday, and it got rave reviews from the four young people here devouring it.  It’s moist and dense and just perfect. Unfortunately, I’ve never taken a cake decorating class and my cakes have looked the same for the past 25 years.  I decorate them with a plastic bag with the corner snipped off.  I do really difficult moves like make dots all around the edges. Go ahead, say it, “Ooooooohhh.”


Milena’s 18th birthday cake, which looks a lot like her first through 17th. (Note classy slippers and robe at bottom of photo.)

And parents, remember this: The cake with the decorative dots that thrills your child at three, she will mock when she turns 18.  Just be prepared. (I can’t imagine where she got that kind of sarcasm .)

So, here you go.   I feel perfectly comfortable giving you this recipe, knowing that if you ever run into Joan or Donna, you can say your carrot cake is every bit as good as theirs.  However, over achiever that Joan is, she’s also taken cake decorating classes, so her cake will probably be better looking than yours, but hold your head high because it all looks the same once you swallow it.



Fran’s Clearly Superior Carrot Cake

(Adapted from my sister-in-law, Donna Tunno’s Award Winning Carrot Cake recipe)

2 c. flour

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. salt

1 cup chopped toasted pecans ( Toast about 10 min at 350, but watch them carefully, so they don’t burn. As soon as they’re aromatic, take them out.

3 c. grated carrots (press them down with your hand so they’re densely packed but not totally squished)

1 20 oz. can drained, crushed pineapple (process it if you don’t want small chunks of pineapple in your cake but I like the small chunks)

3/4 c. canola oil

2 c. sugar

4 eggs

1 cup toasted finely chopped pecans to press on the sides of the cake (These MAKE the cake!)

I always toast my pecans first. That way they have time to cool before adding them to the batter. I toast them whole, then chop the ones I put in the cake by hand once they’re toasted so they’re not too fine. I put the second cup of toasted pecans in the food processor and finely chop them and set them aside.  Then, I put my pineapple in a strainer and let it drain.  Then I peel and process my carrots, then set them aside. (This cake is some work, but the accolades are worth it.)

Combine all dry ingredients:  flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in one medium bowl.  Combine oil, sugar, eggs and drained pineapple in second large bowl.  Add dry ingredients to the oil mixture. Blend in carrots and pecans.

Flour and grease two 9″ cake pans and divide batter into pans.   Bake at 350 for 40 min to an hour (test with toothpick starting at 40 min. )  If you make cupcakes, they only take 20 minutes, but test them with a toothpick first. If it comes out dry, your cupcakes are ready. Donna’s recipe is for a bundt cake, but I like having two layers because of the additional cream cheese in the middle.

Fran’s Cream Cheese Frosting 

1 8 oz. package of Philadelphia Cream Cheese

1/2 c .butter

1 lb. confectioners sugar

4 Tbsp. half and half or whipping cream

Pinch of salt (to taste)

1 to 2 tsp. vanilla

Bring cream cheese and butter to room temperature.  Mix well in an electric mixer until fluffy.  Add confectioners sugar, vanilla, half and half and salt. Be sure to taste to see if there’s enough salt.  When thoroughly combined, apply to cooled cake.  Then decorate with dots and enjoy!  So what if the kids laugh!

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  • Reply
    Theresa LoBue
    May 21, 2014 at 9:38 am

    How hysterical is that story?!?! My competitive friends Joan W, Dorothea M and I had a pumpkin pie bake off. One of the competitors was a Costco pie (Joan’s entry). Garet, god love him, came up with the idea of competition. Our husbands were wisely tipped off to the Costco pie and it won!!! We will never bake pumpkin pie or compete again!

    Brandon loves carrot cake! I use walnut pieces, crushed pineapple and coconut. I love pecans and will try them next time. My recipe has been tweaked from the in the Silver Palate cookbook.

    Your cake was decorated with love.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      May 25, 2014 at 9:18 am

      I love it! Our family has been having a pumpkin pie contest at Thanksgiving for decades now. Our mom was very competitive and used to try and bribe my nephews to vote for her pies. Glad to see it’s spreading and now I must try the Costco pie, but I love pie baking too much to give it up. As for the carrot cake, I am going to try the addition of coconut next time. Maybe on the outside of the cake, maybe on the inside. Not sure but always glad for the input.

  • Reply
    Donna Tunno
    May 21, 2014 at 9:38 am

    I’m baaack! One last word on the carrot cake brouhaha! Yes, I’m the Canfield Fair blue ribbon winner (ahem!) and Fran’s sister-in-law. Just had to tell you that I, too, use the chopped pecan pieces instead of the pecan meal which was in the original recipe. Forty years ago I tried the pecan meal once or twice and then immediately switched to the pecan chunks, which are so much better. There are only three differences in our recipes: You use pineapple for part of the oil and vanilla in the frosting … and I use a bundt pan which makes for smaller pieces of cake surrounded by cream cheese frosting on three sides. Next time I will use pineapple and vanilla and give an honest critique on the outcome! Stay tuned!

