You know how when you finish watching the finale of a TV show you like, you feel like you just could not possibly wait another minute to start the next season? I feel that way about winter right now. We’ve had a taste of spring, so WHY is it not just actually HERE yet?
Fortunately, we do have something to tide us over in the meantime, kinda like the DVD special features. Alright, that might be enough of that analogy. What I’m building to here is that we are still in the end of the peak citrus season, so blood oranges are still pretty widely available.
For me, no food says “It’s Spring!” like a good ol’ carrot cake. Well, that and peas. But cakes are, of course, way more exciting, and this one gives us the perfect hybrid of the end of winter citrus with the beginning of spring desserts.
This recipe is also my monthly collaboration with Marie Teckmyer from Happy Hour Collection. This time around we are both utilizing the Blood Orange Saffron Shrub from Element. Shrubs are honestly my favorite type of cocktail mixer, especially as the weather gets warmer. Not only are they great for cooking and cocktails, but combined with club soda they make my favorite non-alcoholic summer drinks. Element makes some pretty cool flavors, and there isn’t one I wouldn’t recommend. And this is not a sponsored post, so you know you can trust me and my recommendations.
This particular shrub has a little bit of carrot in it, which is what lead me to do a blood orange carrot cake. I used a little of the shrub in the cake itself, but primarily as a sauce to drizzle over it for some added sweet tang.
*Note: I had quite a lot of cake scraps from leveling off the layers for the cake in the photo. If you have any extras (or want to deliberately make some extras while you’re doing the work anyway) crumble them up and freeze them in a ziploc bag. This is a great way to save leftovers from any cake, and you can use them to make cake pops, bake them to make crispy ice cream toppings, or even make pie crusts out of them!
Blood Orange Carrot Cake
You will need:
For Rum Raisins:
- 1/4 cup rum (optional)
- 1/4 cup raisins
For carrot cake:
- 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp baking soda
- a pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 cups carrots, grated
- 2 Tbsp, plus 1 cup Elements Blood Orange Saffron Shrub
- 2/3 cup canola oil
- 2 large eggs
For cream cheese frosting:
- 1 8oz block cream cheese
- 1 stick butter
- 1 1lb box powdered sugar
- 2-3 blood oranges, for garnish
If you’re making the rum raisins, start by soaking your raisins in the rum for a minimum of an hour. Obviously the longer the soak, the better they’ll be. Unfortunately the alcohol will cook out of them as they bake in the cake, but some of the flavor will remain and the raisins will be plump and juicer than the little shriveled ones you can normally buy. If you can’t use alcohol you can omit that part and just ignore the fact that I just made fun of how sad your raisins are. And if you flat out don’t like raisins, you can skip them entirely.
To begin the cake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8 or 9 inch cake pan, or a cupcake pan if you are going that route. Yes, I did say to grease the cupcake pan too. I actually really prefer to make all of my cupcakes sans liners. Firstly, no one likes having to peel them off. And in the case of people coming over and having one of these at your house, you can spare them the awkwardness of just holding onto an empty cupcake paper when they’re done while they figure out what the hell to do with it.
Of course, there may be a very slight possibility that I just overthink cupcake papers in general, so you do you. But seriously, this is one cake that will definitely stay moist for at least a day or two without the papers.
Once you’ve decided on a cake pan, begin by whisking all your dry ingredients together in a bowl. That is, your flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Add your grated carrots next. I will warn you that if you make a huge layer cake out of this like I did in the photos (it’s a triple recipe), you will be grating carrots for approximately 34 days. But it’s so worth it.
Pour in the canola oil and 2 Tbsp of the shrub. You can substitute plain vinegar for the shrub if you need to, since the taste of the shrub won’t make a huge difference to the cake anyway. It’s just to make the cake more moist. I just prefer to use the shrub since I usually already have it out for the sauce later anyway, and because it does seem to give the flavors a tiny extra boost.
Switch to an electric mixer to mix until just combined. You can make do with the regular whisk the whole time if its all you have, it’s just more work. Add both eggs and mix well, making sure there are no yolky patches left or anything.
Now I know what you’re thinking at this stage. YES, it IS supposed to look like way too much carrot. It still makes me imagine a cake version of those repulsive vegetable Jell-O things that old people make every time I do this. But all will turn out fine, and your vegetables will be safely baked into a glorious soft cake rather than suspended in fluorescent color.
Scrape your cake batter into the greased pan of your choice. If you want you can add maybe half of your raisins now, but keep the rest set aside for now. If you add them all at the beginning they’ll just all sink to the bottom. Bake the cake for around 40 minutes, or more like 12 if you are making cupcakes. I scatter the rest of my raisins over at the 6 minute mark.
Cakes are where I notice the differences between all ovens the most, so make sure to test with a toothpick when it comes out. 40 minutes just works well for me and my oven. Let the cake cool for a few minutes and then run a knife along the outside juuuust to make sure, although I’ve never had a problem with this recipe sticking.
I make the blood orange shrub sauce next so that it has time to chill while I make the frosting. To do that, just dump the remaining shrub into a saucepan over medium heat, then let it simmer until reduced by half. So until you have 1/2 a cup remaining. Just in case you didn’t want to do that math. When it’s done it should be a little thicker, and will set more as it cools. Just toss it in the fridge in a little bowl until you’re ready to decorate.
Finally, for the frosting. I absolutely hated cream cheese frosting as a kid, but around the time I grew up into a sophisticated 15 year old I came to appreciate how awesome it is. This one is pretty basic, but if you prefer a whipped variety or something or are just not feelin’ it today and would rather use store-bought, go right ahead.
With your butter and cream cheese at room temp, mix them in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Slowly add the powdered sugar a little at a time while you continue mixing.
Now all you have to do is assemble! Serve this cake cold and store it in the fridge. It won’t dry out, it will just taste way better. Trust me.
As always, if you make this cake or Marie’s cocktail, we want to see it! Seriously. Tag me on Instagram @nhubble or Marie @happyhourcle. You can also use the hashtag #followthatfork.
Some tips for decorating:
I usually make this recipe as cupcakes since it makes it easier to grab one or five out of the fridge throughout the day. The easiest way to decorate for those is to heap some frosting on top. Spread it out to the edges, of course, but don’t worry about neatness. Then gently press one peeled blood orange segment into the top of each icing mound. Lastly just drizzle the sauce over in one direction.
If you want to make a layer cake like I did in the photos, you need to double or triple the recipe. I tripled it for the photos so that I could get that little second tier. Cut the tops off of each layer to ensure that they are level, then just check how things are looking after every layer of cake or frosting. I like this cake as a naked cake partly because those are way easier, and partly because I like how rustic and spring-y they look that way. The only downside there is that you really need to make sure all your frosting and cake layers are even.
I supported the second tier with some straws and decorated the top pretty much how I do the cupcakes. Spread a large amount of frosting over the top, artistically pile up blood orange segments, and pour over the sauce so it drips down the sides. I also garnished with a tiny bit of saffron.