  • Reply
    Suzanna Sargsyan
    April 17, 2014 at 11:42 am

    Milena looks soo CUTE here! Fran… I’m going to have to try this.. because like you said…everyone thinks their carrot cake is the friend’s carrot cake is the best I’ve ever had.. so I excited about this “carrot cake off” :)!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      April 18, 2014 at 10:52 am

      Well Suzanna, make mine, have her make hers and you can stage your own cake-off! Please let me know how it goes. My money’s on you and my recipe! Good luck.

  • Reply
    Sara Lock
    April 11, 2014 at 11:28 am

    This is Brandon’s favorite cake.

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      April 11, 2014 at 12:38 pm

      Next time I see him I will bake it for him! Good to know! He never mocked me for the dots!

  • Reply
    April 11, 2014 at 1:08 am

    Give Miss Milena a great big (belated) birthday hug!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      April 11, 2014 at 9:56 am

      Will do Linda. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Donna Tunno
    April 10, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    Whoa! Just a minute! I go on vacation and come home to read that I was dethroned! You neglected to tell your readers that a Blue Ribbon was awarded to me by a panel of judges (from two home ec departments at two universities, Kent and YSU) declaring my cake to be the best at the Canfield Country Fair, the second biggest county fair in the USA! I, too, use chunks of pecans (not the pecan meal in the recipe) and I don’t add vanilla to the frosting. The only way to settle this is for you and Joan to buy me a ticket to LA where we can have a bake-off! Oh, and you have to send our nephew Patrick a ticket so he can be a judge! Carrot cake is his favorite! Sister-in-Law Donna (P.S. I use a bundt pan so the cream cheese frosting surrounds the cake on three sides, and I decorate with whole pieces of pecans around the top of the cake … or I place fake baby carrots around the cake for Easter!)

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      April 10, 2014 at 10:08 pm

      Ooh, I love it when you’re feisty. Well then the recipe you gave me was old because it called for 1/2 cup chopped nuts or 1 cup pecan meal and it’s in your handwriting, And you are right, your frosting does not call for vanilla, mine does. Clearly, it’s bake off time sister, so come on out!

  • Reply
    April 8, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Frannie – You slay me!! I’ve always liked my pecans in pieces also.
    It just so happens that I need to make a carrot cake for Lorna (in the office) next month, and I’m going to make your recipe.
    I will decorate it with colored icing out of a snipped ziplock, just like you do. And I’ll put a little flag on the cake that says, “Fran’s Recipe – Best Carrot Cake Ever”!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      April 8, 2014 at 6:31 pm

      I love you Kimberly! If you have any questions, please call.

  • Reply
    Jane Jacobs
    April 8, 2014 at 7:50 am

    I can’t wait to g

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      April 8, 2014 at 1:17 pm

      I’m not sure what you can’t wait for Jane, but I hope it’s good. Maybe the possibility of making the carrot cake was so overwhelming you rushed off to bake before finishing your post. Or you’ve been abducted…I’m hoping for the first.

  • Reply
    April 8, 2014 at 6:41 am

    What fun! I sure enjoy waking up to words that make me smile. Thanks, Fran!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      April 8, 2014 at 1:14 pm

      And you don’t even cook Don. I love you for always reading my stuff!

  • Reply
    April 8, 2014 at 5:56 am

    Looks like a perfect Easter dessert – great timing! I’ll let you know if it passes the Eichenlaub taste test!

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      April 8, 2014 at 1:13 pm

      Yes, please do let me know if the family approves. I feel very confident about this one. (Famous last words!)

  • Reply
    April 8, 2014 at 2:36 am

    And “Bowie” is actually “Howie” 🙂 thus reinforcing the fact that this morning is not going well! 🙂

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      April 8, 2014 at 1:12 pm

      Oh Bowie, don’t worry about silly things like names. Glad I made you smile.

  • Reply
    April 8, 2014 at 2:24 am

    Needed some levity this morning ( and a piece of carrot cake would have been nice too! ) Thanks for the laugh!

  • Reply
    April 8, 2014 at 12:33 am

    OMG! I’m sure your carrot cake beats the tiny, little carrot cupcake I’ve become fond of from Jenny Craig. Would you kindly attach a piece to an e-mail and send me? 🙂

    • Reply
      Fran Tunno
      April 8, 2014 at 1:11 pm

      Too funny. Trust me Bob, I would attach it if I could!

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